Education data collection bill gets Henry veto

By Patrick B. McGuigan

In his latest controversial veto, Governor Brad Henry slammed the door shut on Senate Bill 1111, a measure that would have transferred educational data reporting responsibilities away from the Education Department.

The bill would have sent duties and responsibilities of the Oklahoma School Testing Program and determination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) from the Department of Education to a new entity called the Educational Quality and Accountability Office.

Although the measure had passed easily on a largely party line vote, 58-39, Democrats had assailed the measure during and after debate.

In his statement sent to The City Sentinel, Democrat leader Danny Morgan of Prague said, “There have been no public hearings on this issue, no task force studies, no input from educators.  For a bill that’s supposed to be about transparency, this process has been less than transparent.”

Wes Hilliard of Sulphur, also a Democrat, had said the bill would not “improve accountability, it’s just going to shift accountability from one department to another.  This bill’s proponents aren’t making any improvements – they’re just playing the political version of musical chairs with bureaucratic oversight.”

Defending the bill before the veto was Rep. Lee Denney of Cushing, a Republican leader on school issues. She noted the U.S Chamber of Commerce’s study “Leaders and Laggards” in 2007 gave Oklahoma a grade of ‘F’ for accountability. Despite an ‘A’ grade for teaching force, Oklahoma garnered an ‘F’ for academic achievement and truth in advertising about student proficiency. The state had a ‘D’ in data quality, she noted.

House Speaker Chris Benge was strongly critical of the governor’s veto of the measure. He said, “A diverse group of people, including business, education and community leaders, support this reform legislation. We all may disagree on the best way to reform our state public education system, but I know we can all agree that more of the same is not good enough and hasn’t been for quite some time. One reason is we have an elected politician — whether Democrat or Republican — determining our standards and at the same time reporting testing results.”

Benge said, “We need leaders who are willing to take bold yet simple action to improve education in our state and fight the status quo. I remain committed to that charge, and while I am deeply disappointed in this veto, I am hopeful that we can work with the governor to pass meaningful education reform prior to the end of this legislative session.”

A few days after the veto of S.B. 1111, the governor rejected S.B. 834, a school deregulation bill supported by many school administrators but opposed by the Oklahoma Education Association and Professional Oklahoma Educators.