Funding

Pig in a Poke

Pig in a Poke - April 28, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

The English colloquialisms “turn out to be a pig in a poke” or “buy a pig in a poke” mean that something is sold or bought without the buyer knowing its true nature or value. The phrase can also be applied to accepting an idea or plan without a full understanding of its basis.

In the middle ages, con artists would often put a dog or a cat in a bag, commonly called a “poke” and sell it as a suckling pig to an unsuspecting customer. This past week, legislators were placed in a similar situation regarding Senate Bill 441.

As you will recall, SB441 originated in the Senate when legislators who had imposed the nations deepest cuts on Oklahoma’s public schools became embarrassed after the national news carried stories about Oklahoma’s four day school weeks and the lack of emphasis that Oklahoma places on public education.

The Bill added no funding to public schools but was a dictatorially arrogant legislative directive that the nearly 100 financially strapped state school districts that had resourcefully found a way to educate students despite draconian cuts, return to a five day per week calendar.

Then things got messy. Apparently fearing that legislators on the Common Education Committee would not vote in favor of a stand-alone directive for five day school weeks, the Speaker of the House sent the Bill to the Rules Committee, twice. The Rules Committee, fearing that the full house would not vote in favor of the mandate, sweetened the pot by adding a section granting every teacher in the state a $1200 per year raise.

What the Speaker and the Rules Committee forgot was that the drafters of Oklahoma’s Constitution foresaw the danger of passing a bad bill by attaching a good bill to it. In Oklahoma that is referred to as violating the constitutional single subject rule and reminds me of the family whose baby was so ugly that they had to tie a piece of bacon around his neck to get the dog to play with him.

Thus, during an evening session last week Senate Bill 441 came to the house floor. Representatives who didn’t want to vote for the unfunded mandate were enticed to hold their noses and vote for a teacher pay raise. Likewise, legislators who did not want to take away from local school boards the ability to tailor class hours, days and school calendars to the best benefit of the local school district were assured by their leadership that rural communities would be forgiving if teacher pay in Oklahoma was increased.

Proponents of Senate Bill 441 also claimed that certain schools might be able to avoid the five day week mandate if they could meet the guidelines of the Oklahoma Department of Education. Frustratingly, the rules and guidelines of the Oklahoma Department of Education have not yet been written. Rural schools across the state were skeptical about the unwritten standards. After all, the future, unknown rules would be written by the same State Department of Education that has been trying to close and consolidate successful and economical rural school districts for years.

As the Bill was debated and examined on the floor, the tension rose. Many legislators expressed concern about their conflicted positions. Finally as the vote was about to be taken, a Motion was made to Divide the Question and to allow the five day school week mandate to be voted on separately from the teacher pay raise. So much for the legislators who had claimed to be conflicted. Scores of legislators voted in the best interest of the Speaker of the House and against the best interest of their local school districts.

When the dust cleared, the Senate Bill passed the house with both subjects intact. The House Amendments have now been returned to the Senate.

Although the President Pro Tem of the Senate has indicated that the House Amendments may violate the Oklahoma Constitution, Oklahoma’s rural school districts are hanging their hats on a hope and a prayer that, if the Governor ultimately signs the SB441, the “pig in a poke” rules drafted on some future date by a hostile State Department of Education will legitimately allow them to justify that until the legislature properly funds public education, four day school weeks are a resourceful, frugal and effective way to educate students in financially strapped districts.

Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.org.

A Well Rounded Education

A Well Rounded Education - April 7, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

                There are three principles regarding the role of government in American society that overwhelmingly occupy the majority of our time and resources. Those, in no particular order, are defense, poverty and public education.

                Of course defense is addressed by the men and women who serve our state and country and the military contracts that our federal government let for our national safety.

                Since the 1930’s, Social Security has been in place to prevent an elderly or disabled population from retiring into abject impoverishment. Later, in the 1960’s Medicare was added as a part of the social safety net to improve the quality of life of America’s retirees.

Public Education on the other hand has seen a much longer and more beleaguered existence. As early as 1647, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts mandated that every Township provide a trained teacher and grammar school at taxpayer expense. The concept grew quickly in the northeastern United States and more slowly in the South.

Public education had become the American norm by the time that Oklahoma was admitted to statehood but that had not eliminated opposition based on objections that have existed for centuries.

Those objections revolve around two main factors: 1) use of public funds; and 2) control of curriculum and continue to resurface.

House Bill 1017 was a landmark education funding and reform bill that was championed by Governor Henry Bellmon and passed with broad bipartisan support in 1990. The legislation reduced class size, increased minimum teacher salaries, established alternative teacher certification, funding equity, early childhood programs, statewide curriculum and testing standards.

 Immediately, opponents of public education reform initiated a petition and were able to get State Question 639 on the ballot. Fortunately, by a 46-54 percent vote, the effort to repeal HB1017 was defeated.

Last year, after 12 years of funding neglect, education in Oklahoma had reached a point that it could no longer meet the needs of Oklahoma children. As a result, Oklahoma was suffering socially and economically. Teachers, parents and interested citizens came to the State Capitol to demand that proper resources were devoted to education in Oklahoma.

Citizens, including teachers, exercised a fundamental constitutional right enumerated in both the Article 2, Section 3 of the Oklahoma Constitution and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Oklahoma’s version says, “The people have the right peaceably to assemble for their own good, and to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances by petition, address, or remonstrance.” Likewise, the national version says, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

A number of lawmakers did not like being held accountable to their constituents and others who demanded proper education funding. As a result, bills were filed to prevent teachers from coming to the capitol during session. Some political groups are even now threatening to penalize educators and supporters of education by fining the school districts where they are employed or associated.

Many students from across the state saw concerned citizens peaceably assemble at the state capitol in support of education and will ultimately benefit from additional appropriations. It was not enough and more is needed, but those teachers and those parents provided an excellent example of democracy in action. It would seem that by exercising constitutional principles and constitutional rights, both students and legislators learned a lesson. Perhaps a lesson that will need to be repeated. That is a “Well Rounded Education.”

Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.org.

Button, Button

Button, Button - January 20, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

What do Louisa Mae Alcott’s “Little Men,” “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” David Bowie in “Labrynth,” and Walt Disney’s version of “Alice in Wonderland” all have in common? They all contain a reference to the age old children’s game, “Button, Button, who’s got the Button? Over the past 150 years, very few of us made it past elementary school without confronting the task of attempting to locate that evasive, hidden button.

Over the past decade, Oklahoma’s education budget has given Button, Button a whole new perspective. With daily attendance being a primary factor in the “game” of school funding, the concept of whether a student is “present” or “absent” can literally shift millions of education dollars from some schools to others. With that much money in the balance, it is inevitable that rules are stretched, twisted and sometimes broken.

For brick and mortar schools, the concept of being present or absent at school has remained constant for a hundred years or more. At the beginning of a school day and at every class period throughout the day, a student is either present or absent or tardy. With the advent of “virtual” schools facts get a little fuzzy.

According to  a 2016 Oklahoma Watch article by Jennifer Palmer, “With no seats to fill and no roll to call, ‘attendance’ in virtual education takes on a different meaning.” In fact Palmer reported that in the previous year, every single one of the state’s virtual charter schools reported near perfect attendance with two, including the state’s largest, reporting 100 percent attendance for the entire school…FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR!!!!

Now we’re not talking a drop in the bucket. Last year, virtual charter schools reported a statewide combined K-12 enrollment of nearly 12,000 students.

