Yesterday was an interesting day at the state Capitol for two major education initiatives.
First, as reported by the Tulsa World this morning, House Bill 1380, which seeks to make the teaching of AP US History illegal in our state, was passed by the House Common Education Committee on a 11-4 party line.
Rick Cobb at oktruths discussed this on his blog early this morning. As Rick says, if this measure were to go forward, ALL AP courses could be in jeopardy. This is a product of 2014’s HB 3399 which overturned the Common Core.
The second major set of votes were on legislation to establish so-called Education Savings Accounts (vouchers) in Oklahoma. The Senate version authored by Senator Clark Jolley (Senate Bill 609, the “Oklahoma Education Empowerment Scholarship Act”) passed the Senate Education Committee by a vote of 6-3 and is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee.
However, things did not go quite as well on the House side. Representative Nelson’s different version of the legislation (House Bill 2003) failed to get out of the House Education Committee on a split vote of 9-9. The bill will likely resurface later next week.
Lest anyone believe that the current push for so-called Education Savings Accounts (vouchers) originated from the fertile minds of anyone in our state legislature, you would be WRONG!
There are powerful forces in play inside and OUTSIDE of our state who are lobbying our legislators to implement this choice initiative (vouchers) in Oklahoma this year.
Let me take a few minutes to introduce you to some of these puppet masters.
Take a look at the following email from Brandon Dutcher, the Executive Vice President at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). His short email is referring to The Oklahoman’s editorial on Sunday entitled:”No Good Reason to Oppose Education Savings Accounts in Oklahoma.”
From: Brandon Dutcher <email@example.com>
Date: Sunday, February 15, 2015 at 11:50 AM
Subject: ESA home run from the state’s largest newspaper
This isn’t merely the lead editorial in the Sunday Oklahoman today — it’s the ONLY editorial. It takes up practically the entire left column.
Apparently, Mr. Dutcher failed to read my post from Sunday which completely dissected every argument from The Oklahoman’s “home run article.”
The Oklahoman’s editorial was actually more like a weak bunt up the first base line with the hitter tripping and falling on his face coming out of the batter’s box.
The interesting part was to whom Dutcher’s email was addressed. In addition to several other OCPA staffers, the email was sent to:
- Jabar Shumate (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Scott Jensen (email@example.com) – I’ll come back to Mr. Jensen in a moment
- John Tidwell (firstname.lastname@example.org) – Tidwell is the Oklahoma State Director of the Americans for Prosperity organization
- Damon Gardenhire from the Wal-Mart Family Foundation (email@example.com)
- Colleen Cook at Public School Options
- Mike Lapolla at osfkids.org (Opportunity Scholarship Fund)
Dutcher’s email prompted this excited response from former state senator Jabar Shumate. If you recall, Shumate recently resigned from his Senate seat to take a position as the state director of the American Federation for Children. He also serves as the its national director of legislative affairs
From: Jabar Shumate <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Monday, February 16, 2015 at 10:16 AM
To: John Tidwell <JTidwell@afphq.org>
Subject: Re: ESA home run from the state’s largest newspaper
Let’s now take a peek at how this played out during the votes yesterday.
After the Senate Education Committee’s vote, we find this from our friend and former Barresi staffer, Damon Gardenhire:
On Feb 16, 2015, at 10:31 AM, Damon Gardenhire <email@example.com> wrote:
Great news – even Smalley, who seemed to wait dramatically for several seconds. Clearly the Oklahoman’s editorial and other empirical information like it boxes them in – they can only be opposed on ideological grounds now, not on the facts.
The Walton Family Foundation
This was followed by this email from Dave Bond, the CEO of OCPA Impact:
On Feb 16, 2015, at 10:38 AM, Dave Bond <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Our emphasis should be on praising those who support the bill, being careful not to criticize those who don’t. Some who vote against it the first time might be convinced to support prior to the next vote.
Still one more Senate committee hurdle to pass — Appropriations, which has 45 members. Yes, 45.
This sentiment was echoed by the Executive VP of OCPA, Jonathan Small:
On Feb 16, 2015, at 11:24 AM, Jonathan Small <email@example.com> wrote:
I agree with Dave, happy warriors, the public is with us so let’s praise those who made the right choice.
But, here is where things get interesting!
Later in the day the positive mood was tempered when Nelson’s House version failed to clear the education committee. The following email was part of the same email chain from above. It is from former Wisconsin House Assembly Speaker, Scott Jensen. Jensen was forced to resign his office in disgrace in 2006 after numerous criminal ethics charges. More about this later. (emphasis is mine)
On Feb 16, 2015, at 10:18 PM, Scott Jensen <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I decided to take my kids out for dessert tonight after the disappointing vote in the House Education Committee. Amazingly, they wanted frozen yogurt despite the single digit temperatures here in Wisconsin. 😉 Now, that I have calmed down, I still have two serious frustrations:
First, the Chair of the House Education Committee cast the deciding vote against a proposal by a membership of the House leadership (Nelson) – a bill that the Speaker and Majority Leader came to the committee to support. As a former Speaker, I find this stunning. At a minimum, Chair Coody should have expressed her concerns with the bill, voted to advance it out of committee but said she would not be able to support it on the floor unless her concerns were addressed. Instead, she felt completely comfortable choosing the education establishment over her leadership team. It is very early in the session for this sort of challenge to the leadership. If the Speaker does not have a swift response to this vote, he can count on chaos for the rest of the session.
