THE BLOG
04/19/2016 04:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Oklahoma Public Education Under Attack: The ALEC, CRPE, Legislative Connection

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Ellen Sweatt/Photo

Today Oklahoma education is under attack. I am angry, and I think you will be angry too. Truthfully, I don't know if Oklahomans should be angrier about the $1.3 billion Oklahoma budget deficit that is contributing to our Oklahoma public school crisis or the fact that most recent bills have been constructed to undermine our Oklahoma infrastructure by every conceivable means.

Currently, the Oklahoma state budget is in free-fall. Primarily due to the abject failure of current legislative leadership and continued deep corporate tax cuts, today our Oklahoma budget deficit sits at $1.3 billion. (Inman in Hoberock, 2016, p. 1) Over the course of the past several weeks, legislators at our Oklahoma capitol have treated themselves to legislative recess adjourning early in the week. Wouldn't we all love to work two, three, or four days out of the week, then treat ourselves to a long weekend? For constituents of these legislative representatives, the working class public is not afforded the luxury of setting their own hours. Not having been elected to perform "the people's business," "Average Working Class Joe" daily performs the tasks required of him by his place of employment. Meanwhile, as the "representatives" "of the people" are taking some R&R time, the state of Oklahoma falls into what can only be described as an abysmal financial abyss. "Average Working Class Joe," however, continues his employment responsibilities contributing to the Oklahoma financial disaster as best he can secure in the misplaced faith that state legislators are adequately performing the "people's business." Lately, records indicate that little of the "people's business" has been performed at the Oklahoma State Capitol. With each passing day Oklahoma sinks deeper and deeper into the epic catastrophe that is our Oklahoma state budget. How will legislators deal with their legislative negligence and the misappropriation and mismanagement of Oklahoma state funds?

Sadly, public schools have become a pawn in the legislature's designed solution. Historically a point of least resistance, public education has suffered the brunt of an array of brutal financial blows systematically dating back to 2008. Finding the weakest link in our Oklahoma school students, public education has become the "fall guy" for the budget failures of our Oklahoma legislature. Let's first consider the psychology behind this design.

The Oklahoma public school system supports the Oklahoma infrastructure--voting citizens tomorrow, but youth today. Students cannot vote, they do not pay taxes; they have no action groups or organized and ran coalitions. Public schools and the students they serve become easy targets for reducing and alleviating the financial negligence of our Oklahoma representatives. A thorough metacognition reveals that students do not represent a constituency--it is their parents and guardians who do. This adult constituency, however, does not daily encounter the broken pencil sharpeners, the burned out light bulbs, the leaking roofs, the cancelled field trips, the eliminated athletic events, or the empty towel dispensers found at school. When parents and guardians do learn of these things, they are aghast! Some, deciding that this kind of treatment is unsuitable for their children, become proponents of charter [privatized] schools like DOVE. Never resting blame for the broken pencil sharpeners, the burned out light bulbs, the leaking roofs, the cancelled field trips, the eliminated athletic events, or the empty towel dispensers squarely at the feet of legislators who have sabotaged Oklahoma public schools' budget allocation and by mandating expensive, high-stakes testing, screening throughout the course of the school year, and end-of-instruction (EOI) exams. Parents and guardians often fail to see the "big picture." The fact remains; Oklahoma state legislators have systematically starved public schools to virtual extinction either through reduced state funding or enacted bills that mandate public school functions. Why? Why would anyone strive to harm the infrastructure of Oklahoma--the Oklahoma public school system? Could it be that representatives systematically starving public schools are heavily and profitably invested? Could it be that bills authored today by legislators are designed to result in the demise of our Oklahoma public school system? Could it be that our representatives have alliances with factions that strive to harm the Oklahoma public school system? Could it be argued that this type of activity is tantamount to insider trading? Haven't we as a nation sent people to jail for this type of criminal behavior?