The natural question is, why should Oklahomans care? Fact is, so long as funding of our public schools is based at least in part on daily attendance and so long as virtual charter schools are allowed to establish their own method of counting attendance, schools that are able to use it for their benefit will, all to the financial detriment of those public brick and mortar schools who will consequently receive a smaller piece of the same funding pie.

While proponents, like the Epic Virtual Charter School Superintendent have been quoted as saying, “When they’re enrolled in an online course, they are considered in attendance; we just follow the law,” holding virtual charter schools accountable by changing the law may be more difficult than it would seem. In November 2018, Palmer, in another Oklahoma Watch article, reported that supporters of the state’s largest virtual charter school had “ramped up” political contributions to elected officials to the tune of at least $145,000, arguably to keep in place status quo policies that harm “brick and mortar schools” across the state.

For instance, the founders of Epic made donations that included “a combined $23,800 for State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and more than $11,000 to State Attorney General Mike Hunter.” Other recipients included Governor Kevin Stitt and more than 50 legislative candidates.

This session, Sen. Ron Sharp, a former teacher from Shawnee has filed Senate Bill 56 in a push for more transparency in the truth behind attendance numbers. The Bill would require virtual charters to submit attendance records of enrolled students to the student’s resident district. Sen. Sharp hopes to eliminate the current situation where hundreds of kids are falling through the system and no one knows where they are.

How far his bill will go remains to be seen. Much depends on whether virtual charter schools will be made accountable regarding attendance numbers or if their generous and well placed political contributions will allow them to perpetuate a costly and wasteful version of Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

Questions or Comments should be directed to David.Perryman@OkHouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Reality over Rhetoric

Reality over Rhetoric - December 23, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

When I was about four years old, a family in town had agreed to purchase a full-blood Boxer pup from friends of theirs who had a beautiful female Boxer. However, somewhere along the line the mama Boxer had been visited by a bird dog and the pup looked more like Petey, from the old Little Rascal show than an AKC registered Boxer.

By chance, we were without a dog and the rejected pup came to live with us. We named him Bozo and what we got was truly a faithful friend and companion. He had the heart of Lassie, the adventure of RinTinTin, and the valor of Rex the Wonder Dog. No amount of money could have purchased a better companion for my brother and me as we experienced special times and special places exploring the countryside from one end to the other.

The bond that I had with that mongrel named Bozo helped instill my deeply held conviction that true friends are not normally those from wealth and privilege, but instead are those who may simply need a fair shake, a kind word or a helping hand to boost their confidence and give them a sense of self-worth.

Several years later, Mom and Dad purchased a nicer home with additional land for our cow-calf operation. Cross country, the new place was about four miles from the old one and Bozo who was by then an old dog had a hard time with the move. Every few days, he would disappear. We would drive out to check cattle and there he would be laying on the front porch of the old house coping with his inability to face the reality of our move. Each time we would load him up and take him back to the new place he seemed feebler. Then one day, Bozo just didn’t show up. We searched but could not find him.

In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine the emotional torment that Bozo faced. He could not overcome his rhetorical logic that returning to the familiarity of the old house would bring normalcy. He was unable to face the reality of our move and his new surroundings.

Rhetoric is like that. It causes us to ignore reality.

Oklahoma’s state government is in crisis. Responses based on dogmatic rhetoric present themselves as failed leadership and an inability to address the reality of the issues we face. Instead of properly funding state agencies, our leaders are chronically unable to overcome the rhetoric of the day.

When I was first elected to the legislature, the buzz word was Zero Based Budgeting, defined as the theory that the state would save money and eliminate waste if the budget of every state agency were stripped to zero and each agency were required to justify every dollar requested. When legislative leaders realized that budget requests were justified and state government was woefully underfunded, the call for Zero Based Budgeting quietly dissipated pending renewal by some unwitting future legislator.

The current rhetoric at the Capitol supports granting private entities contracts for expensive audits on state agencies. In reality, the evidence shows that the costs of the audits exceed any minimal waste that may be eliminated. The irony is that the budget of the State Auditor and Inspector who has the constitutional responsibility to perform audits has been repeatedly cut.

As a state this type of rhetoric has moved us away from adequately funding education and roads and mental health and child welfare and veterans’ benefits and host of other agencies.

There is currently a dog that wanders up and down the road near my home, a couple of miles in each direction. He reminds me of Bozo from my childhood. Like the state’s leaders, they both seem to react based purely on raw emotion rather than the reality of the situation.

Exes in Texas

Exes in Texas - November 4, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

          George Strait was probably not thinking about the lure of higher wages and the ensuing migration of Oklahoma teachers to Texas when he released the 1987 hit named “All My Exes Live in Texas.” However, that statement could be made by an alarming number of Oklahoma schoolchildren regarding former teachers whose economic reality of low pay pushed them to make the move for the benefit of their families and their personal futures.

The temptation could not have been greater. Huge billboards in Tulsa, OKC, Stillwater and Norman beckoned teachers to find their future in a Fort Worth, Texas classroom. The message promised starting salaries of $52,000 at a time when the AVERAGE teacher pay in Oklahoma was in the low $40,000’s and the hope of a salary in excess of $50,000 was not on the radar, even after a decade or two in the classroom.

The reality of a teacher’s life was that in the decade prior to 2018, Oklahoma’s K-12 Education had been cut by 28%, the deepest of any state in the nation. Low wages, continuing cuts and a lack of professional respect plagued those who had chosen to educate our state’s children.

Thus, it was no surprise that, first border district educators and then those from across the state, took neighboring states up on their offer. It takes a lot to make a person with the heart of an educator, leave their family, their community and their state, but Oklahoma legislators had neglected and cut and isolated our state’s teachers to the point that many educators took the only path to protection that they could find and that involved leaving Oklahoma’s classrooms.

In 2018, pro-public education legislators faced an uphill battle. “Everyone” agreed with them that teachers needed a raise, but few were willing to stand with them to identify and act on a source of revenue to pay for those raises. Repeatedly, teachers were told that the state could not afford to give them a raise, despite the fact that annually hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and credits were being given to the oil and gas industry.

The public pressure intensified and the oil and gas industry saw an organized attempt to increase the Gross Production Tax to 7 to 9 % so that it would be in line with most other energy producing states. In response, the industry gathered a mostly anti-public education group to formulate what they called the StepUp Plan to “resolve Oklahoma’s education crisis.” In reality, it was just a strong arm attempt to set their own tax rate, cap the GPT at an embarrassingly low 4%, throw teachers a bone and relieve public pressure.

Despite that attempt, pro-education legislators were able to push through a 5% GPT bill that for the first time in ten years, not only gave teachers a legitimate raise, but also provided raises to support staff and put an additional $50 Million into textbooks and the classroom.

Teacher morale is improving, but it will take years to reverse the damage. Because a Veto Referendum lawsuit that tried to void the 5% GPT Bill was not dismissed before teachers had to make final plans for this school year, 57% of the state’s superintendents say that the teacher shortage is worse this year than last, and in fact, the state had issued a record 2,153 emergency certifications by the end of September, according to a survey conducted by the Oklahoma State School Board Association.

Because Oklahoma teachers’ salaries have been so low, for so long, I also predict that because of the impact of a belated salary increase, there could be an even greater exodus in three or four years due to retirement benefit computations based on their increased salary. Who can blame them?

