If you live in Oklahoma, I urge you to contact your State Representative and State Senator to express your opposition to Senate Bill 834.
Authored by Bartlesville’s own Senator Ford, this bill places our schools at risk. Our own state representative, Earl Sears, is on the Education Committee and needs to hear from his constituents about this bill. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (405) 557-7358 to express your opposition to SB 834. Earl already convinced Senator Ford to amend a few of the worst aspects of the bill (originally it entirely eliminated the teachers’ state minimum salary schedule, retirement, and health benefit regulations) but the bill is still extremely dangerous for our schools. Below is a letter to the editor I have sent off to the Examiner-Enterprise:
As an award-winning veteran teacher of 20 years in the Bartlesville Public Schools, I am opposed to State Senate Bill 834, authored by our own Senator Ford. Over the next few years it would place every Oklahoma school district under the state’s entirely inadequate charter school rules. Senator Ford says his bill is intended to empower lower school boards and eliminate unfunded mandates. But his bill is a blunt tool that will also remove essential quality controls from all of our public schools, reversing statewide reforms we enacted in the landmark House Bill 1017 legislation near the beginning of my teaching career.
Under charter school rules, state regulations regarding class sizes and teacher certification are eliminated. Before House Bill 1017, we Oklahoma teachers had a bitter saying: “Stack ‘em deep and teach ‘em cheap.” Those days would return under Senate Bill 834, because state school funding is controlled by well-paid legislators who prefer tax cuts, not volunteer school board members who prefer properly funding education and having students receive more individual attention.
This bill also removes regulations regarding the quality of substitute teachers, gifted and talented programs, school libraries and librarians, alternative schools for at-risk students, and so forth. Leaving minimal school standards to the whims of 2,700 school board members across the state is wholly irresponsible. If you think we have bitter divisions on our city council, just wait until our school board argues over which state regulations it should ignore. Have we learned nothing from what the deregulation of Wall Street and banking brought us? We cannot afford bankrupting our children’s education because our school board gambled on an unregulated restructuring plan.
Senate Bill 834 will also terminate teacher bargaining and due process rights. It would allow school boards to play favorites on teacher salaries, eliminate planning periods, extend the working day and contract year without any increase in teacher pay, fire teachers at will, and so forth. Oklahoma’s teachers need a place at the bargaining table regarding their salaries and working conditions, since under existing law we cannot strike and school boards are already free to eventually impose their own contract conditions. Stripping me of my tenure and seniority would be a great incentive for me and many other teachers to seek out the far better pay and job protection of any neighboring state.
Our own Earl Sears serves on the House Education Committee, which will be considering Senate Bill 834 very soon. Both he and Senator Ford need to hear from you how you would prefer that our schools meet minimal state standards that are properly funded, rather than scrap the standards and hope for the best.