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25 Years After House Bill 1017, Democrats Want More Changes To Oklahoma Education

Oklahoma House Democratic Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City), flanked by state Reps. Ed Cannaday and Donnie Condit, during Monday's press conference marking 25 years since the passage of HB 1017.
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Oklahoma House Democratic Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City), flanked by state Reps. Ed Cannaday and Donnie Condit, during Monday's press conference marking 25 years since the passage of HB 1017.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus and several longtime Oklahoma teachers and administrators marked the silver anniversary of a landmark overhaul of the state's education system Wednesday, and called for further changes.

Gov. Henry Bellmon signed House Bill 1017 on April 25, 1990. It used a $560 million tax increase over five years to reduce class sizes, boost minimum teacher salaries, and fund statewide curriculum standards, testing, and early childhood programs.

Even though protests against education standards in the late 1980s and early  1990s shut down schools for days at a time as teachers rallied at the Capitol, the measure was still controversial when it passed. Oklahoma Watch's M. Scott Carter reports business groups tried to repeal the law because they were upset by the tax increase.

The repeal effort went to a public vote. HB 1017 survived, but not long afterward Oklahoma City stockbroker Dan Brown helped form a group called Stop New Taxes and successfully launched an initiative petition to limit the Legislature's ability to raise new taxes. That initiative petition became State Question 640, which requires all tax increases be approved by either a three-fourths vote of the House and Senate or a majority vote in the next general election. Since then, Democrats say, many of the gains enabled by HB 1017 have been lost. "A quarter of a century later, though, Oklahoma's public school system is still ranked near the bottom nationally because the quality measurers in HB 1017 were never fully actualized," said Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester.

Because of that, House Majority Leader Scott Inman called it a "bittersweet anniversary."

“Unfortunately, over the last 25 years, a great deal has changed,” Inman said. “House Bill 1017, its principles and pillars are no longer adhered to.”

Retired Jenks Public Schools superintendent Kirby Lehman called on lawmakers to enact a moratorium on tax cuts, only use research-based initiatives, and to stop diverting funds to outside groups.

He also wants House and Senate members to consider State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister's plan for incremental teacher pay raises and five more instruction days per school year.

"A 1017-like bill can be passed again, and maybe some of our gains will be modest,” Lehman said. “Maybe some will be enormous. It’s irrelevant if we are taking education in the right direction.”

eCapitol’s Christie Southern reports Inman was joined by several of his Democratic colleagues and other longtime educators:

"House Bill 1017 said education in Oklahoma is critical. Over the last few years we have seen the demise of that enthusiasm," said Ed Cannaday, D-Porum. Cannaday criticized today's emphasis on assessment of teachers and students and called the way the Legislature has handled education issues lately "almost embarrassing." He harped on the state's turn to deregulation as the answer to education problems. Educators present also criticized excessive testing and the costs associated with it. "We're spending millions of dollars for accountability that already exists," said Dan Nolan, a Norman Public Schools teacher. Nolan also touched on the loss of National Board Certification funding and teacher salaries which have contributed to the state's severe teacher shortage. "We are Americans; we can do better than this," he said. "This is our future, these are our children."

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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