Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Fourth Reading: Self-Interests Sink Legislature's Grades

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Fourth Reading: Self-Interests Sink Legislature's Grades

Article excerpt

Now that the second session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature is history, 149 lawmakers have returned to their districts to campaign while the rest of us are left to sort through what our elected representatives did and didn't do.

The most effective way to do this is to use the same model the Legislature does to evaluate public schools: A through F grades.

Easy-peasy.

This year the Legislature left a lot more undone than they can claim to have accomplished. Granted, there was a big budget hole. Yes, revenues were down, but Oklahoma lawmakers boxed themselves into a corner by their continued efforts to cut taxes while still funding the state's core services.

For example, take common education. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin called for a $50 million increase in funding. State lawmakers, at first glance, came close to doubling that figure, appropriating $105 million more for common education.

Or did they? In reality, the Legislature had to earmark more than $40 million in new money just to the cover health care costs of education professionals. Lawmakers used another $25 million to reimburse schools for ad valorem taxes that should have been paid earlier in the year.

So, $65 million of their $105 million s0-called increase doesn't even make it to the classroom.

Take the other $40 million - now we're at $10 million less than the governor proposed - and you see the real effort to fund kindergarten through 12th-grade schools. By the time those remaining funds pay for enrollment growth and existing services, public schools only see about $10 million in new money, about $9 per student, well below the governor's request.

Final grade: D for lack of effort and commitment.

The Legislature also dropped the ball on school safety.

Even though the wounds of last year's killer tornadoes remain raw and open, the Oklahoma Legislature couldn't manage to develop a policy that would better protect public school students. …

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