Saturday, March 12, 2016

SB1187 -- Continues the War on Educators -- and Students

It was a busy week at the Capitol. We waited on pins and needles every day to see if the voucher bills were on the House and Senate agenda, and when they might be heard. But as we worried about them, a bill slipped through the Senate that has the potential to deregulate many of the personnel issues for our schools. I know that the bulk of any school’s financial obligation is personnel – salaries, pensions, health insurance. In Norman, Dr. Joe Siano quotes 90% as the budget share. And the two deregulation bills would give desperate school districts, and unscrupulous school districts permission and license to gut teachers’ salaries and benefits.

I try to attend Education Committee meetings when I can, and when the meetings do not interfere with my Granny Taxi duties. You see, our family exercises our school choice. My daughter’s family lives in one town, and transfers her daughters to another. And we provide transportation.

I was there when SB1187 was first addressed in Committee. I remember someone saying that this School Empowerment (Doncha love words?) Act was passed, and the disappointment he felt that school districts didn’t jump at the opportunity to deregulate some of the services in their district, so SB1187 was sweetening the pot. It was going to give schools ‘flexibility’ (another favorite word) in personnel practices. Read: giving schools the chance to throw teachers under the school bus. It would remove those nasty, restrictive rules from hard-working school districts. The bill passed through Committee.

I was also there when Speaker Hickman presented HIS deregulation bill to the House Common Education Committee. It would offer deregulation of salary, health insurance payments, pension payments, curriculum requirements that public schools must follow, and charters don’t. Right there, in my notes, I wrote “background checks” as one of the items deregulated.  He said that charters didn’t have to follow these rules, so why should public schools? This bill bases a district’s ability to deregulate on the deeply flawed A-F school grading scheme. So, it’s hard to take it seriously from the start. Representative Stone asked point-blank if these regulations are taxing and hampering our schools…and I did not record the answer.

It is apparent that the leadership in the Legislature is using the current financial crisis to weaken some of the safeguards for teachers, and offering this as an opportunity to save a buck…save a buck, when districts are literally bleeding funds.

THEN, I happened to be in the Senate gallery, waiting for the ESA bill to appear, and I listened to the debate and watched the eventual passage of SB1187 out of the Senate. My heart was heavy…for districts who feel this desperate, and for teachers who will lose safeguards and benefits. The debate was fascinating.

I’ve linked the Floor Amendment version of the bill, which right now, is not on the Senate website. But this is the version that passed.

Senator Jolley, now the chief author, along with Senator Loveless (interesting choice, given the dust-up about background checks), and Senator Brecheen, the original author sat with his head down, not speaking through the whole debate.

Senator Jolley told us this was a ‘request bill’ from school superintendents who needed ‘flexibility’. I do remember that two districts showed interest. Two districts, and the Senate Education Committee and the full Senate has spent hours on this issue. Two districts.

Both Republicans bemoaned the micromanaging of our schools, of the regulations…of all the mandates. And these are the mandates they chose to loosen: personnel protection. Way to support your educators, gentlemen.

Jolley based his entire argument on flexibility to hire part-time adjuncts in schools, without having to pay benefits. Is he not aware, we can do that now? I taught with several colleagues who worked part time, and they did not receive benefits. If this is the reason for the bill, I’m mystified. We have practices in place right now…

Jolley extolled the bill for its flexibility for schools to ‘experiment’ and allowed as how Teach for America could never have happened without education experimentation. I sat in the Gallery thinking, “And that would have been a bad thing?’ Such a curious example when he is trying to represent a bill about our public schools.

He said we must trust local education professionals. I agree. We should. That would be a great thing…my question is how does this bill extend and expand trust? Seriously. HOW?

He told us that a supermajority of teachers had to vote to suspend these regulations in their own districts. Actually, looking at the bill, if the district has collective bargaining, that’s the threshold. If there is no collective bargaining, it’s a simple majority.

Sharp debated against, saying legislators don’t understand the inner workings of schools. That’s a big, ‘well, duh!’ That’s how we got ourselves in this mess: the people who make the laws are clueless about what happens in our schools.

Bice debated for…using the party line: this gives schools local control. I would say this gives starving schools a draconian choice, an unconscionable choice.

Loveless debated for. Kyle “every other teacher is a predator” Loveless spoke to the deregulation of criminal background checks, which IS part of the bill. He also talked about all those teachers who came to the Capitol, complaining about all those mandates. He bragged that this bill cuts red tape and gives schools local control (they love that phrase).

Dossett debated against. Senator Dossett was a classroom teacher. His words reflect his deep knowledge. He said it straight. This bill deprofessionalizes teaching…teachers give up so much in this bill, as do parents. Parents have no assurance that their child’s teacher is a certified teacher, or that the teacher is following curriculum rules of the state. He said this is the wrong kind of local control. He is so right. He told the Senate that  “teachers are under attack,” and that we must fund education, to at least the regional level.

