BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The 1957 Soviet Sputnik launch came as a shock to many Americans. Only 40 years after the Bolsheviks assassinated Tsar Nicholas and his family, a country that was perceived as backward and experienced total military and economic collapse, led the world in the space race.
Prior to Sputnik, a relatively tiny federal agency named the U.S. Department of Education had suggested that American college students needed foreign language training to compete in an emerging global economy. President Dwight Eisenhower responded to the news of Sputnik by urging funding for enhanced physical sciences and engineering instruction in America’s colleges and universities.
As a result, narrowly defined and clearly articulated legislation was introduced in Congress and culminated in the enactment of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 “to insure trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States.”
Sen. Barry Goldwater spoke against the legislation and related the Arabian fable about the Bedouin who conceded to allowing his camel slip the tip of its nose under the edge of his tent and by morning found himself cohabitating with the entire camel inside an extremely tiny tent.
The senator feared that federal funding to higher education would be the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent.”
While it has been 16 years since the Oklahoma Legislature first allowed the charter school camel to put its nose under the tent of Oklahoma’s education budget, it has steadily advanced its drain on public school finances. The House and Senate passage of HB 1696/SB 782 and the fact that the governor signed SB 782 on April 24 clearly demonstrates that the camel with its smell and tendency to spit has fully arrived.
These bills are bad for rural Oklahoma children, rural Oklahoma schools and rural Oklahoma communities. It takes money from public education and takes local control away from rural voters and rural boards of education.
Even before these bills, private school tax credits and special education vouchers were taking money from Oklahoma’s public schools. Those tax credits and vouchers cost rural schools indirectly by decreasing money in the general fund and decreasing the funding available to rural schools through the funding formula. The current bill will take students and direct dollars away from rural school.
The authors of HB 1696 and SB 782 say that the legislation will simply allow rural schools to have the same “great results” that Oklahoma City and Tulsa schools have experienced. First, there are no “great results” as charter school students in urban areas perform no better than public school students.
The demographic of students who have high test scores have a high test scores in private or charter or public schools. In fact, when analyzed according to demographics, public schools often perform higher than either private or charter schools.
While the law says that any student may apply to a charter school, actual enrollment requires extensive parental pledges of volunteer time and fundraising commitments. Parents who are unable, financially or otherwise, to devote hours in those activities often have their children excluded.
HB 1696/SB 782 remove the requirement that charter schools in rural areas be sponsored by local, rural boards of education and accountable to local, rural boards of education. Under this bill, a corporate charter school is able to apply to the State Board of Education for permission to place a charter school in the district of any school in Oklahoma and be accountable only to its own Board of Directors.
Follow the money. You will find lucrative corporate education contracts, tax credits from land leases, building construction and taxpayer subsidized donations, special education vouchers, unlimited administrative spending all to the detriment of public education.
But the most alarming thing that you will see when you follow the money is the tail of that camel as it slips inside the tent signaling the end of Horace Mann’s commitment that America’s public education should be universal, non-sectarian, free and have as its goal: social efficiency, civic virtue, and character.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives