Tuesday, March 13, 2007

House Republican Speaker Cuts Off Attempt to Hear
The Honesty in Funding Education Act

For the last five weeks House Republicans have refused to take action on the increasing funding crisis that school districts across the State are experiencing. Today, House Democrats attempted to bring the Honesty in Funding Education Act to the House Floor. The Honesty in Funding Education Act, House Bill 1935, would appropriate enough money to school districts to provide relief to their increasing financial crisis.

“This is about giving our school teachers and students the tools they need to learn,” said Representative Jerry McPeak, D- Warner. “And more importantly, today it was about honest and open government.”

Earlier today on the House Floor, Representative Eric Proctor, D- Tulsa, moved that House Bill 1935 be presented on the House Floor. The Republican House Speaker immediately cut Representative Proctor off and did not allow him to speak any further. He noted that later in the morning that the Republican Floor Leader conceded in allowing him to make his motion at some point later in the day.

“We moved to have the bill heard today because there has been no action from the House Republicans on this issue,” said McPeak. “Appropriations bills must originate in the House and the House Democratic Caucus was fed up with the Republicans not recognizing the ongoing crisis in our schools. I am very disappointed that our own Speaker did not allow us to take up the bill on the floor and allow it to be heard in front of the whole House.”

During the 2006 session the Legislature mandated that school district give teachers in the state an increase in pay of $3,000. However, in spite of commitments made on the floor by House Leadership, the Legislature failed to appropriate monies to the school districts that would cover the costs associated with the pay raises.

Most school districts are being forced to spend money out of their operational budgets for costs associated with the yet unfunded pay raises. Now schools budgets are falling short and the money is needed for basic costs. Shortfalls due to this unfunded mandate are now resulting in teachers and support personnel losing their jobs.

Over 100 school superintendents from across the State attended the Capitol today to ask Legislators to appropriate the money as soon as possible. The Republican House Speaker refused to meet with superintendents when they came by his office.

“A small group of us asked to meet with the Speaker,” said Steven Crawford, Superintendent of Byng Schools. “We were told that he was not able to meet with us at this time and we never saw him leave his office while we were waiting.”

“The Republicans claim that there are ongoing negotiations about how much to give the school districts,” said Representative McPeak. “What is there to negotiate? Superintendents from across Oklahoma came together this past summer and concluded that $58 million was the amount of money needed to make up for the unfunded mandates. The State Department of Education agreed. Who knows more about this than them?”

“I always taught my students that one of the most important things in life is to keep your word,” said high school history teacher Representative Proctor. “Now we’re just asking the House Republicans to do the same.”

“We will continue to fight for all of the dollars last year’s Legislature promised to our schools,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Ryan McMullen, D- Burns Flat. “The most disappointing thing for me is that this is starting to look more like the partisan politics played by former Republican Speaker Todd Hiett last session. I hope that the current administration can get past the political games and just do what’s right for Oklahoma’s kids.”

1 comment:

Guy Goodine said...

If the education leaders who asked to meet with Speaker Cargill had come bearing political contributions, I'm betting they would have been welcomed with open arms. At least that's the perception I get from the manner in which Mr. Cargill has reportedly summoned lobbyists to his office. Now, in fairness to the Speaker, he may not have been lining up contributions from those lobbyists ...after all, he has said he's for more transparency in government. But the news accounts from capitol reporters sure makes it sound like he's got his hand out. And the one lobbyist who recently declined to be identified but told one of the capitol reporters to "don't get me in the middle of this," must have felt like he had been invited for more than an afternoon tea.