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

State Question 801 - Boon or Boondoggle

State Question 801 – Boon or Boondoggle - October 14, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

Every so often an idea comes along that has just enough plausibility to garner support. Between 2009 and 2015, amid great fanfare, Bill and Melinda Gates pumped $215 Million of their foundation’s money into a program that pulled $360 Million from public school budgets in Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. The goal was to create a reliable teacher evaluation system.

Four charter school management organizations spearheaded the project and after six years and more than $575 Million spent, it was discovered that standardized high stakes testing of students did not produce a reliable means of teacher evaluation.

The study was the classic definition of the word, “boondoggle” and Oklahoma is not immune from these expensive “sounds too good to be true” rhetorical goose chases. Consequently, millions of dollars of our state’s budget is diverted to private companies that promised to root out waste or discover fraud and after making campaign contributions, receive contracts that produce no return on the investment.

On November 6, Oklahomans will consider State Question 801 to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to “allow” schools to use its adValorem derived building fund for general operational costs, including teacher salaries. Proponents say the technical change is necessary so that a school board could use the school’s 5 Mill “building fund” for purposes other than maintenance of property.

Historically, the 5 Mill Building Fund could only be used for maintenance and repair operations, upkeep and construction of district facilities and grounds, contractual services and salaries and benefits of custodial and maintenance people.

According to publications of the Oklahoma State Department of Education and current research, the Oklahoma Attorney General has previously opined that it is legal to use the building fund money to pay casualty and property insurance premiums on school buildings and to construct a school parking lot.

Oklahoma State School Board Association Executive Director Shawn Hime has expressed concern that schools’ building funds are not adequate for day to day janitorial and other facility needs. Under current practice, schools have to save year to year to take care of renovation and repairs and that the proposal will not change any districts per pupil funding. He concluded that he had “not hear from one single district that says they need to have more freedom with their building fund.”

Administrators from across the state echoed Hime’s fear that the SQ801 may be an attempt by the legislature and Governor Fallin to avoid proper funding of education and an attempt to shift the responsibility to local school districts.

Morrison Superintendent Jay Vernon, said “We do not, nor have ever had enough building fund monies to support all our utilities, maintenance and janitorial staff salaries for a year.”

Republican Senator Ron Sharp from Shawnee in opposing SQ 801, expressed concern that adValorem revenue is not equal among school districts and that the inequity would inevitably cause a federal lawsuit.

Oklahoma’s public schools do not need a boondoggle. They do not need to be told to rob an empty building fund account to pay teacher salaries. Shifting the responsibility of funding education is not the answer.

School districts across the state where the property tax base is small or is largely based on agricultural real estate do not have the ability to meet the financial needs without adequate state funding. Allowing the legislature to abdicate its responsibility to fund K-12 education will result in one of two things, increases in local adValorem taxes or closure. Neither is acceptable.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Where Do the Trains Meet?

Where Do The Trains Meet? - September 2, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

We all remember those pesky Algebra I questions from school: Locomotive A and Locomotive B began traveling towards each other from opposite ends of a 500 mile long track at 1:00 p.m. If Locomotive A traveled at 35 miles per hour and Locomotive B traveled at 25 miles per hour, at what point did the engines meet?

Ranking Oklahoma’s public school educational funding and educational policy involves a similar exercise. According to a report published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, aptly named “A Punishing Decade for School Funding,” Oklahoma was one of 29 states that was providing less funding for public education in 2018 than it was in 2008. Of those 29, eight had cut public education funding by double digits. Only one, Oklahoma, had cut education so deeply that its cuts had exceeded THE NEXT HIGHEST STATE’S CUTS by double digits.

As a result, Oklahoma is a leading state in all the bad education categories: 92.2% of our teachers spend personal funds for school supplies; Top 18 in the amount of money spent by teachers for those supplies; Number one in school districts on four day school weeks…the list goes on and on.

It is true that after a hard fought battle, we were able to win an increase in the teachers salary scale, but that raise did little to replace dog-eared text books, reduce the teacher-student ratio in overcrowded classrooms or stop another 9% increase this fall over last year’s record shattering number of emergency certified teachers in Oklahoma’s classrooms.

It has indeed been a “punishing decade for school funding” in Oklahoma. Frustratingly, the cuts to Oklahoma’s public schools and the outcomes of Oklahoma’s public school students tell only half the story. Over that same decade, while Oklahoma’s legislature left Oklahoma teachers and students to “fend for themselves,” they were busy feathering the nests of corporations and other private and charter school proponents.

According to the National Alliance for Charter Schools, Oklahoma legislators were enacting legislation that made Oklahoma a leader in the charter school industry. In fact, in 2015 alone, Oklahoma’s charter school favorability ranking jumped from 36th  to 19th in the country because of an overhaul of state law in such areas as statewide expansion of charter schools even over the objection of locally elected school boards.

Other legislation aiding charter schools included providing generous exemptions from state law on educational standards such as teacher qualifications. The legislation that was most damaging to public schools and state services was the structured tax exemptions and credits that pull literally a Billion dollars a year out of the budget, much of which would otherwise go to the funding of public education.

For instance, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has reviewed what it calls Oklahoma’s supercharged incentives that amount to neo-voucher laws which “fleece the public till.” By offering generous tax subsidies in exchange for donations to private school scholarship programs, Oklahoma uses corporations and wealthy individuals as middlemen. Instead of appropriating funds to charter schools or outright funding voucher programs, Legislators allow potential tax revenue to be diverted into the coffers of charters and private schools in return for a generous tax give-away.

By combining Oklahoma’s lucrative tax credits, incentives and deductions, and also claiming a federal charitable tax deduction, some corporations and wealthy tax payers receive as much as $1.35 for each dollar donated.

Best in worst categories, worst in best categories and all the tax credits diverted to charter schools. Is there any doubt that the train wreck that the state legislature has dealt public education could have been avoided if we had only had five day school weeks, adequate textbooks and an teacher that was certified to teach Algebra I.

Questions or comments, call or write David Perryman at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Oklahoma's Ethical Hiatus

Oklahoma’s Ethical Hiatus - May 13, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

In the 1960’s sitcom “Green Acres”, Sam Drucker’s General Store served as the social and commercial center of Hooterville and like most general stores across rural Americana in the first half of the last century it sold groceries, hardware, dry goods, household items and feed for livestock and chickens. At Drucker’s, patrons found a place to come in and visit, play checkers or rant and rave about community issues.

On election day, the store served as the polling place and year round, the store housed the Hooterville Post Office, operated by…, you guessed it, Postmaster Sam Drucker.

In addition to being the town merchant and postmaster, Sam Drucker served as Hooterville’s Constable, Justice of the Peace, Superintendent of Schools and Banker all the while operating (as editor, publisher and sole reporter) the Hooterville World-Guardian, Hooterville’s weekly newspaper.

Sam Drucker wore many hats….literally, because he took great pride in pulling out from under the counter whatever type of hat he needed to clearly distinguish the type of work that he was doing at any given time.

 While most Hooterville residents appreciated the many services that Sam Drucker provided, periodically issues did arise. When faced with a violation of a traffic law or building code, frustration arose when the violator learned that the Constable who issued the citation would simply “change hats” to serve as the Justice of the Peace and determine guilt or innocence. The conflict of interest became patently obvious when a portion of the fine went into the pocket of the J.P.

Surprisingly, it was not until the 1980’s that appellate courts in Oklahoma ruled that a municipal judge who determines guilt and innocence and sets the amount of the fine should be barred from receiving a salary based on the amount of the fines collected.

However, after the 1992 passage of State Question 640 which established the 75% threshold for the legislature to raise taxes, the legislature delved into the same type of practice. According to a 2015 joint report by KGOU and Oklahoma Watch, during the two decades after the passage of State Question 640, the Oklahoma legislature forced the court system as well as a number of various regulatory agencies to exist using the fines and fees that the agency collects.

As a result fines and fees skyrocketed. According to a District Judge quoted in the article, the legislature’s unwillingness to increase taxes resulted in the funding of Oklahoma Courts to go from more than half in appropriations to just over 10% with fines and fees making up the other 90%.

One area of similar concern involves the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Since its formation in 1990, the Ethics Commission has attempted to fulfill its Constitutional mandate of collecting and making available to the public, information about campaign contributions and generally promoting transparency in government. This session, the Commission drew the ire of certain influential members of the State Legislature.

Certain legislators did not care for the public to have ready access to information about gifts, meals and gratuity received by elected officials, but when the Commission adopted a rule to bar legislators from the frequent practice of accepting financially lucrative jobs as lobbyists for two years after leaving office the legislature used its purse strings to retaliate.

In response, the legislature gutted the rule and made a legislative appropriation to the Ethics Commission of exactly ZERO. It appears that there are only two possible results. Either the Commission will not be able to effectively function in its duty to regulate lawmakers and the money that lobbyists shovel toward them OR the Oklahoma Ethics Commission will sue the legislature for failing to properly fund the agency.

The theme song of the sitcom was “Green Acres is the place to be. Farm Living is the life for me. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide. Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”  The legislature’s defunding of the Ethics Commission will make it impossible for citizens to know how much “green” legislators receive from those who seek access and favors.

Questions or comments please call or write, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Trust Us They Said

Trust Us They Said - April 1, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

The truth and nothing but the truth: For about 48 hours last week, it appeared that the Oklahoma legislature had put aside partisan politics and reached a historic bipartisan budget deal that legitimately raised sufficient revenue to fund a decent raise for teachers, include something for school support personnel, state employees and enough dollars to fund about a textbook and a half for Oklahoma students.

In what appeared at the time to be good faith negotiations, Republicans agreed to support an increase in the Oil and Gas Gross Production Tax Rate from 2% to 5% and Democrats agreed to allow a cigarette tax and fuel tax to be assessed so long as the cigarette tax was not more than $1 per pack and the fuel tax did not exceed 3 cents per gallon on gasoline or 6 cents per gallon on diesel.

 While the3% increase in the GPT would not take it to the historic rate of 7%, Democrats viewed the GPT as progressive and agreed to accept it even though it was 2% less than the historic rate that most Oklahomans wanted restored. Democrats also feared that fuel taxes and tobacco taxes would inequitably harm working and low income Oklahomans and sought to have the historic 6% income tax rate on high wage earners restored.

While there was no agreement reached as to income taxes, the trade-off was a promise from the Republicans that the gasoline and cigarette tax increases would be low and the source of the last $50 million in revenue needed to fund raises and textbooks would be a $5 per night hotel tax. The revenue measures were rolled into House Bill 1010xx and when the dust cleared at 8:55 p.m. on Monday evening, March 26, 2018, it appeared that oil and gas lobbyists had taken a back seat to the people of Oklahoma when 100% of the Democratic members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives joined with 70% of the Republican members to tally 78% of the total house and for the first time in state history exceed the constitutionally required 75% threshold for a revenue raising measure.

House Bill 1010xx was then sent to the Senate on what was to be a relatively quick vote before the Bill went to Governor Fallin’s desk. Unfortunately, hours turned to days as the lobbyists from the hotel industry demanded that the hotel tax come out of the bill. Finally, at 7:25 p.m. in the evening on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, the Senate voted on and passed the bill by a bare 36-10 margin, but to meet the demands of the lobbyists, refused to send it to the Governor.

Word came back from across the rotunda that the Senate would hold the bill and would only allow it to be sent to the Governor if the House agreed to repeal the hotel tax provisions. A shell bill, HB 1012xx was hurriedly amended so that it would meet the demands of the Senate. The Bill was called on Thursday and after more than four hours of legal wrangling, suspension of multiple rules and heated debate by the Democrats in the House, the repeal bill passed on a purely partisan vote of 69 Republicans who agreed that a $5 hotel tax was a bridge too far and 26 Democrats opposing the repeal.

At the end of the day what had appeared to be historic votes by the House and the Senate, was really just a new strategy: Put anything in a Bill to convince 75% of the members to vote for it and then before the ink is dry, emasculate it by removing anything from it that wealthy, corporate donors and lobbyists like those representing oil and gas and the hotel industry want stricken. Trust us they said.

Thanks for allowing me to serve. If you have any questions or comments, please call or write, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov

It's Not About Teacher Pay

It’s Not About Teacher Pay - March 25, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

The Oklahoma legislature is on the precipice of working out a long overdue plan that will increase pay for teachers, but in reality, this plan is not about teacher pay.

It’s about your kids, my kids, your grandchildren and my grandchildren.

This is not about teacher pay. It’s about doing our best to raise generations of children whose potential will be recognized. It’s about fostering a future Oklahoma where our kids and grandkids become educated, enlightened, trained and productive citizens.

This is not about teacher pay. It’s about providing opportunities for children who really would choose a future that includes a career that pays them enough to raise THEIR children rather than a life of incarceration.

This is not about teacher pay. It’s about allowing public schools in our state to produce a high quality workforce that will entice businesses to locate good paying jobs here; jobs that have benefits including health care and retirement plans and the quality of life that those benefits nurture.

This is not about teacher pay. It’s about the fact that during the 2011-2012 school year, the state of Oklahoma granted 30 emergency teaching certificates to individuals who had not satisfied certification requirements. Earlier this year, in an attempt to fill classrooms, the State Board of Education reported that number to have exploded to 1,979 emergency certificates.

While teachers have taken steps to bring Oklahoma’s desperate situation front and center through the “Together We’re Stronger” plan, anyone who takes a serious look at the package quickly realizes that this is not about teacher pay.

This is about an attempt to curb the loss of services that are vital to citizens of Oklahoma. For instance, the cutbacks in DPS driver license testing offices that cause new drivers to wait weeks and sometimes months to be tested and cause hundreds of commercial operator jobs to go unfilled because commercial driver license testing facilities have closed.

This is about an effort to provide the first raise in a decade to teacher aids and low wage school district employees who work day in and day out to protect school children in hundreds of different ways.

This is about funding school book purchases so that 12 year old children do not have to use 12 year old science books in a world where technology changes daily.

This is about putting dollars back into health care so that rural hospitals and ambulance services that affect Oklahomans of all ages will be less likely to be shuttered.

This is about taking the Gross Production Tax on oil and gas back to at least 5% so that the tax burden is more equitable and less burdensome to working and low wage employees.

This is about doing what the Oklahoma legislature needs to do to make Oklahoma better for its citizens and compromising in a bi-partisan manner to put the interest of all Oklahomans above partisan politics.

Teachers affect the life and future of all Oklahomans. That is why this is about much more than teacher pay.

Thanks for allowing me to serve. If you have any questions or comments, please call or write, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov

The Fatted Calf

The Fatted Calf - January 28, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

 In 1978, a Texas doctor named Ron Thomas, opened a restaurant that he named “The Fatted Calf.” The restaurant was somewhat unique in that the menus had no prices. Thomas’ idea was that each customer would pay according their own conscience and ability, as little or as much as they deemed fair and appropriate.

