New poll: Oklahomans say 'Lindsey’s Law' should be enforced
Patrick B. McGuigan and Stacy Martin
By Patrick B. McGuigan and Stacy Martin
School districts refusing to comply with Lindsey’s Law are flying in the face of widespread popular support for enforcement of the measure, according to a new public opinion survey from SoonerPoll.
A total of six public school districts have refused implementation of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Children with Disabilities Program Act. The new SoonerPoll results indicate Oklahomans disagree, by a 2-1 margin, with the school boards’ defiance of the new law.
The controversial law firm of Rosenstein Fist Ringold has advised districts not to implement the law, even though the measure gained bipartisan legislative support and was vetted before enactment by Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett and Governor Brad Henry.
Rosenstein Fist Ringold was previously involved in previous attempts to impede operation of Oklahoma’s charter school laws. After years of litigation in that matter, the firm and its clients lost, costing taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees.
Last month, Superintendent Garrett told CapitolBeatOK that she believed members of the school boards in question had violated their oaths of office when they voted to impede implementation of the law.
The law written by state Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City and state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid -- with key co-sponsors including state Reps. Jabar Shumate and Anastasia Pittman -- was named in honor of Lindsey Nicole Henry, the daughter of the governor and his wife, Kim, who died in infancy of a rare disease.
Shumate’s support of the legislation provoked an all-out effort by labor unions, including the Oklahoma Education Association, to defeat the black Democrat from north Tulsa in the July primary. Shumate survived the political assault and was reelected.
Lindsey’s Law allows students with special needs (a wide range of disabilities) presently enrolled in public schools to access scholarships if they enroll in a private school. Critics have questioned the measure’s constitutionality. The measure did not increase funding for special education, and operates within the framework of existing finances.
According to a release from SoonerPoll, “When asked whether school districts should comply with the law until a constitutional ruling is made, 61.4 percent believe that they should compared to 29.5 percent who believe that school districts are not obligated to comply until a constitutional ruling is made.”
In all, the boards of education in five public school districts -- Owasso, Jenks, Union, Bixby and Broken Arrow – have chosen to defy the law. A sixth district, the Tulsa public school system, voted to process a few early applications but has turned away all other families seeking to access the program.
The defiance of the law has drawn critical response from parents of special needs children and from the bipartisan group of lawmakers who shepherded the law through the Legislature, including income Speaker of the House Kris Steele.
On Monday, an Owasso parent told a Tulsa television station, “Now we need to think about suing the school board to make them do what’s right. Because they’re choosing to violate the law they don’t agree with. It makes no sense.”
When the legislation cleared the Legislature last spring, SoonerPoll found 54.7 backed the measured. Today’s SoonerPoll analysis said the new results means “one of two things; support for the legislation has grown since its passage or many opposed to the bill believe it should be complied with regardless of their opinions.”
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll, said: "It is interesting to note that when the results are cross-tabulated by party and political label no major statistical differences are seen between Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. It is remarkable to see such a controversial issue split so evenly among political groups and ideologies."
Doug Mann, the lawyer for both the Broken Arrow and Jenks public school systems, has guided the school boards’ defiance of the new law.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned the new survey from SoonerPoll.com, which conducted its “scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 518 likely voters from Nov. 5 – 11. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.3 percent.”
NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK. Stacy Martin is editor of The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper where McGuigan is senior editor.