Fracking the Vote!

SD25One of the more closely watched upcoming runoff elections will be the contest between republican candidates for Oklahoma Senate District 25.

SD25 includes portions of South Tulsa, Bixby, and Broken Arrow.

The August 23rd election will determine whether Lisa Kramer or Joe Newhouse will move on to face Democrat Robert Founds in the November general election. This position is currently held by Republican Senator Mike Mazzei who is term-limited and unable to run again.

With a crowded primary field, neither Kramer or Newhouse was able to garner a majority to win the primary outright on June 28th.

With 3579 votes, Kramer led the four-person field with 34.8% of the vote, followed by Newhouse with 2991 votes, or 29.1%. That leaves a large segment of voters (36.2%) who voted for one of the other two candidates and will now need to put their support behind one of the two remaining candidates.

My fellow blogger, BlueCerealEducation, has recently posted a summary of both of these candidates on his page. If you live in SD25, I strongly encourage you to read his detailed analysis.

BCE has done a wonderful service this year by providing a thorough vetting of statewide candidates and their positions relative to public education in Oklahoma. Whether or not you agree with his recommendations, information is power, right? Plus, Dallas has a wonderfully witty way with words that makes reading this type of typically droll analysis rather entertaining.

Back to the hotly contested race in SD25.

Suffice it to say that interest in the outcome of this race extends well beyond the boundaries of these communities. In fact, there will be peering eyes extending all the way from Washington, D.C. and the voucher wolves at the deceptively named American Federation for Children (AFC).

This is the same dark money group that I wrote about two years ago in a post titled, “It’s Mudslinging Time.” In that 2014 runoff election for Oklahoma House District 69, Melissa Abdo was pitted in a similarly tight race against opponent Chuck Strohm for the Republican nomination.

Despite having a large lead going into the runoff, Abdo was defeated in the election after a multi-week smear campaign bought and paid for by the AFC. As a consequence, for the past two years the voucher wolves have had one more loyal soldier (Strohm) pushing their agenda in the halls of the Oklahoma Capitol.

Now, with only ten days until the latest Oklahoma runoff they have ramped up their efforts to discredit another strong education candidate and install another pro-voucher candidate in the Oklahoma legislature.

The most recent attack came packaged in the form of a sentimental, faux handwritten letter from the mom of a child with special needs.

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The folks at AFC chose a very nice computer font which provides the reader with the visual of a tearful mom sitting at the kitchen table and penning her heartfelt emotions by hand.  She begins with the salutation, “Dear Friend” and immediately shares a loving account of her son, Dylan, and his struggles in public school.

It is powerful and convincing, well … until you get to the signature line and recognize that Lauren has misspelled her own name. Well, or somebody did. I will let you speculate as to what that error may mean.

Let me make this perfectly clear. I have tremendous respect for parents like Lauren Marshall who lovingly raise children with special needs. The day-to-day demands associated with caring for children with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities are daunting and never-ending.

As  result, her arguments in favor of educational supports for her son are compelling and I have no cause to dispute her personal support of the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarship and her characterization of the legislation as “a Godsend to her family and a blessing to her son.”

At the same time, I do have to push back gently on her statement at the bottom of page one that she, “doesn’t usually get involved in politics – at all.

That seems strange for her to say since she has lobbied extensively over the past few years in favor of parent choice in education. Lauren has served as the Oklahoma director for the national Public School Options organization.

On their website, the organization claims to be founded by parents “who are dedicated to supporting and defending public school options in their states and around the country.”

Ms. Marshall has not only been active in the Oklahoma Chapter, she has also served on the PublicSchoolOptions.org Board of Directors.

Here is Lauren’s bio from the webpage:

Lauren Marshall first got involved in school choice 3 years ago when her local school district would not allow a transfer request for her two boys.  After winning that first fight, she soon realized that the virtual school she wanted her boys to attend was in jeopardy.   This experience led Lauren to become involved in PublicSchoolOptions.org to serve as a voice for all parents who face similar challenges. For the last two years she has served as President of the Oklahoma Chapter for PublicChoolOptions.org. Lauren lives in Tulsa with her husband Gary and her two sons, Dylan and David. Dylan is starting his fourth year with  Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy (OVCA) and David attends Carver Middle School, a magnet school, after attending OVCA for 3 years.

Ms. Marshall has also been involved in numerous legislative press conferences and interviews with news agencies over the years. A quick search of the internet found these as a sample:

  1. An August 2011 conference on digital education HERE.
  2. A 2014 press conference (HERE) led by State Representative Jason Nelson announcing introduction of Education Savings Accounts (ESA) legislation. Ms. Marshall was also commended for her support on Rep. Nelson’s blog.
  3. A 2014 interview with Oklahoma Channel 9 news station about ESAs HERE.
  4. An interview with Tulsa Channel 8 on the 2014 School Choice Expo HERE.
  5. A 2013 Op-Ed published in The Oklahoman (HERE) proclaiming her support of virtual charter schools.

Oh, and there is this.

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Ms. Marshall is on the left of this picture.

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So, at least let us be honest about Ms. Marshall’s involvement in school choice politics. Her actions over the past five years reveal she is very much involved in the choice movement, on both a state and national level.