Sparks debated against. He pointed out that 2/3rds of school districts do not collectively bargain, so Jolley’s use of the supermajority of teachers voting for this deregulation is not quite true. Most districts would only require a simple majority. Of desperate teachers. Who may be encouraged to vote for deregulation, in order to keep their jobs. Sparks set that scenario, with schools being a major employer in rural areas…he painted the picture of teachers who could lose their jobs and any hope of other employment.

Sparks hammered on those nice words that have been co-opted by this bill: empowerment and flexibility. He said what they really mean in this bill is, “We don’t have the money, so you go figure it out.” Truer words…truer words.

He ended with “Let’s stop blaming school districts for our lack of support.”

The vote was close…in fact, it only passed by one vote. One lousy vote.

  • Some of the things a school or district can deregulate in this bill are:
  • Kids who live in the district may not be entitled to go to those schools
  • Minimum salary schedules for teachers
  • Contributions to teacher retirement
  • Mandated health insurance for teachers
  • Criminal background checks…and no, there are not safeguards in place in other statutes.
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Any payroll deductions
  • Due process in dismissal
  • Certification for all teachers and administration
  • Negotiations between teachers and school district
  • Adherence to state-approved curriculum
  • Students show mastery of state Standards
  • School Board members’ continuing education and professional development

In return, there  a requirement to show “a description of the innovations of the school, zone, or district…which may include, but not be limited to, innovations in school staffing, curriculum and assessment, class scheduling, use of financial and other resources, and faculty recruitment, employment, evaluation, and compensation.”

Waay back, on page 11 of the amended bill is their paragraph about background checks…and it runs all the way to the last page, 15. Trying to hedge their bets and address one of them most heinous elements of the deregulation.

Now, we must see what happens to the bill in the House. And we must remember there is a House bill that’s heading for the Senate.

Former gubernatorial candidate, and MY candidate, Joe Dorman, wrote about the bill:

Also of note, Sens. Jolley and Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, authored Senate Bill 1187. This legislation allows public schools to have similar policies as private and charter schools, such as open transfer of students, removal of the mandatory minimum salary schedule for teachers, elimination of the requirement for the school district to pay into the Teachers’ Retirement System for employees and coverage of health insurance for personnel, submission to a background check for employees and elimination of mandatory continuing education programs for school board members, as well as several other requirements public school districts must follow by law.

What I have recently learned, is this has been an ongoing dream for Senator Jolley, beginning in 2009, with SB834.  2009, right as the legislature began to make their cuts to public schools…forgive me while I take a suspicious breath before moving on.

They started small…but the intent has always been there to deregulate. From 2009:
Ford said SB-834 does not mandate local school boards to do anything different. A limited amount of mandates are provided for change if the districts believe changing them will help them to better educate children, he added.

”However, he said that SB-834 does not allow school districts to discontinue the state testing program and curriculum. School districts must continue to pay educators at or above the state mandated teacher salaries and benefits, Ford said.”

My Oklahoma Policy Institute hero, David Blatt, connected the dots back then, and pointed out how deeply divided the responses are to that bill…and to this one. His headline is prophetic: “SB834 – Empowering public schools or dismantling them?”

Think, for a moment, about the education climate in 2009. Cuts had just started. Education funding was slowly beginning to fall from that watershed year of 2008…that year legislators don’t want to hear about. Schools were not feeling much pain…yet. The motivation for deregulating vital elements of their schools wasn’t very attractive.

But after the largest cuts in the nation, after years of systematic neglect and cuts and rhetoric, the climate is very different now. Now, schools are wondering if they can finish the year. They’re giving parents one week’s notice that they’re closing on Fridays. One week to arrange (IF they can) daycare for their kids for one day. Some schools are closing a week early in the spring.  Now every school district in the state has been effectively crippled by our policy makers. Unfortunately, this climate makes the possibility of these deregulations look like a crappy, slimy life buoy  in desperate times.

This bill is not about innovations (like TFA), or experimentation. It may be the ONLY way some school districts can survive. All the politicians had to do is wait…and starve us…and wait…and starve us.

Now, they’re back with SB1187, bemoaning the fact superintendents didn’t jump on the opportunity to deregulate. This bill ‘sweetens’ the pot for reluctant school districts, the Senators hope.

Schools are absolutely over-regulated. We have mandates piled on top of mandates. Our classrooms and our schools are crippled by sometimes-competing mandates that we attempt, in good faith, to abide by.

Yes, schools need flexibility. Yes schools need local control. Yes, schools need to be empowered to make decisions that are best for students and for the community. NOT one of these possible deregulations is good for students...not one of these school responses is good for our students. This is what makes me hopping mad...our kids are going to suffer. They are suffering. Do our policy makers care?

