BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Although many early pilgrimages to North America were based on a desire for freedom from governmentally imposed religious dictates, when the colonists pushed back against the British Crown 150 years later, their primary complaint was taxation without representation.
Consequently, the bedrocks upon which our government is founded are that neither the government nor the will of the majority will dictate anyone’s religious beliefs and citizens will always control taxation and expenditures through the power of the ballot box.
Our representative democracy preserves our right to “vote out” elected officials who fail to be accountable with public tax dollars. When voters fail in their duty, the fault lies in no one but themselves.
Alarmingly, the proliferation of charter schools in Oklahoma is evidence of voters failing in their duty. For years, rural legislators tenaciously protected the local control of education in the communities they represented. Unfortunately, political cash has recently tilted the balance of power from those who protect the authority of voters and the boards of education they elect to those who allow public tax dollars to be siphoned into the pockets of corporate charter school sponsors.
In 2015, SB 782 created a procedure to allow the State Department of Education to approve a charter school to be located in any community in the state even if the locally elected school board objected. The legislation passed primarily along party lines with only five Republican legislators voting with the Democrats in opposition to this bill that undermined local control.
Since then, two charter schools have been approved in rural areas of Oklahoma. The first was in Carlton Landing, a secluded, self-contained and planned picturesque community of upscale homes on the shores of Lake Eufaula. The second was approved by the State Board of Education last week over the objection of the Seminole Public School Board.
Not only are charter schools exempt from many of the rules that traditional public schools must comply with, study after study also shows that charter schools perform lower or no better than traditional public schools. However, the real rub is the financial drain that charter schools put on already underfunded traditional community schools.
During an era when many are calling for further school consolidation, charter school laws actually create costly additional districts. For instance, in FY 2016, traditional public schools received an average per pupil share of $1,560.87 in state aid while the average charter school received $3,034.60 per pupil in state aid.
Appropriations to charter schools border on preposterous. For instance in December of each year, state aid payments are adjusted based on enrollment and revenues. In December 2015, students in charter schools comprised only 2.8% of total enrollment, yet when $25.7 million was released to help desperately hurting Oklahoma schools, 69% [$17.7 million] went to charter schools.
Even more frustrating is that of that $17.7 million, nearly one-fourth, or more than $4.1 million went to a single “virtual” charter school that at the time of the payment remained under a three-year investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The right of a local community to control its manner and method of education seemed relatively fundamental. Unfortunately, strategically placed political contributions have had the tendency to cause even rural legislators to forget about what is good for their communities. Now we only have to wait for voters to remember that they have the power to changes their legislator for one who will truly help public education.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House