Under ideal circumstances, people of more limited means would pay what they could, even if their payment was less than the cost of the meal. Likewise, customers who were able would ideally pay a bit extra so that in the long run, everything would even out and the owner would gross enough in receipts to cover food costs, employee pay, overhead and maybe make a little profit.

Dr. Thomas’ Sanger, Texas, “experiment” reflected the result that many other establishments using this “business model” find. Most report that on average they receive about 85% of what is needed to stay open and do not succeed without substantial financial subsidies.

Without delving off into a dissertation on the psychology of customers or their economic habits, the owner of The Fatted Calf confirmed that it is imperative to recognize the actual cost of delivering a quality meal before establishing retail prices. Otherwise, it is possible that revenue will not cover expenses.

With full realization that a free enterprise business model does not directly translate into the delivery of government services, there are basic elements that alike and some that are very different.

Both have costs that are related to the number of “customers” that they must serve. However, a restaurant has the ability to limit the number of meals that it will serve. If business is good, a baker may purchase additional flour and more ovens in anticipation of receiving more revenue and hence a larger profit.

Unfortunately, public schools do not have the ability to turn away “customers” and despite the fact that there were 645,000 students in 2008 and 695,000 a decade later, the 8% increase has not equated to an 8% increase in funding. Instead, per student funding of Oklahoma’s K-12 education formula is down by 22.8 percent since 2008. The percentage cut in Oklahoma is the largest of any state. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, it works out to a decrease of $810 per student, adjusted for inflation.

Also woefully underfunded is the Oklahoma Department of Corrections which is currently at 109% of capacity and clipping along incarcerating women at the highest rate in the country and in third place with men, needing $1.6 Billion to pay its bills. These are but two examples of a lack of government revenue. Mental health care and a myriad of other core government services must also be funded.

When I was first elected to the House of Representatives, Zero Based Budgeting was all the rage. Legislators and the lobbyists whose money elected them went on and on about how each agencies budget should be stripped down to zero and built back each year so that we would REALLY know the cost of government services. After one or two agencies were reviewed, it became very apparent that building a budget based on need was not the cost saver that it claimed to be.

As it became undeniable that Oklahoma had a revenue problem, the oil and gas industry “stepped up” to “offer” a generous 4% gross production tax to “solve” the problem. In truth, they realized that Oklahomans had become aware of 10 years of tax cuts, tax breaks and incentives that had cost the state over a billion dollars per year. Fearing public outcry for a restoration to the historical 7% GPT Rate the industry is attempting to “name its own tax rate.”

As citizens, we dutifully pay our taxes and want those taxes to be used for services to the citizens of Oklahoma. None of us necessarily like taxes, but there is a fundamental  unfairness that a single industry and its shareholders deem themselves worthy to “set their own rate” simply because they exercise greater political clout than working Oklahomans.

The Fatted Calf failed because it gave away its revenue. Oklahoma, too, will fail if it continues to allow billion dollar industries to drain the state’s coffers to the detriment of working Oklahomans and our children.

Thanks for allowing me to serve. If you have any questions or comments, please call or write, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov

All Generalizations Are False

All Generalizations Are False - November 26, 2017

State Representative David Perryman

Mark Twain often quipped that, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, and if you do you are misinformed.” Along these same lines, he remarked that, “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

Americans are a better people because of Mark Twain and the slightly cynical, but always spirited insight that he relayed to us. His observations make us engage in critical thinking and realize the danger of closing the book on any subject.

A favorite quote often attributed to Mark Twain is that, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Well, Oklahoma is in trouble and Twain the philosopher hit the nail on the head.

This past week Governor Fallin perpetuated the false narrative that Oklahoma’s Public Schools are somehow to blame for the state’s budget crisis. Her Executive Order directing annexation or consolidation of public school districts and district administration is the classic example of repeating an untrue statement long enough that people start to believe it.

The constant battering of Oklahoma’s schools is a favorite pastime of those groups who have longed sought to undermine public education in favor of private schools, charter schools and voucher programs that direct public tax dollars to corporate interests.

Those anti-public education forces continue to allege that Oklahoma has too many school districts; or too much of Oklahoma’s education budget goes toward the costs of administration; or school administration consolidation and school district annexation is the solution to increasing teacher pay. There is no factual basis for those statements. In fact, those statements are unequivocally false.

We need not go further than the Red River to discover the truth. Time and again, Texas is held up as an example of educational efficiency. While Texas does have 5.1 Million students and only 1233 school districts that has little to do with efficiency. More than half (2.6 Million) Texas students are in only 49 school districts while the other 2.5 million students are in 1178 districts and 35% of all Texas school districts have an enrollment of less than 500 students.

A February 2006 post-consolidation study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation regarding the relationship between school district consolidation and public school efficiency was weak at best and antithetical at worst. Research furnished little evidence that consolidation controls costs or improves academic achievement.

The most enlightening part of the study concluded that small schools provide greater educational benefit than their large school counterparts and that researchers found that large schools and districts have more bureaucratic and administrative costs while experiencing lower attendance, lower grade point averages, lower standardized test scores, higher dropout rates, and more problems with violence, security, and drug abuse.

The study cited a 2005 Deloitte Research and Reason Foundation paper that found that nationwide as the number of school districts declined more than 60 percent from 1960 to 1984, the need for school administration grew 500 percent. The need for additional principals grew 79 percent while the number of classroom teachers only grew 57 percent.

One can easily conclude that Oklahoma’s public school models and the costs of administration  for our 681,848 students attending 517 schools tend to be much preferable to the Texas plan and we don’t even have to cross state lines to find our efficiencies. Oklahoma’s rural schools (the ones targeted by the false narrative that our state has too many school districts) educate students much more economically, in some cases 35 to 40 % less in per pupil expenditures than metropolitan large school districts.

Finally, Oklahoma’s public schools graduate 85% of its students, nearly 5% greater than the national average, while education spending remains at 48th among all states and the District of Columbia.

Educating children is expensive. In fact, about the only thing more expensive than educating children is not educating them. This is not a new concept. Mark Twain famously said, “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.”

If Oklahoma wants to improve the efficiencies and performance of its schools, then it needs to elect legislators who are willing to fund them at levels that will return qualified teachers to the classroom and provide textbooks that are not obsolete and ragged.

Thanks you for allowing me to serve. If you have comments or questions, please call 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov

Oklahoma's Ship of State

Oklahoma’s Ship of State - July 16, 2017

State Representative David Perryman

Between the 30th and 38th Parallel are high pressure belts that are often characterized by low winds and little rain. Over land, this phenomenon produces dry arid deserts like northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. At sea, undependable winds and extended periods of calm made the zones dreaded by early sailors.

During the era of sailing ships, vessels transporting goods across the Atlantic to and from the New World would often become stalled for days or even weeks when they encountered the areas of no wind. Many of these ships, particularly from Spain, carried horses to the Americas as part of their cargo.

Stalled and unable to sail, crews frequently ran low on drinking water and to conserve scarce fresh water and lighten their load they sometimes threw the horses overboard. Explorers and sailors reported that the seas were strewn with bodies of horses. Consequently, the area became known as the Horse Latitudes.

Coincidentally, Oklahoma also lies squarely between the 34th and 37th Parallel and failed policies have proven every bit as catastrophic to our state as the lack of wind was to 17th and 18th century sailing ships.

