ROPE lassoes volunteers, as quietly emerging counter to ‘OEA agenda’

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 16-Mar-2011

When an estimated 1,000 public school teachers thronged the Oklahoma state Capitol earlier this week, the pervasive presence of the Oklahoma Education Association was quietly countered by members of Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), the long-time non-union nemesis of the OEA, the state’s largest labor union.
Another group working the halls of the Capitol that day, and many others this legislative session, was Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE) under the leadership of Jenni White.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK after the “red rally” for OEA members, White said, “ROPE has attempted to make taxpayers and parents aware of issues surrounding public education – particularly those of the fiscal sort. Our journey yesterday [Tuesday, March 15], was specifically to let legislators see the other side of the issue being voiced by the Union — – that of the taxpayers.
“No one in our organization has anything other than respect for public school teachers. I myself completed nearly 10 years of service in Oklahoma public schools, and my mother retired after a nearly 35 year career as an Oklahoma public school teacher. No one wants teachers to starve or be rendered incompetent because they can’t financially support themselves. I would think that obvious.”
White explained the emergence of groups like hers, with members who are heavily “invested” in public schools, but not unquestioning about policies and the use of taxpayer resources. She reflected:
“The issue isn’t about salaries – it’s about teachers’ retirement and what have become unfunded mandates requiring the state (taxpayers) to fund retirement for teachers it simply cannot afford.”
White and her volunteers passed out a flier entitled, “We’re drowning in red ink but we won’t be silenced.” The flier, from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, keyed off some assertions of OEA members, and pointed to a recent SoonerPoll that found Oklahomans have developed a negative view of the OEA.
White said her members are drawn to some of the themes of members of Congress, who advocate what is deemed, “PAYGO. We support good teachers. They are invaluable to our communities and children. It’s simply time, however, to stop kowtowing to the NEA/OEA and pay our teachers – just like every other public servant – what our state can reasonably afford on the backs of its taxpaying citizens.”
ROPE first gained some broader public awareness as one of the education advocacy groups that joined a broad and virtually unprecedented coalition in opposition to State Question 744.
White and other ROPE leaders were vocal against S.Q. 744, a ballot initiative the OEA dubbed HOPE (Helping Oklahoma Public Education Act). In that battle, the relative newcomers to state politics looped themselves into a cause that included the State Chamber, some labor unions and many other conservatives. In the end, S.Q. 744 garnered less than 19% support.
At least some credit for the outcome went to ROPE. White says she and her volunteers are for reforming public education, and have concluded one way to do that is to stand in opposition to the OEA agenda.