For her to imply that she doesn’t “get involved in politics – at all” is misleading and disingenuous.

Let me take just a moment to remind you about the organization who paid for the preparation and delivery of this letter to thousands of homes in the Tulsa area this week, the American Federation for Children (AFC).

Here is the background on AFC from the online site Sourcewatch:

The American Federation for Children (AFC) is a conservative 501(c)(4) advocacy group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other avenues. It is the 501(c)(4) arm of the 501(c)(3) non-profit group the Alliance for School Choice. Former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was charged with multiple crimes stemming from abuse of his office, is on staff at ASC as Senior Advisor to its Government Affairs Team.

 

In the organization’s own words, ASC is “a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.”

 

AFC is an ALEC member and is represented by former Rep. Jensen on the ALEC Education Task Force. Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years (the charges were later reduced on appeal). Jensen is one of AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.

 

Jensen has proposed bills to ALEC on behalf of AFC/ASC that were adopted as “model” legislation. For example, in March 2011, Jensen presented to the ALEC Education Task Force the “Education Savings Account Act,” which creates financial incentives for families to take their children out of the public school system and put them in for-profit primary and secondary schools.

 

AFC is chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos (son of Amway founder and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other right-wing initiatives.

So, again, Scott Jensen and his fellow voucher wolves at AFC have found a willing accomplice in Lauren Marshall to perpetuate their mudslinging campaign in Oklahoma and continue their efforts to pass voucher legislation in our state.

Anyhow, lest I be accused of ignoring the actual charges levied against Lisa Kramer in Ms. Marshall’s letter, let’s take a closer look at what she claims.

Marshall asserts that Kramer, as a former school board member for Bixby Public Schools, voted to deny educational opportunities for students with special needs.

The basis for this flimsy argument is that Kramer voted with the rest of her board against direct payments of scholarships to parents of students with special needs as legislated by House Bill 3393 (LNH) passed in the 2010 session.

If you recall, at this time the LNH legislation was still under legal challenge, primarily because of language found in different articles of the Oklahoma Constitution.

According to many legal scholars and school attorneys at the time, these payments would have been illegal because the Constitution specifically precludes the use of public funds, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of sectarian institutions. Moreover, direct payments of public funds from a school district to a private entity or individual would constitute an illegal gift under Article X, Section 15 of the Oklahoma Constitution.

Click HERE to read the full position statement from the Bixby School Board on HB 3393 published in 2010.

The reality was that were significant legal questions surrounding the constitutionality of LNH, particularly related to the legality of school districts making direct payments to parents or other private entities.

Based on legal advice from well-respected, knowledgeable school attorneys, Kramer and her colleagues on the Bixby school board voted to refuse to make these payments to avoid potential tax liabilities and violating the Oklahoma Constitution. The same thing happened in districts across Oklahoma as the legislation made its way through various challenges and appeals.

In short, with her vote as a member of the Bixby school board, Lisa Kramer was protecting the legal and financial interests of the citizens who elected her. That was her job and responsibility. 

In subsequent legislation, the requirement for making these payments was moved away from local districts and instead moved back to the State Department of Education.

With this change to the original LNH bill, and after a contentious five-year legal battle, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled LNH constitutional in February 2016.

Therefore, LNH is now the law of the land. However, as with other states, school choice legislation for students with special needs has  been used to slam open the door for more aggressive school choice initiatives like ESAs and even “vouchers for all” passed in the state of Nevada last year.

The bottom line is that AFC and Lauren Marshall and Jason Nelson and Chuck Strohm and Scott Jensen and Mary Fallin and Janet Barresi all dream of the day when they can bring Milton Friedman’s vision for universal school choice to fruition in Oklahoma.

AFC has obviously determined that Joe Newhouse would serve as a willing accessory to their agenda and that Kramer might get in the way by asking tough questions and giving thoughtful consideration to the potential negative impact of voucher legislation on Oklahoma schools and students.

As a result, they have unleashed their mudslinging campaign once again and will be working hard to influence our elections from their well-appointed lobbying offices in Washington, D.C.

Even if it’s written on pretty paper with nice cursive font, we’re smart enough to not fall for their lies and distortions again, aren’t we?

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4 thoughts on “Fracking the Vote!

  1. Good blog. It’s not “choice” unless it’s a viable choice for everyone. Why not fund public education properly and expend the time and energy into creating great public schools for ALL children.

  2. Rob, Thanks for continuing to try and inform the public. So sad that we have so many folks in Oklahoma that have such difficulty reading and comprehending the written word. Those critical skills of determining fact from fiction appear to be lost to so many registered voters..

  3. Why again is the public school establishment so opposed to school choice? The commentary does not explain. It merely attacks supporters of school choice as being liars motivated by evil intentions.

    We know that we have problems. How are we going to fix them if we devote our efforts instead to eliminating any “competition”?

    • Have you taken the time to read the literature about choice? In states that have implemented universal choice, schools have become more segregated as the vouchers or scholarships or tax breaks are taken predominantly by upper middle class of affluent white families. Milwaukee has had choice for 25 years. Look at the research about the negative impact of this program. A good place to start is Diane Ravitch’s book, “Reign of Error” or her blog at dianeravitch.net

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