The 2016 legislative session began the first Monday of February, as mandated by Oklahoma’s Constitution. Monday also marked Governor Mary Fallin’s sixth State of the State Address.  This yearly speech gives a sitting governor the opportunity to share past successes as well as policy and budget priorities for the session.  It should be pointed out that while these budget and policy priorities represent the governor’s views, the legislature is not bound to them. 
Thompson Roger 1The final responsibility for writing and passing a budget and new or amended laws is in the hands of the Legislature.
The governor’s priorities include giving teachers an across the board raise of $3,000 without raising the sales tax and without repealing the income tax reduction that went into effect this month.  One of her proposals was the sharing of administrations between school districts. Although there may be some disagreement among legislators as how we can best address the need for more resources for education, I think most of us can agree that this is an issue that must be addressed.  If we’re all really interested in moving Oklahoma forward, I think we must begin the conversation by finding where the various sides have common ground.
Sometimes in the Oklahoma Legislature, hard lines are drawn on issues not based on whether you are an “R” (Republican) or a “D” (Democrat) but instead whether you represent an urban or a rural area.  Very often the issue of education becomes a rural versus urban issue.  The socio-economic factors, geography, and even cultural differences in how communities view their local schools are issues that vary greatly depending on whether you are talking about urban or rural parts of the state.  Sometimes the differences can be based both on partisanship and geography.
Whatever a person’s perspective is, drawing lines in the sand in the first days of the session and using rhetoric that is specifically aimed at dividing, even scaring people, is unproductive and disingenuous. Too often it’s simply about scoring political points.
This is not the time for fear mongering—we have a fiscal crisis that demands using objective data, thoughtful discussion and debate to find the best solutions possible for the challenges we face.  In addition, we have to look not only at the short-term impact of any proposals, but the long-term impact.
Already, people are hearing that small schools are in imminent danger of being closed down and that rural students will spend hours each day on buses being sent to school an hour or more away from where they live .First of all, none of the proposals I’ve seen mandate schools to be closed.  The focus is on merging administration as a way to redirect resources. 
In any case, the wheels of government can, and should, move slowly.  Take the governor’s proposal of merging dependent school districts with larger ones that have high schools.  We’d be debating and amending a bill like that for months.  If it actually made it through both chambers and to the governor’s desk to be signed, it would take many months, maybe even a couple of years or more, before the logistics of implementing the policy were settled.  So if anyone tells you your local school will be shut down this year, they either don’t know the facts, don’t understand the process, or are deliberately trying to frighten and mislead people.
I intend to listen to what the parents, teachers, administrators and other concerned citizens in this district have to say about any proposals that emerge.  I want to examine objective and thorough data about costs versus benefits. I’ll also want to know what we can determine about short-term and long-term impacts of any changes to our school districts.  At the end of the day, my priority is achieving excellence in education across Oklahoma—but especially right here at home.
I appreciate your input, so please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government.  You can call 405.521.5588 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you.