All of this may sound like a grand conspiracy theory contrived in the mind of a raving lunatic. A deeper investigation of insider activity in our Oklahoma state government with regard to the Oklahoma public school system proves to set the record straight. Such a probe leads directly to the corporately funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In behind the scenes meetings, ALEC seeks to influence and rewrite our Oklahoma state laws. (ALEC's Extensive Plans for Education Restructuring in Your State, 2014). Corporate funds provide special treatment for our legislators. Sparing no expense, legislators are wined, dined and provided "model" school reform legislation. Luxurious trips for themselves and their families become a norm for those legislators associated with ALEC. (ALEC Exposed, 2015) (You may check your Oklahoma representative's association with ALEC by going to http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Oklahoma_ALEC_Politicians) Why, one might ask, would ALEC care about reforming public education? Could it be because of the potential profit margin gained? Could large sums of money be made from mandated high-stakes testing? Could ALEC be conspiring with lawmakers to eliminate public education turning Oklahoma schools into a privatized profit making extravaganza? Could the privatization of public schools be the newest frontier for corporate America? These questions beg an even deeper investigation.

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Kim A. Harris/Photo

According to John Thompson, "The corporate reform Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has gained a foothold in Tulsa, and it's 'portfolio strategy' seems to be the model that inspired Oklahoma City's dangerous flirtation with the mass charterization of neighborhood schools." (2016, p. 1)

This dangerous flirtation to which Thompson eludes is referencing the DOVE Academy in Oklahoma City. According to reporter Randy Ellis, The Sky Foundation manages the DOVE Charter Schools even holding the same federal tax ID number. (2016, p.1) The Sky Foundation, according to auditors, "...has collected about $3.182 million more in lease payments for the use of the DOVE Science Academy-OKC school site than it paid to originally purchase the property." (Ellis, 2016, p. 1) At first glance, this seems like a pleasingly profitable business until one remembers that it is the Sky Foundation that also manages the DOVE charter schools. More simply stated, DOVE is akin to a sub-corporation of the Sky Foundation that is leasing the building to DOVE. According to the Ellis (2016) article, all of this falls under the holdings of one. In other words--it's a cover--just like shell corporations and layering.

The question remains, however: Why should any of us care? Is there anything for us to really worry about--aside from a crumbling Oklahoma state budget? Is there any reason for us to become angry enough to get involved? Investigative journalists, Ravitch, (2013) Higgins (2012) along with the investigative journal 60 Minutes (2012) have linked this privatization scandal to ALEC efforts. Ravitch explained that charters [privatized schools] would not be required to have certified teachers. "Charter school staff would not be required to pass criminal background checks." (Ravitch, 2013, p. 1) Does any of this sound familiar to you? If not, you have not been keeping up with the cacophony of discussion swirling around a cluster of both active and dead Oklahoma Senate and House bills. (SB1187, dead, authored by Jolley & Hickman, SB609, dead, authored by Jolley & Nelson, HB2949, active, authored by Nelson & Jolley, HB3156, active, authored by Hickman & Jolley--see References)

Senate Bill 1187 is a dead Oklahoma bill that has received a great deal of attention. If enacted, SB1187 would have eliminated Oklahoma public school district requirements. Schools would no longer have been required to hire teachers with certification(s) or meet background check standards. Senate Bill 1187 would have deregulated Oklahoma public schools in other meaningful ways such as: schools would no longer have been required to adhere to a minimum salary schedule, participate in the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System, or provide health insurance. Additionally, employees would no longer have been provided due process protection...among other things. (Bill Information for SB1187, 2016)

These measures all sound like good ideas to Senator Clark Jolley. For the last twelve years, various Oklahoma legislators have tried to bully this type of legislation through in the hopes of pushing Oklahoma public education to extinction. Senate Bill 609, House Bill 2949, and House Bill 3156 complete the cluster of Oklahoma anti-public education bills designed to dismantle Oklahoma public schools. (Bill Information for SB609, 2016, Bill Information for HB2949, 2016, Bill Information for HB3156, 2016)