Instead of throwing horses overboard, Oklahoma voters have been duped into casting citizens aside.

What began as an attack on the wages of Oklahoma’s middle class has resulted in low pay and few benefits for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. What started as an assault on our public schools has evolved into a devastation of our educational system from kindergarten through college.

For the past ten years, Oklahoma voters have chosen elected officials who govern at the whim of corporate interests and lobbyists hawking tax cuts for the wealthy and tax increases on the poor and working class.

After a decade of blind adherence to trickle down economic theories, the poor get poorer. Hospitals, ambulance services and clinics are closing because of the number of uninsured Oklahomans who rely upon emergency room doctors as their primary care physicians.

Last week the House Leader of Oklahoma’s majority party admonished the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for cutting programs serving vulnerable children and adults. Those programs include senior nutrition, foster child care and keeping disabled adults in homes rather than nursing homes. In truth, the blame falls on a lack of funding and not the Department of Human Services.

Earlier this month, the State Department of Education announced that Oklahoma would break another record this year in the number of non-certified teachers in our classrooms. Once again, the fault lies with a lack of funding and not the State Department of Education.

The lack of revenue continues to affect scores of agencies that deal with government services like roads, mental health and corrections. Perhaps Oklahomans will someday realize that elections matter.

Not that it can’t get worse...along the equator is another dead zone. It’s called the Doldrums. In the Doldrums, moist air is superheated generating extreme weather like squalls and hurricanes that bear down on stalled ships that were unable to get out of the way. Shipwrecks and castaways often resulted.

Oklahoma’s “Ship of State” is already in Dire Straits and does not need the Doldrums.

Questions or comments, call or write David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Please Sir, I Want Some More

Please Sir, I Want Some More - February 21, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

Oliver, the title character in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” was born in a workhouse and orphaned at birth. Living in 18th century England that was grappling with an impoverished and disenfranchised population, Oliver was one of hundreds who were “despised by all, and pitied by none.”

At nine years old, Oliver was moved to a workhouse whose governing board was composed of portly but philosophical men who were careful to make certain that, under their watch, paupers never became comfortable.

Consequently, workhouse rations were “three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week and half a roll on Sundays.” The operation was rather expensive at first, due to the increase in funeral expenses and the need to alter the clothing of the paupers as they rapidly lost weight. However, as the paupers got thin and attrition decreased the number of inmates, the board was in ecstasy at its success.

It was against this backdrop that lots were cast and young Oliver was selected to approach the master for additional gruel. When he pleaded, “Please, sir, I want some more,” the master was horrified at his insolence and the board sentenced the troublemaker to instant confinement until such time that they could rid themselves of such an unappreciative urchin.

Oklahoma educators are increasingly finding themselves in an Oliver Twist scenario. Teachers literally live on the cusp of food stamp eligibility and are continually being strung along by promises and pie in the sky plans for better pay.

Frustratingly, those promises were not fulfilled when oil was over $100 per barrel and they surely are not going to happen now that the state Board of Equalization has certified next budget year (FY 2017) appropriations to be $1.1 billion less (-15.9%) than was appropriated for FY 2016. That is especially true since the real numbers will be $1.3 billion less (-19.1%) since last year’s Rainy Day Fund appropriations and Revolving Fund authorizations are not factored into the FY 2016 baseline amount used by the board. That equates to a decrease of $1 next year for every $5 appropriated last year.

On top of that the revenue failure declared in December that resulted in a 3% reduction to agencies beginning in January has been revised as the Board now projects that Oklahoma’s General Revenue collections THIS FISCAL YEAR will be down $549.2 million, or 9.6 percent, below the official estimate upon which the FY 2016 appropriated state budget is based.

That means that on top of January’s 3% reduction, a deepened reduction will be made in March after February’s revenue collections are received.

Guess what? Oil and gas prices are cyclical. Always have been and always will be. The way our state planned for this drop in oil prices is sort of like building a house on top of a railroad track and then cursing the train when it knocks it down.

Writing about Oklahoma’s educational system, Dickens would have observed, “The operation was rather expensive at first, due to the increase in funeral expenses and the vouchers handed out, but as the public school classroom size increased and the number of Oklahoma teachers decreased, the legislature was in ecstasy at its success.

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Duck and Cover

Duck and Cover - January 24, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same way when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer. It’s just a question of how much damage he can do with it before you can take it away from him.”

Well, the state legislature is scheduled to reconvene next week and Oklahoma parents and teachers are sincerely concerned that the “help” that public schools have received over the past few years will continue. For instance, the legislature has “helped” by cutting funding to K-12 schools by almost 25%, after inflation, since 2008.

Other “helps” have been making sure that teacher pay stays low, passing legislation to allow corporate charter schools in rural school districts over the objection of the local school board and local citizens and “assisting” teachers by making it inconvenient to pay professional dues.

While the damage the legislature has done in recent years is not limited to public education, it seems that during this year of “double” revenue failure and next year’s Billion Dollar budget hole, “plans” by “helpful” legislators are a dime a dozen.

With all the coming “help,” now would be a good time for television stations to start running “Duck and Cover” as a public service announcement. “Duck and Cover” is a civil defense film created during the Cold War era to teach about personal protection in the event of an atomic bomb explosion.

The opening animation in the 1951 film shows Bert the Turtle sauntering peacefully along a road. As Bert walks past a monkey dangling from a tree and holding a stick of dynamite, the narrator begins to sing, “There was a turtle by the name of Bert and Bert the turtle was very alert; When danger threatened him he never got hurt; He knew just what to do...He'd Duck! and Cover!...Duck! and Cover!... He did just what we all must do…Duck, and Cover!”

A Senator from Oklahoma City wants to “help” by consolidating rural schools, eliminating “some” tax credits and diverting up to $200 million per year of new “phantom” revenue growth into a fund for teacher pay.

A powerful Senator from the Bartlesville area floated the immediate forced merger of 34 of our smallest schools. Within three years 99 more schools having up to 250 students would be forced to merge within three years and finally within four years 164 more schools with enrollments up to 500 would be force merged. These forced mergers would affect 297 school districts, 79,000 students and countless rural communities over a four year period.

A Senator from Guthrie and a Representative from Tecumseh plan to help teacher pay by diverting money from other agencies, making government more efficient and eliminating a few “overly generous tax credits.”

Of course, the Speaker of the House has made it clear that K-12 funding cannot be protected because that protection would “devastate” all other government functions. Some school districts even fear that cuts may decrease the amount paid by the state for employee health insurance premiums.

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma personal income tax rate cuts since 2005 have resulted in an ANNUAL state revenue decrease of $1.022 Billion. In return, the median Oklahoma household has received an Oklahoma income tax cut of $19 per month.

Even if “Duck and Cover” fails to protect us from “helpful” legislators, the drill may actually save lives protecting students from the ever increasing number of earthquakes and from tornadoes in those schools that do not have funding for storm shelters.

How long is baby going to have the hammer?

For comments and questions, David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Who You Gonna Call?

Who You Gonna Call? - October 25, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

                In the 1984 film, Ghostbusters, Dan Aykroyd introduced the world to the Ecto-1, a 1959 Cadillac “combination car” that was large enough to carry the ghostbusters and their “proton packs.”

                Ecto-1 was called a combination car because it and other like vehicles were long, high-roofed “professional cars” that doubled as hearses and ambulances. In fact, until about 45 years ago, many “ambulances” were operated by local funeral homes in communities where people would joke about the “conflict of interest” posed by an ambulance driving undertaker!

