Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Education in Oklahoma 2010 Elections: Barresi wins, 744 defeated

If you were running for an Oklahoma public office on November 2, 2010, it was a good day to be a Republican. Republican candidate Mary Fallin will become Oklahoma’s first female governor, winning over 60% of the popular vote over her Democratic opponent, Jari Askins. Republican Janet Barresi won the race against Democrat Susan Paddack and independent candidate Richard Cooper with almost 56% of the popular vote.

Janet Barresi wins

Barresi will be the first Republican to be elected (rather than appointed) to the office of State Superintendent of Schools in Oklahoma, and will end the 20 year reign of Sandy Garrett when she takes office in January 2011. (Thanks to Wendy Pratt for the clarification, I had earlier posted she will be the first Republican to serve – see comments below for details.) I’m sure there is quite a bit of buzz in the Oklahoma State Department of Education today following this electoral result, amplified to an even louder volume than it’s been in past months. Ever since Garrett announced she would not seek re-election, employees at the SDE have been contemplating their future employment prospects after two decades of departmental political stability at the top. 2011 is going to be an interesting year for education in Oklahoma.

State Question 744, which I advocated for in writing, with a podcast, and with a YouTube video in the past seven days, was defeated with over 80% of Oklahoma voters opposing it.

744 fails

I’m a bit mystified by the quotation in today’s Daily Oklahoman from Heather Sparks, the 2009 Oklahoma teacher of the year. She’s quoted saying:

“It’s a win, win for education [that SQ 744 was defeated.] We have let the public know, really put the giant spotlight on the fact that we are in the bottom five every year. We can do better if we have more resources. It needs to be a priority in our state.” Sparks, who teaches at Taft Middle School, said the lack of resources classrooms face – particularly when it comes to technology – is astounding.

Indeed the low level of funding for education in our Oklahoma public schools IS astounding, and the failure of the Oklahoma legislature to adequately fund public schools is exactly what state question 744 sought to remedy. Since our Oklahoma legislators chose to supplant rather than supplement educational budgets with lottery funds (as discussed in Monday’s podcast) and used federal stimulus dollars this year to replace rather than supplement state education dollars in the budget, financial prospects for our schools in 2011 are going to be extremely bleak.

What kind of plan do the successful opponents of SQ 744 have? None that we’ve heard so far. Janet Barresi, like Barack Obama, will take the helm of an organization facing extremely grim economic challenges. I hope our Oklahoma leaders can come together and work together for the benefit of our children and communities in 2011, and find ways to provide exceptional educational opportunities rather than ones which are just “OK.”

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7 responses to “Education in Oklahoma 2010 Elections: Barresi wins, 744 defeated”

  1. […] Education in Oklahoma 2010 Elections: Barresi wins, 744 defeated ( […]

  2. Wendy Pratt Avatar

    Wes: This is not accurate:

    She first Republican to be ELECTED. Gerald Hoeltzel, appointed by Gov. Bellmon, was a Republican. There may have been others, but he was first to HOLD the office; she was first elected. Love the “just OK” comment most of all. — Thx, Wendy

  3. Brandon Dutcher Avatar

    “What kind of plan do the successful opponents of SQ 744 have? None that we’ve heard so far.” Actually, there are any number of plans being talked about, most notably some of the reforms discussed in the recent documentaries “Waiting for ‘Superman’” and “The Lottery.” Screenings of these films were recently hosted by the Inasmuch Foundation and the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation.

    One reason SQ 744 was pummeled is that people are starting to realize that, in the absence of reform, more money isn’t going to improve the public schools. This is the view articulated in recent weeks by liberals (e.g., Barack Obama, Tulsa World editorialist Wayne Greene, and OKC AFT boss Ed Allen) as well as conservatives.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks Wendy, I made the change in the original post. I appreciate your correction! 🙂

  5. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Brandon: I’d hardly attribute the decade-old plan to discredit public schools, open the coffers of public education to private entrepreneurs, and impose a regime of high-stakes accountability which removes creativity as well as 21st century digital literacy skills from the classroom a “plan of the successful opponents of SQ 744.” The same school reform agenda has been accelerated under Obama which was initiated under GW Bush.