Why, though, such a full-force frontal attack on our Oklahoma public school system? Is the continuous legislative motivation driven by the all mighty dollar? Will this drive provide a monetary exchange for a few? If so, who is benefiting from undermining Oklahoma public schools, teachers, and students as well our Oklahoma infrastructure? Are ALEC and CRPE driving the legislation set forth by our lawmakers? Is the Oklahoma budget crisis that threatens to cripple our Oklahoma public schools simply a misguided epic catastrophe created by the lack of judgment and foresight of our leaders? You will have to judge for yourself. I can only tell you that I am angry! After you have had time to digest the material provided here and conduct your own personal investigation, perhaps reviewing the sites I have linked or referenced below, I hope that you will be angry too! Call our collective rage subversive activity or civil unrest if you will, but I hope that you will stand--loud and proud with me--for our public schools and our teachers! I hope you will stand for those who cannot now stand for themselves--those who cannot vote, do not pay taxes and have no action groups or organized and ran coalitions to stand for them! I hope you will stand for the future of our state--our Oklahoma children! I hope you will stand against unethical if not criminal behavior! I hope you will tell our Oklahoma legislators that, "We the People," will not tolerate the deregulation and destabilization of OUR
OKLAHOMA!

REFERENCES

ALEC Exposed. (2015). "The Center for Media & Democracy". Retrieved from
www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed .

ALEC's Extensive Plans for Education Restructuring in Your State. (2014). "Friends of American Public Education". Retrieved from https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/alecs-extensive-plans-for-education-restructuring-in-your-state/ .

Bar-on, Shachar, Stahl, Leslie. (2012). "The Gulen Movement". 60 Minutes. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJvWP7wBkFs .

Bill Information for SB609. (2016). Oklahoma State Legislature. Retrieved from
www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=SB609 .

Bill Information for SB1187. (2016). Oklahoma State Legislature. Retrieved from
www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=SB1187 .

Bill Information for HB2949. (2016). Oklahoma State Legislature. Retrieved from
www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=HB2949 .

Bill Information for HB3156. (2016). Oklahoma State Legislature. Retrieved from
www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=HB3156 .

Ellis, Randy. (2016). "Tulsa, OKC Center School's Attorney Contends Lease Payments Were Proper". NewsOK. Retrieved from www.newsok.com/tulsa-okc-charter-schools-attorney-contends-lease-payments-were-proper/article/5485749 .

Higgins, Sharon. (2012). "Largest Charter Network in U.S.: Schools Tied to Turkey". The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/largest-charter-network-in-us-schools-tied-to-turkey/2012/03/23/gIQAoaFzcS_blog.html .

Inman, Scott in Hoberock, Barbara. (2016). "Oklahoma House Minority Leader Criticizes Republicans for Lack of Action on State Budget". Tulsa World. Retrieved from http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/capitol_report/oklahoma-house-minority-leader-criticizes-republicans-for-lack-of-action/article_a13aaa9d-ddbe-5500-8338-451c136d5ba1.html .

Ravitch, Diane. (2013). "North Carolina Republicans Want Unregulated, Unsupervised Charter$". Diane Ravitch's Blog. Retrieved from
https://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/28/north-carolina-republicans-want-unregulated-unsupervised-charter/.

Thompson, John. (2016). "Dove Academy Audit Should Give OKCPS Pause". NONDOC. Retrieved from http://nondoc.com/2016/03/25/ .

RELATED READINGS

Miller, Rob. (2016). "The Oklahoma Budget Crisis Hasn't Hurt Everyone". A View From The Edge. Retrieved from www.viewfromtheedge.net/?p=7719 .

Oklahoma State Legislature. (2016). Oklahoma City, OK State of Oklahoma. Retrieved from www.oklegislature.gov .

Ravitch, Diane. (2016). "Education in Crisis and the Threat of Privitization". Huffington Post. Retrieved froml http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/education-in-crisis_b_9565124.htm .

Ravitch, Diane. (2013). "How "Reformers" are Lowering Standards for Education". Diane Ravitch's Blog. Retrieved from www.dianeravitch.net/category/alternate-route-to-certification .