                With the advance of medical science and the recognition that minutes matter when patients are experiencing heart attacks and strokes, communities in all areas of the state focused on ways to couple qualified emergency medical personnel with well-equipped ambulances that would respond to a medical crisis on a moment’s notice.

It soon became apparent that while urban ambulance services readily cash-flowed, ambulance services in areas of sparse populations could not exist solely on ambulance service billings and receipts. Population was not the only problem, higher poverty rates in rural areas meant that a large number of users of rural ambulance services were Medicare and Medicaid patients and many could not pay at all even though the law required the services to be rendered.

In 1976, the citizens of Oklahoma passed State Question 522, by a vote of 54% to 46%, authorizing the creation of Ambulance Districts. The constitutional amendment allowed a community or a group of communities to levy a 3 mill AdValorem tax to help fund an ambulance service. The millage was never intended to provide enough money to equip, man and operate an ambulance service. Instead it was intended to subsidize the ambulance service billing revenues to keep the service in the black.

Today, the cost of operating an ambulance service continues to rise as equipment is more expensive and there is a shortage of trained EMTs. Also detrimental is the phenomenon of “uncompensated care” or that care that is provided to those persons who do not have insurance and are not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

Rural ambulances are required to care for all patients in their times of crisis and therefore they encounter a few patients who can pay the full rate in cash; a few who are insured and the insurance company has negotiated a relatively low rate; a number of Medicare and Medicaid patients that are not liable for anything above the deeply discounted reimbursement rate set by the federal government; and those who have no insurance and cannot pay any amount.

Rural ambulance services that do not have dedicated sales taxes or other tax revenues to further subsidize the system are closing their ambulance services at an alarming rate. More than 50 rural ambulance services have shut down in the past 12 years, two as recently as this month.

Governor Henry’s 2007 Task Force recommended that the 3 mil cap on levies for ambulance operations be raised. No action has been taken on that or any of the other suggestions made by the task force.

Today, in the absence of help from the state, cash strapped communities that are already subsidizing ambulances are forced to increase sales taxes to keep ambulances rolling.

There is a solution. If Governor Fallin would accept federal Medicaid funds, $2.3 Million PER DAY would go to Oklahoma hospitals and ambulances and prevent hundreds of Oklahoma EMTs, nurses and medical personnel from losing their jobs. It would not only sustain medical care in rural areas but also roll those dollars many times over through Oklahoma’s depressed economy.

Without your ambulance service, it doesn’t matter who you’re gonna call. It matters how far they have to drive to get there.

Medicine for What Ails You

Medicine for What Ails You - September 6, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

According to John Gunnell’s Standard Guide to 1950’s American Cars, “It was 1957 and more than ever before the hit songs of the year reflected the American culture’s swing towards being young at heart. Among the leaders on the charts were ‘Young Love,’ ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ and ‘That’ll Be the Day.’” The space race had just begun and “launching” became the “in” term for getting things underway.

It was the age of the ’57 Chevy and the Ford Thunderbird and both sported tubeless tires for the first time. Years would elapse before automotive safety got more serious than Ford’s “Lifeguard Door Latches.”

More than five decades later, safety features like side curtain airbags, lane departure warnings and pre-collision automatic braking are becoming standard equipment.

Seventy years ago, most rural counties had no hospitals. If they did, it was usually affiliated with a doctor’s practice. In 1946, during the Truman administration, a bipartisan effort involving a GOP Senator and a Democratic Senator sought to bring good quality medical care to rural America.

Beginning in the late 1940’s and for 20 to 30 years, the Hill-Burton Act, provided grants and loans for the construction of hospitals, primarily in underserved states like Oklahoma, thus creating the backbone of today’s rural medical care.

Unfortunately, while medical science has advanced, rural hospital infrastructure has not always kept pace.

We would never place the rigorous demands on 58 year old cars that we do on 58 year old hospitals, but day in and day out across rural Oklahoma we expect our hospitals to be there the instant that we need them.

For a multitude of reasons, hospitals in rural Oklahoma are under financial siege. They are required to treat many people regardless of the ability to pay. For years, they have not had sufficient cash flow to reinvest to upgrade infrastructure. More than half of Oklahoma’s rural hospitals have operated at a loss since 2009. At least seven have filed bankruptcy since 2011 and a dozen or more have less than ten days cash on hand to operate.

It has been said that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job and a depression is when you lose yours. The same goes for the risk of losing one’s hospital. Not only is basic medical care lost, but patients needing emergency care are pushed beyond the critical first 30 minutes into that time period when death or irreversible adverse medical conditions are more likely.

Beyond that, hospitals are often the first or second largest employer in a community. When a hospital closes, so does the supporting medical industry. Jobs are eliminated, restaurants, hotels and retail establishments fail and the community is much less likely to be able to attract new industry or commerce.

While there are a number of issues that are placing rural hospitals at risk, we as Oklahomans must focus on the ones that we can do something about to get our hospitals off life support.

First, support the governing body of your local hospital. Ask them what you can do as a member of your community to make sure that your hospital becomes more fiscally sound.

Second, support local and county funding sources to make up for the loss of funds that the state will be appropriating toward programs that help fund your local hospital’s services.

Third, tell legislators and the governor that the situation is critical and that Oklahoma is losing $2 Million per day because of partisan rhetoric. Rural hospitals exist because of bipartisan cooperation. It is time to either stop talking about modifying Insure Oklahoma and do something about it or begin accepting federal dollars to provide Medicaid to low income working Oklahomans.

No matter where you live or travel in Oklahoma, closed hospitals put you and your loved ones at risk.

David may be reached at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

The Lexus Perception

The Lexus Perception - August 9, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

While grilling burgers a few days ago, I retreated inside to escape the heat and caught the end of a story about an air conditioner in a car. Although the vehicle was fundamentally sound except for the a/c, the cost of the repair was excessive. The real story was that there was something fundamentally wrong about driving a Lexus without cool air.

I envisioned a family trying to avoid the “humiliation” of being seen in a Lexus with the windows down, trying to foster the perception of wealth by driving around in the heat with the windows up. That would be a foolish, uncomfortable charade.

However, as our children return to school this month, groups that want to divert tax money to private and charter schools are working non-stop to give you a perception that vouchers and education savings accounts do not harm public schools. As illustrated by Diane Ravitch in her recent national bestseller, “Reign of Error” the privatization movement is perpetuating a hoax that is endangering America’s public schools.

Ms. Ravitch, appointed by both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to educational posts, concisely shows how school “choice” and “privatization” movements are diverting funding from our public schools and exposes “manufactured agenda” of corporate reformers who juggle statistics in an attempt to discredit public schools and fabricate a false perception that private and charter schools are better at educating children.

In reality, National Assessment of Education Progress “NAEP” tests show that public schools have steadily and consistently improved math and reading scores over the past 45 years. NAEP data also shows that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and more than 46 percent of the variation in average math scores is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

Of course, private schools and corporate charter school sponsors would be unable to motivate voters to elect anti-public education officials if voters knew the truth. So the voucher and choice folks hype private schools as superior and charter schools as more efficient while bashing public schools and never realizing the harm that is done to students across the state voters line up and elect their candidates.