    I’m glad “Waiting for Superman” was screened in Oklahoma, I had to go see it in Dallas a few weeks ago. You can read my review here. It raised some important issues, but also made some basic errors which are common in school reform talk.

    More money is DEFINITELY part of the solution to improving our schools. Saying otherwise is naive and ill-informed. I agree JUST giving money to schools, to do the same things, is NOT the answer. Are you familiar with the educational turnaround story of Finland? Their scores on international tests are generally touted in most reports you read these days. I’d encourage you to take 20 minutes and watch Dr. Tim Tyson’s outstanding presentation for the K-12 Online Conference last week, “The Classroom Teacher As a 21st Century Instructional Leader.” He shares important things about the Finland example which are relevant to our discussion.

    I think there are multiple reasons SQ 744 was defeated, but one of them wasn’t a “sudden enlightenment on the issues of school reform” which fell like a bolt of lightning upon the voters of our state. I think the politics and messages of fear generally work, and those opposing the measure used those strategies to good effect. Many of the claims of the opposition (taxes are definitely going up, there is no accountability provided, etc) were false. Fear and negativity can be powerful motivators for action, and they were in this case.

    We don’t have many current state leaders who took a stand for public education funding and supported SQ 744. NewsOK was quoting David Boren and Burns Hargis in their opposition to the measure… it’s reasonable to understand their positions, they stood to potentially lose funding IF the legislature didn’t come up with more money through tax credit reductions or other measures. They are both university presidents, and in the short term, their institutions could have been harmed financially. I’d also argue they are tightly networked with the corporate business elite in our state, and they have powerful purse strings. The defeat of this measure has much more to do with who has money and political power today in Oklahoma, than it has to do with voter enlightenment about school reform.

    We need changes in our education system. Dramatically increasing funding would be a great start, but only a start. Unfortunately, with the defeat of SQ 744 we’re going to face an INCREDIBLY bleak year in 2011-2012 for Oklahoma schools.

    We need strong state leadership that will take a stand for public education funding. The claim that money has nothing to do with improving schools is ridiculous. One of my kids attends school in Oklahoma City Public Schools. We know VERY well how much our schools need more funding. I also know because of my friends who are Oklahoma teachers, and knowing how little they are paid for the HARD work they put in every day.

  6. Brandon Dutcher Avatar


    First, I have to say that everything I know I learned from Wendy when I interned for her 23 years ago. (Not really; she can’t shoulder the blame for that. But hi Wendy. Tell your boss I appreciate her comments that those Tulsa-area school districts should obey Lindsey’s Law.)

    You’ll notice I said ONE reason 744 went down is that people are starting to realize that, in the absence of reform, more money isn’t going to improve the public schools. Now obviously the MAIN reason it tanked was that the Takings Coalition teamed up with Oklahoma’s center-right majority, just as I predicted 20 months ago. That much is obvious, and you touched on part of it with your Boren/Hargis comments. But still, there’s no question that ONE reason 744 failed is that Oklahomans aren’t convinced that more money is going to help. The Tulsa World’s own pollster found that Oklahoma voters, by a remarkable two-to-one margin, don’t think more money is going to help students learn more. Even Oklahoma DEMOCRATS believe this.

    You say “we need strong leadership that will take a stand for public education funding.” You probably ought not hold your breath. Just to recap yesterday’s results, Oklahoma elected 8 statewide officials yesterday, and all of them are not only Republicans but conservative Republicans. The new Speaker of the House is a conservative Republican with a 70-31 majority. The new Senate president pro tem is a conservative Republican with a 32-16 majority. Not that any of them are against more money for schools, but for them the conversation is more about reform than it is money. On education policy, these people are more likely to channel Jeb Bush than, say, Susan Paddack.

    “More money” is yesterday’s conversation. Tomorrow’s conversation includes things like charter schools, digital learning, special-needs scholarships, tuition tax credits, getting rid of tenure and trial de novo, and lots more. I’d like to be convinced that more money will help, but for now I stand with my President.

  7. Wendy Pratt Avatar

    Thanks, Brandon! I thought you forgot me.
    >”everything I know I learned from Wendy”
    Can I add that to my resume’?
    And, you know Wes is right! … 🙂