OK Legislature May Eliminate State BOE

Archery tournament at Houchin Elementary | Photo/E Godfrey NewsOK

As is the case in many states and municipalities, the education department is generally one of the largest agencies and often represents a significant part of the state and local budget. Board members are either elected or appointed, and in some cases, a combination of both.

Today, Oklahoma’s NewsOK reports that Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 435 would drop the six appointed board positions and replace them with the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. On the surface, it seems that there is no move to eliminate the board altogether but to make significant changes. Currently, only two states have no board of education, Minnesota and Wisconsin. What Senate SB435 does is make Oklahoma the first state in the union to have elected officials as their board.

Manned by three elected officials, it seems highly unlikely that the board will have any governing impact on the education system. Elected officials such as the governor, secretary of state and the attorney general all have demanding positions that need their constant attention. I cannot see how they will be able to “manage” their board responsibilities. A second bill has been introduced that limits the power of the new “board.” The question remains then, who’s in charge? Someone needs to be at the helm unless the intention is to eventually phase out a “board” structure within Oklahoma’s education system.

What’s troubling is that the removal of the former six-member board is the result of a power-struggle:

“Both bills were introduced following a power struggle between the six board members appointed by former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, and the newly elected state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, a Republican.” [….]

The struggle is akin to practically every other city and state – who gets to control the education budget. The superintendent says she should be in control of the budget while the former six-member panel said they should have been in control. With a shift in power, the board is removed and control of the budget will most likely be in the hands of the new superintendent.

Te question now is what impact will this shift in power and no effective board have on Oklahoma’s current education system. Doing away with board is a change that takes time to consider and develop a solid implementation plan. The changes that Oklahoma is embarking on are clearly being driven by politics and ideology and nothing about the needs of its students. The timing involved centers solely on the legislative process and says nothing of the timing with regard to students’ needs.

Oklahoma is keen on improving its rate of high school graduation and its commitment that students graduate with a meaningful diploma (no social promotion). In June 2010, Education Week released a report that ranks Oklahoma 27th in the nation for high school graduation, which is above the national average.

In addition, the state’s requirements of high school seniors is more strict than other states and “requires more course credits (23.8) for a diploma versus the national average (20.8); is one of 25 states to require one or more exit exams for students to earn a diploma; is one of only 23 states that have defined college readiness standards; and is one of 30 states that also have defined work readiness” [….]

For almost 100 years (the first board was appointed in the early 1900s), Oklahoma’s board of education functioned without getting too involved with politics. In a few months that all changed. Oklahoma also voted to end the state’s income tax noting, as one lawmaker stated, its time for Republicans to “walk the walk.” Those taxes, no doubt, help to fund Oklahoma’s education system. Let’s hope for the sake of Oklahoma’s youth continued education success, the students don’t get caught in the cross-hairs of an ideological war.

Oklahoma Legislature may eliminate state Board of Education as it exists today | NewsOK.com
Oklahoma’s high school graduation rates improve | The Edmund Sun
A much calmer State Board of Education meeting | Oklahoma Watchdog.org

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