I am beyond frustrated with this blatant teacher-bashing disguised as flexibility and control and empowerment. 

I have some suggestions of my own for deregulation…are they listening?

What if the state removed the mandates to test above and beyond any federal requirement?

What if high stakes were removed from those tests?

What if paperwork and reporting mandates were eased?

What if?

But once again, our legislature wants to deregulate on the backs of educators, taking away safeguards and benefits…after conveniently starving public schools by higher cuts than any state in the nation. Starve schools, and then offer this evil (I use words deliberately, too…this is evil) option.

Our Senate told the students and families of Oklahoma that their teachers are not important…that uncertified teachers are fine for them. That standards and curriculum can be ignored for them. That their teachers’ health and future security are not important.

But we have flexibility, by God. And local control, and empowerment.

Do YOU feel empowered?

With thanks to Michale Gentry for the musical suggestion

Addendum added Sunday morning-- after more search, we found the link to ALEC...I knew something this detailed had to come from someone's model legislation smorgasbord...and it IS ALEC: Innovative Schools and School Districts Act. It was not on the ALEC site that I could tell, but Jennifer Chapman Crum found the smoking gun on the ALEC Exposed site! Woohoo! If you don't know about ALEC Exposed, you must bookmark it and stay current on their efforts to destroy public education.

Phrases from the Model Legislation:

"...preserving local flexibility by granting to each school district board of education the control of instruction in the schools of the school district

...each school district board of education is strongly encouraged to delegate to each public school a high degree of autonomy in implementing curriculum, making personnel decisions, organizing the school day, determining the most effective use of resources, and generally organizing the delivery of high-quality educational services, thereby empowering each public school to tailor its services most effectively and efficiently to meet the needs of the population of students it serves.

...“Innovation School Zone” means a group of schools of a school district that share common interests, such as geographical location or educational focus, or that sequentially serve classes of students as they progress through elementary and secondary education and in which a local school board implements a plan for creating an innovation school zone pursuant to Section 4.

In considering or creating an innovation plan or a plan for creating an innovation school zone, each local school board is strongly encouraged to consider innovations in the following areas:
(4) Teacher recruitment, training, preparation, and professional development;
(5) Teacher employment;
(6) Performance expectations and evaluation procedures for teachers and principals;
(7) Compensation for teachers, principals, and other school building personnel, including but not limited to performance pay plans, total compensation plans, and other innovations with regard to retirement and other benefits;"

Looks like even ALEC didn't want to mess with teachers' pension plans. Don't you love the typo...I don't think bards really care one way or the other:

"...state bard shall not waive:

(1) [state teachers’ retirement and pension plan]; and..."

So there is the evidence that this bill is not Oklahoma written, but Oklahoma chosen from an ALEC buffet of bills.

That should make it unacceptable for us and for our kids.

When you fight this bill, focus on how it will affect your children. Proponents are touting the ability of uncertified people volunteering to be adjuncts, to come in and teach a couple of days a week... maybe an AP class, because their job in the real world is related to that field. No teaching degree. No AP training. No set schedule...come in and teach a couple of days. I say we don't need dilettantes coming into our schools, making their own schedules and expecting the schools to accommodate them, as schools would be forced to do. 

Our kids deserve highly-qualified, certified teachers in every class. Our kids deserve the stability of a faculty that returns year after year, to the same school, to the same classroom. Our kids deserve teachers who are secure in their health care and retirement payments. 

Our kids. 



Do you hear me yelling?


  1. Thank you Claudia. You were in the trenches on this one. This is a battle that has to be won. So this is what a lifetime of hard work at a low salary gets one in this state. Jolley is conducting an all out war on Public Ed and especially teachers. He doesn't care, because he is term limited and he plans to do all the damage he can. I wonder what his position with ALEC will be after his term is up.

    1. LOL! I know he was hoping to get on with a Jeb Bush administration...he was very cozy with Bush's education foundation. Have heard he's interested in state-wide office. I just want our schools back!

  2. Claudia, Will this affect administration in any way?

    1. If I read it right...administrators could lose their pension contributions and health insurance payments...and it could allow administrators who are not certified.

  3. With high stakes testing continuing and uncertified staff replacing teachers leaving OK for better jobs, schools may never make the grade. This would lead to high turnover when federal government steps in to fire employees. However, if Trump wins, there won't be a federal department of education anyway. We'll be back to days of Little House on the Prairie where parents will have to directly pay and house school masters and marms.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I think the way to fight this bill is to focus on kids...and the damage this bill will do...starting with their potential safety...and then the effects of uncertified teachers...if we are truly, as they spout, preparing our kids for a competitive world, we don't do that on the cheap with teachers. Turnover and teacher shortages will continue...churn in the schools will continue.