The anti-public education legislature allows vouchers and education savings accounts to be used to divert millions of tax dollars to private or quasi-private institutions whose students are not reflective of the community, whose teachers are not certified and earn even less than public school teachers and are run by highly paid corporate executives as administrators whose bosses are not elected and who are not accountable to voters.

                In 1907, John Dewey, noted American philosopher and educational reformer, said “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”

                According to a November 2014 article in the Atlantic, private high school tuition ranges from $18,600 per year in the south to over $35,000 in New England. If those who support diverting funds from Oklahoma’s public schools believe that is the cost of a “quality” education, then why do they insist on further suppressing Oklahoma’s $7,600 per pupil public school expenditure?                             

Oklahoma’s public teachers are doing a great job teaching in woefully underfunded schools. Some groups want to convince you otherwise so that they can divert tax dollars. False perceptions destroy democracy. It doesn’t matter if they use it for private school tuition or to repair the a/c in their Lexus, it is money that is needed for public education.

Questions or comments, call 405-557-7401 or email David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater - August 2, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

We have all heard the phrase, “Throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in reference to the accidental elimination of something good during the process of eliminating something bad.

A few months ago, a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies found that, by a two to one margin, Oklahomans oppose using taxpayer dollars to pay for students to attend private schools. The poll showed that that 48 percent of Oklahomans strongly oppose giving parents money for their children to attend a private or religious school compared to only twenty-four percent who strongly support it.

Swing voters – those who don’t identify with either party – oppose vouchers by a more than three to one margin. Voters in rural communities were the most opposed to vouchers. Most telling is the fact that more than 60 percent said they oppose state government giving parents money to pay for private or religious schooling.

According to Glen Bolger, one of the pollsters, “The results show that there is simply no desire on the part of Oklahoma voters to begin providing parents with school vouchers,” and “even base Republicans and very strong conservatives become less supportive of school vouchers once they learn more.”

                Since statehood, the Oklahoma Constitution has protected public schools. There is the express mandate in Art. I, Sec. 5, that Oklahoma’s public schools be free from religious control and the provision in Art. XI, Sec. 5, that reserves School Land Commission real estate for the sole benefit of public schools and never for religious schools.

                Also adopted in 1907, Art. II, Sec. 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution, provides that no public money may be directly or indirectly used or appropriated for the benefit of any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.

Anti-public education groups across the nation have for years endeavored to divert precious tax dollars to religious and private schools in the name of school choice. Oklahoma’s Constitutional provisions have been a thorn in the side of those who aim to allow public money to be used for non-public schools. Despite repeated attempts to invade public funding for private and religious schools, Oklahoma’s Constitution has protected public tax dollars for public education.

In response, over the past decade, private and religious school proponents have initiated a concerted effort to eliminate the constitutional provisions that protect public funds for public schools. History revisionists characterize these constitutional protections as archaic and hate-filled attacks on Catholicism.

In truth, this type of protection was adopted in states across the country when Catholics objected to the use of Protestant texts in public schools and sought public funding for schools in which Catholic texts would be used. Since America was a “melting pot” that invited people of all races, creeds, religions and cultural backgrounds, most state governments believed that the common good would be served by providing that no public money be used for the benefit of any sect, church, denomination or system of religion, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon or otherwise, whatever the future might bring (including Islam).

In 1907, the delegates to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention went a step further. Not only did they craft Article II, Sec. 5 to prohibit public money from religious use, they included public property in that prohibition.

Imagine the delight of those who want to direct public money to private and religious schools when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled this Summer that Article II, Sec. 5, the constitutional provision that had been a thorn in their side for years was the same constitutional provision that prohibited the placement of the Ten Commandments Monument on public property at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Many Oklahomans want the monument to remain on the Capitol grounds. Proponents of using public funds for private and religious schools have rushed forward and joined forces with those who want the monument to remain, urging the immediate repeal of Article II, Sec. 5.

It is likely that Oklahomans will vote on the issue sometime in the next 18 months.  Do we throw out the protection of public funds for public schools so that the monument may stay on the Capitol grounds? Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Questions or comments, call 405-557-7401 or email David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

This Road Is Impassable

This Road is Impassable - May 10, 2015

Representative David Perryman

May 26, 2002 marked the most catastrophic bridge failure in the history of Oklahoma. Both lanes of a 580 foot section of the Arkansas River Bridge on Interstate 40 collapsed after a river barge crashed into a bridge pier. Fourteen people lost their lives when their vehicles plunged into the river.

Today, many Oklahoma roads continue to be marked with signs like “Bridge Out” or “Road Closed.” Oklahoma has the 5th highest percentage of deficient bridges in the nation. The problem is not new. A 1920s era photograph in the ODOT archives declared, “This Road Impassable to Keota.”

Ignoring the dictate of the Oklahoma Constitution, the legislature delayed for years the establishment of a Department of Highway and when they did comply they failed to appropriate funds to run the agency. Then, when the legislature passed a bill establishing a one dollar per vehicle license fee to fund the Department of Highways, it did not establish a penalty for failure to pay the fee. Since there was no record of the number of vehicles owned by Oklahomans, it is estimated that the owners of 60% of the state’s vehicles “chose not to participate” in remitting the fee to the state.

Funding remained a problem and by 1920, there was still no viable state transportation network. The 1920 edition of the Official Automobile Blue Book, “the Standard Road Guide of America” showed the best route from Oklahoma City to Dallas was via privately maintained roads through Durant in southeast Oklahoma. The route was described as “dirt and stony” and traversed 25 cent toll bridges over the South Canadian between Lexington and Purcell and over the Red River south of Durant.

Over time, two pubic road systems evolved in the state. One became known as the State Highway System and the other as the County Highway System. The State Highway System is comprised of 25% of the roads in Oklahoma and is funded largely by federal monies and legislative appropriations to ODOT. The funding to ODOT does not fund maintenance and operation of the 75% of the state roads that make up the County Road System. Consequently, maintenance of the 83,552 miles of county roads and bridges falls on the individual counties.

Each day school buses, oilfield trucks, agricultural vehicles and private cars drive 13,600,000 miles over the County Road System. After decades of little or no funding, Oklahoma’s county roads and bridges had become a critical safety issue and rural Oklahoma roads were no longer able to serve the two most valuable economic sectors, agriculture and energy. In 2006, Democratic Governor Brad Henry signed a bipartisan bill creating and funding County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) that directs that motor vehicle taxes be used for county road and bridge construction and maintenance.

As a result, counties have repaired or replaced hundreds of bridges and been able to leverage millions of dollars of federal funds for projects. In 2014 alone 96 rural bridges were repaired or replaced and 42 roadway projects were completed. A unique component of the CIRB allows counties to plan for larger projects by collecting funds for up to five years. Currently, the projects in the five year plan will cost $984 million and will go a long way toward repairing the 3,271 deficient county bridges and the 496 obsolete county bridges across the state.

Unfortunately, the state’s fiscal mismanagement over the past four years has been made worse by ill-advised tax cuts and runaway tax credits. The state is facing a budget gap of more than $633 Million dollars and instead of delaying another tax cut, Governor Fallin and the budget chairmen in the House and Senate are talking about redirecting money from county roads and bridges and teacher retirement.

CIRB funding is essential to the counties that I represent and retirement system critics have been saying for seven years that the teacher retirement system is short on funds. Redirecting money from either of these funds to cure a self-made budget mess is a lose-lose proposition and will make the pathway to safe bridges and roads and better schools “impassible.”

Thanks for allowing me to serve as a State Representative. If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 800-522-8502.