The Legislature shall present measures that provide full funding for the support of common education to the Governor pursuant to Section 11 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution for the Governor’s consideration at least twenty-five (25) days prior to the date established by subsection E of Section 6-101 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes, but not later than April 1, in order for the boards of education of the school districts of this state to make decisions on teacher contracts.
The source of the aforementioned statute is House Bill 1247, championed by Republican leaders and signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.
This legislation was the topic of an opinion piece in today’s Tulsa World by Amber England, executive director for Stand for Children Oklahoma. As England writes, Oklahoma educators and advocacy groups would simply like the legislature to follow its own law and pass an education budget in the next 16 days.
As far as statutes go, the requirement for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a common education budget by April 1st each year is about as straightforward as they come. The one-page bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously in 2003.
As England explains in her article, Republican leaders aggressively pushed the legislation that year and, upon its passage, celebrated that “Oklahoma schoolchildren would no longer be used as a ‘political football’ in the budget process.”
Like THAT would ever happen in our great state!
Yet, since its passage, lawmakers have met the deadline only once. I’m going to jump out on a limb and predict it’s not going to happen this year either.
So, why does our legislature continue to simply ignore the law they wrote.
Simple. Because they can.
Legislative leaders 14 years ago were careful to ensure there were no teeth in the law they unanimously passed. There is no “… or else” clause in the legislation, thus no stipulations are in place to incentivize compliance or discourage noncompliance.
If they fail to follow the law, no legislator will ever lose his or her job, leadership position or committee assignment. There will be no fines or jail time in the Oklahoma City County Jail. There will be no censures or articles of impeachment filed on any legislative leaders.
More than anything else, it’s likely not a solitary vote in the next general election will change as a result of legislators failing to follow this statute.
Think about it – would you drive the speed limit if you knew that there was zero chance of you ever getting a ticket or having an accident? What keeps many people from stealing, lying, cheating on their taxes, punching other people in the nose, or even showing up to work on time other than the very real understanding that negative consequences will follow.
Likewise, many of us choose to work out, watch what we eat, get adequate sleep, endure an annual physical, take care of our homes, cars, and other stuff, work hard, treat others with kindness, and generally live our lives honorably because of the intrinsic value we place on these qualities.
It is normal human behavior. Most of our lives revolve around a constant balance of morality, ethics, and justice with the ever-present counter force of potential rewards and punishments. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic in nature, we are motivated to action (or inaction) by our understanding of the possible implications.
People who make civil laws and rules know this. Many students wouldn’t do their homework if there weren’t consequences applied for failure to do it. We would have more people driving drunk if the penalty was less severe than it is. More people would steal from banks if the sentence for armed robbery was only $100 and a weekend in jail. Punishments for murder and other violent crimes are necessarily harsh in order to provide adequate deterrence to people otherwise prone to violent, antisocial behavior.
Let’s be real. If not for clear consequences, we’d all still be chilling in the Garden of Eden. The push by some lawmakers to place the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds and in public schools is to remind us all that we should follow God’s law or else.
On the other hand, Oklahoma’s legislative leaders view missing the April 1 deadline for passing an education budget as an innocuous, meaningless lapse, kind of like forgetting to floss. They don’t really care about missing it and understand the vast majority of Oklahomans don’t either.
The truth is the legislature has no intention of following the law just because Amber England, or 500 school superintendents, me, or anyone else calls them out on their deception. Common education would have a budget by April 1st IF there was a worthwhile incentive for the legislature to provide us with one.
With no negative consequences or rewards in place, it’s never going to happen just because it’s a so-called law.
What these lawmakers do is what politicians have done for hundreds of years. They pass legislation to satisfy what they believe to be the “will of their constituents” to secure their future votes, while carefully crafting the language of the laws to avoid accountability.
It’s what they do.
Maybe we could get a budget passed if we said something like:
Failure to pass an education budget by April 1st will cause the wrath of the God to fall upon your head. You’ll have to work Fridays. Your shoelaces will not stay tied. You will gain weight for no reason. The hair from your head will move to your back. You’ll develop a painful rash in a delicate area of your body. Rabid squirrels will invade your home and procreate with your Shih Tzu. You will be stuck for eight hours in an elevator with a large man with horrible body odor and severe flatulence. Food in your refrigerator will mysteriously spoil. Your bank accounts will be hacked by a Nigerian Prince. Your mother-in-law will move into the guest room permanently. Your car will start making that expensive knocking sound again and no one will talk to you at parties.
Anything short of that kind of consequence and we will have an education budget when the legislature damn well feels like giving us an education budget. Not a day sooner.
At best, we will simply hear from legislators that they noticed that we noticed. Business as usual in the Oklahoma legislature.