My office has received numerous emails and phone calls over the last few weeks concerning the issues that we’re facing in this legislative session, including several regarding the bill I authored to restore five-day school weeks in Oklahoma public schools. Senate Bill 441 passed in committee this week and will be heard next on the Senate floor. We will continue working on this bill, as well as SB 579, which would require districts to have their mandatory hours of instruction increase to 1,140, which represents an increase of 60 hours. The same bill would set a minimum of 155 school days for all districts. The combination of these two pieces of legislation are part of the priority agenda items we are focusing on this year to preserve and protect the continuing investment we’ve made in our schools, our teachers and Oklahoma’s students.
As your elected official, I represent the people of the district, not just one community or profession. When you’re voting on issues, there will always be people who support and others who criticize whatever the issue in question may be. As a lawmaker, I receive a great deal of information on issues from different sources, including education. I also receive a lot of input from many people in the district and not every parent, student, business leader or taxpayer agrees on every issue, including their viewpoint of a four-day vs. five-day school week. A good legislator considers all the information available when weighing out a solution that benefits a community. I believe that public education is the great equalizer, and affords all of us the opportunity to live up to our potential. As a legislator, I must consider students and parents, but I also must consider others as well.
I voted for the historic teacher pay raises last year and I’m working with my colleagues this year to get more dollars into the classroom. I authored SB 441 to restore five-day school weeks because I believe it is what is best for students. Students must always be the focus of our education policy and SB 441 and SB 579 accomplish that. There are plans for additional money for schools again this year, and with that extra funding we want to ensure students are getting the benefit of those extra dollars spent.
Originally, there were school districts that adopted a four-day week in order to help make up extended snow days or accommodate other extenuating circumstances. In recent years, however, some districts have moved to a four-day week simply to put increasing political pressure on the legislative body for additional funding.
Districts that want to continue four-day school weeks may do so under the bill, as long as they demonstrate to the Department of Education that it isn’t hurting student achievement AND the schools are actually saving money. I do believe in local control, which is why I included those provisions in SB 441 for local districts to continue with four-day weeks, but schools shouldn’t be allowed to have four-day weeks if student performance is suffering.
A legislator can vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the countless number of education-related bills that we consider each year in the Legislature, but a single ‘yes’ vote doesn’t make them pro-public education any more than any one ‘no’ vote deems them to be anti-public education. Just because I vote in favor of a measure that students and parents support doesn’t mean I’m against public education. When I supported teachers with the 16.6% pay increase last year, that didn’t mean I was against taxpayers. One person’s vision of what is right on a particular issue could very well be exactly what is wrong with the system in the opinion of another person.
Regardless of how many issues we face during a legislative session, it’s my responsibility to consider how changes in current law or the creation of new laws will affect different communities of people. Taxpayers, business leaders, parents, teachers and students each have different needs and concerns and I’m always going to look at how various decisions will affect people. Whether it’s public safety, transportation, health and human services or education, I’m going to do the best I can in considering all people when measuring the correct way to address the issues.
As always, I appreciate all feedback, and I welcome your comments and concerns. I can be reached at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or by email at email@example.com. If you’re at the Capitol and would like to stop by our office, we are now located in Room 419.