Second, when your team is in charge you should never lose a vote. If you don’t have the horses then the bill should be set aside and no vote should be held. I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short. Was Rep. Nelson unable to ask for the vote to be delayed so he could address some members concerns? Was Chair Coody so interested in sticking it to her leadership that she went ahead with the vote? Most legislators are conflict avoiders so they are very open to a request to delay the vote on a bill. If we didn’t have the votes, no vote should have been held. That is one of the greatest powers of the majority, deciding when a vote will be held.
If I were Speaker, it would now be a matter of honor to me that the Senate version of the ESA bill pass on the floor.
Whether or not the Speaker and his leadership team choose to instill some team discipline, we should do so. I would recommend that several organizations on this email list conduct robocalls and emails to voter lists educating them about the votes by Representatives Coody, Nollan, Thomsen, Casey and Henke. The message should be simple: these Republicans joined with liberal Democrats to defeat an important education reform supported by conservatives and the Republican leadership. Their voters should know they joined with the liberal Democrats to cast the deciding vote against giving parents more educational options. The ramifications of this vote should echo in the House chamber.
Notice Jensen’s liberal use of the terms “team” and “we”? As far as I can tell, Mr. Jensen has never spent a day in our great state, yet he is inserting himself smack dab in the middle of an Oklahoma policy debate.
I find it frightening that Jensen would write, “I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short.” Assured by whom and for what reason? Why would ANY Oklahoma legislator ASSURE Jensen of ANYTHING!!!!
And who invited him to be part of our damn team anyway? Who is this PUPPET MASTER who is attempting to coerce and threaten our state legislators into compliance?
Well, let’s just say, Mr. Jensen has quite a colorful history. His illustrious past: rabid voucher supporter, unethical scoundrel, convicted felon…you know, just the type of person we want influencing our elections and controlling our legislative process.
There are lots of articles about Mr. Jensen online. Here is a small piece from one that ran recently titled, “Wisconsin’s Voucher Vultures.”
After a couple of years, he ran for public office himself and served as an Assembly representative for fourteen years, including as the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly for some of that time.
Then he fell from grace as he was charged and convicted of three felonies in an abuse of power and illegal campaigning scandal that rocked the statehouse and landed several top pols in jail. After more than four years of legal maneuvering, Jensen managed to get a mistrial declared by the state court of appeals and appealed all the way to the state supreme court in order to move the venue of the next trial to his home county of Waukesha.
Eight years after Jensen was caught illegally using legislative staff and resources to work on partisan campaigns and charged with felony misconduct in office, he made a deal with Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel to plead guilty to one misdemeanor, pay a $5,000 fine, reimburse the state for legal costs incurred on his behalf before he resigned, and promise to never run for public office again.
But that hasn’t kept Jensen out of the state capitol. These days he can be seen prowling its halls, unelected but more powerful than ever, throwing his influence around. For the past three years, he’s been working as a high-paid lobbyist for school vouchers, raking in over $200,000 a year to do the arm-twisting work of the Walton and DeVos families, two of the richest in the nation.
A few moments after Jensen’s email, he received a response from Leslie Hiner. She is also a school choice PUPPET MASTER who is pulling strings in states across America from her perch at the Friedman Foundation. You can read more about her at edchoice.org
From: Leslie Hiner [mailto:Leslie@edchoice.org]
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2015 10:25 PM
To: Scott Jensen
Subject: Re: Tonight’s ESA Vote in the House
Yes. As the former chief of staff to the Speaker in Indiana, I agree with Scott 100%. Wisconsin and Indiana are leading the nation in advancing educational choice, and this has not happened by accident. Leadership matters. Time for Oklahoma’s leaders to draw a line in the sand and act decisively. Until then, Oklahomans need to get the word out about who is, and who is not, supportive of families in Oklahoma.
Thank you, Scott.
And thanks to Jason Nelson for a stellar testimony today. Well done.
Wow, don’t you think it is great that these out-of-state corporate lobbyists care so much about the children of Oklahoma? To the point that they are urging Oklahoma’s leaders to “draw a line in the sand” and “instill some team discipline” to ensure this voucher bill gets passed “for the kids?” Or else, “they can count on chaos!”
Are you starting to see the connections? We have Damon Gardenhire from the Walmart Family Foundation in Arkansas, with voucher lobbyists in Wisconsin and Indiana, along with conservative propagandists and law makers in Oklahoma, working together to implement legislation that very few people in Oklahoma are asking for.
This is serious business for these people and they are pulling out all the stops to get vouchers passed in Oklahoma. They have the money and influence.
But we have thousands of individual voices. This is why you MUST share this message with all who are concerned about the future of public schools in our state.
Make no mistake, the Oklahoma legislators who voted NO yesterday will face incredible pressure from these voucher wolves to change their vote. They need to hear from us TODAY, TOMORROW, and EVERY DAY until we defeat this legislation in Oklahoma.
Contact these courageous legislators to let them know you support them and to hold strong: