Okla. Youth Expo Touts Report from Boston That Attacks Public Education in Oklahoma

By State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester

McALESTER (3 March 2017) – When charter school legislation started a few years ago I wondered how charter schools would infiltrate our rural schools and how they would put out propaganda to persuade rural citizens that they should abandon our public schools for charter schools and private schools.  I realized that first there had to be an attack on public education, and then a subtle “easing in” of charter schools to be a viable alternative.

I first saw the attack on public education from the agriculture community when I was sent a Farm Bureau brief outlining the problems with education in Oklahoma.  It was labeled “failing schools in Oklahoma.”  I thought, “Wow, Farm Bureau lobbyists are now experts on education, too.”

Now the Oklahoma Youth Expo (OYE) is touting a report by Bellwether Education Partners, a Boston, Mass., group pushing charter schools and private schools, according to Google.  The Bellwether report is labeled “Voices from Rural Oklahoma” and bears a picture of an old windmill out in a field.  It is subtitled, “Where’s Education Headed on the Plain.”  The foreword is written by Tyler Norvell, executive director of OYE.  By their own admission, they based this report on visiting with just EIGHTY rural Oklahomans.  The 80 people they interviewed consisted of high school students, college students, parents and business leaders; no teachers or school administrators were part of the study.  That sounds well rounded and impartial, right?!

In the report, they say the reason funding to education has declined is the lower prices of oil and gas since 2007.  However, in 2010 oil prices were $100 per barrel, yet the Oklahoma Legislature led the nation in cuts to education.  Bellwether did not mention that income tax cuts to the wealthy cost our budget about $1 billion per year.

The study also states that our rural students perform 6% lower than the national average in reading and 14% lower in math – but they did not compare Oklahoma’s education funding cuts to the national average.  I wonder why.

The study also stated we don’t have enough counselors to give students guidance in their career paths.  It could be that counselors were reduced in schools because of one of the nine cuts to education that schools have endured over the last 10 years.  One business owner says we’ve taken common sense out of schools.  He went on to say that he has hired 10 kids in the last two years to work over the summers and “they can’t pull a dipstick on a lawnmower!”  Hmmm, maybe because the mower has a two-cycle engine?  I am pretty sure I learned that at home, not at school, so how is a school at fault?  Xbox has replaced a lot of household chores that teach common sense.  Schools don’t provide Xboxes to kids.

The Bellwether study also reported students having to take remedial courses at college.  There is a big difference between high school and college.  The study habits in high school carry with the student into college, but who is responsible for home study habits?  Parents, that’s who, and parents don’t usually go to college with their children.

One of the last comments made in the report was that individuals who are not familiar with charter schools are somewhat fearful of them; however, individuals who are familiar with charter schools think they are a viable option to public education.  There is the “subtle easing in” or the introduction of charter schools.

In all honesty, I have never seen such a lopsided report full of “alternative facts,” and this report was presented to the House Rural Caucus, which is a bipartisan group of House members.  I will strongly urge the other legislators who received this report to take it with a grain of salt.

James 1:5 and Proverbs 2:6 – If you need wisdom, ask our generous God and He will give it to you.  For the Lord grants wisdom!  From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.


Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
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