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.

Don't Filch My Froffle

Don’t Filch My Froffle - December 4, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

Sometimes marketing slogans just don’t work out. They can be absolutely accurate in their meaning. The message can even be right on target, but for whatever reason, it just isn’t catchy enough.

Such was the case for Frank, Tony and Sam Dorsa who in 1953 invented the Froffle in the basement of their parents’ San Jose, California home. The Froffle was a convenient and delicious breakfast food whose popularity was about to explode.

Unfortunately, it was missing a slick advertising slogan to take its popularity beyond the borders of the Golden State. The Dorsa Brothers’ solution came from their customers who liked the eggy flavor of the frozen waffles more than they liked the name and affectionately called them EGGOs. In 1955, the brothers relented by formally dropping the portmanteau of FROzen waFFLES in favor of EGGOs.

Today, the world is familiar with the phrase, “Leggo My Eggo” which has taken the product to a level that “Don’t Filch My Froffle” would have never attained.

Oklahomans also have affection for their public schools. They know and expect their public schools to be accountable. That accountability starts with locally elected school boards, locally accountable budgets and locally hired teachers and administrators who care about the success of local students and work hard to make our children succeed at every level.

What Oklahoma’s public schools do not have is a catchy slogan or theme such as “Leggo My Public School.” Such a theme is needed now more than ever.

In 2015, the state legislature enacted legislation that undermined public schools and local control by capping funding to public education, allowing tax credits for private schools and creating a path for charter schools with no local accountability to be established anywhere in the state. In 2016, public education experienced less harm, but mainly because not much was addressed except the $1.3 Billion budget hole.

As legislation is crafted for the 2017 session, public education will again be in the crosshairs. According to a December 3, 2016, article in the Daily Oklahoman, “school choice” in the form of school vouchers will likely be on this year’s legislative agenda and the fact that the “stars are lining up” to use public education dollars for private and religious schools is no accident.

Paragraph II(A)(3) of the platform of the Oklahoma GOP says, “We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.” Since Governor Mary Fallin served as co-chair of the 2016 national GOP platform and Katie Altshuler, Governor Fallin’s Policy Director, actually helped draft the section dealing with education, it is no surprise that the national platform contains identical language supporting vouchers and “funding mechanisms” that remove money from public education to give to private schools.”

These partisan goals are compounded by President-Elect Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education. Ms. DeVos could best be described as Janet Barresi on steroids. Like Barresi, DeVos has never worked as an educator. Like Barresi, DeVos is independently wealthy. DeVos’ wealth is derived from the Amway Corporation and she and her husband have spent literally millions of dollars promoting policy that diverts public education funds to private and charter schools.

DeVos bankrolled the dark money group, American Federation for Children (AFC), which works in concert with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), another anti-public education political entity that is active in Oklahoma politics. Not only will DeVos be pushing pro-voucher policy on a federal level, earlier this year according to the Daily Oklahoman, she used AFC to spend nearly $170,000 in Oklahoma campaigns, often in opposition to public school teachers who were also running.

As a result, a pro-voucher legislator is quoted in the article as saying that, “Last year we were a couple of votes short in the Senate but I think that we picked those seats up this year.”

Republicans in the State Senate now hold a 42-6 majority. Republicans in the State House hold a 75-26 majority. That means that either 19 of the 42 Republican Senators or 25 of the 75 Republican Representatives will have to stand strong with the Democrats to oppose vouchers.

Otherwise Oklahoma’s education jingle may soon be: “Spend your public education dollars at a private school near you.” I like “Don’t Filch My Froffle” much better.

Thank you for allowing me to serve Oklahoma. For questions or comments call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

To Convene or Not to Convene - That Is the Question

To Convene or Not to Convene – That is the Question - July 31, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

The despondent Prince Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be…” contemplates life and death while waiting for Ophelia, the love of his life. He bemoans the pain and unfairness of life, but considers that the alternative could be worse.

Hamlet’s struggles are based in his indecision and hesitation to avenge the murder of his father by a greedy and corrupt uncle.

Like Hamlet, Oklahoma is contemplating a decision that must be addressed at some point by some means. Oklahoma teachers have not had an across the board raise since the 2008 session, just before the Republican Party gained a 26 to 22 majority control of the Oklahoma State Senate.

Over the past 8 years, there have been a number of discussions about the need to fairly compensate the state’s teachers. Those discussions have become more frequent as our teachers lose purchasing power and Oklahoma’s salary scale is eclipsed by the scale in other states, but lawmakers continued to cut income taxes and gross production taxes and did not prioritize teacher pay during that time period. When the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, was approved in May 2015, it did not include raises for educators.

According to a May 27, 2016, Oklahoma Watch article, Oklahoma’s teacher pay, including health insurance and retirement benefits ranked 49th among the states and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi and South Dakota compensated teachers less than did Oklahoma.

That same article reported that in the early days of the 2016 legislative session, both the governor and the state superintendent of schools floated out the idea of raising teacher salaries $3,000 to $5,000 per year and that at least six bills were introduced to boost teacher pay.

Unfortunately, anti-public education forces blocked all attempts to increase teacher salaries in Oklahoma and when the 2016 legislative session came to an end in May, the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, still provided no relief to teachers even though both Mississippi and South Dakota lawmakers raised their teachers out of last place by granting them generous salary increases.

While anti-public school forces continued in their efforts to cut taxes, the state suffered two revenue failures this spring and money budgeted in 2015 was cut from DHS and social services and roads and education as a result of declining tax revenue.

After the 2016 legislature went home, the Fallin administration discovered that the across the board cuts had been more severe than necessary and the miscalculation resulted in a $140 Million account and the money was burning a hole in some people’s pockets. Then the pandering began.

The Governor announced that it should be used for teachers’ raises. One legislator wanted it used to fund a raise for all state employees. Many other legislators who had turned a blind eye to teacher compensation during the budget process jumped on.

These panderers did not consider the reality that this “surplus” was not a surplus at all. It was money that had been appropriated in 2015 to state agencies and been cut during the fiscal year when tax revenues “inexplicably” dropped. This was NOT a new revenue stream and the daily cost of the special session that would have to be called to redirect these “one time monies” to raises would be roughly equivalent to the salary of a beginning teacher.

Weighing in also were conservative pundits like the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs and the Daily Oklahoman who have seen poll numbers showing that Oklahomans want teachers fairly compensated and who are in the 11th hour running out of options to defeat the one penny sales tax for public education. Those anti-public education forces would like nothing more than the one-time funds to be used to give teachers a pittance of a raise just before the vote on State Question 779. They would then argue that the small raise nullifies the need for 779 and they don’t want us to remember that there will be no money to fund the meager raises next year.

An appropriate translation of the ending of Hamlet’s soliloquy, is “Thinking about it makes cowards of us all. It follows that one’s first impulse is obscured by reflecting on it and great and important plans are diluted to the point where we don’t do anything.”

Everyone agrees that an extra penny sales tax is regressive and is not the best way to fund public education, but because the anti-public education lobby has persisted in gutting Oklahoma’s revenue and because the Oklahoma legislature shows cowardice in the face of that powerful lobby, the people’s initiative petition allows voters to courageously speak in the only way that they can to protect the future of Oklahoma’s children.

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

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Do We Go From Here? - June 12, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

We know all about Charles Lindbergh and the pride that he brought to our country as an aviation pioneer. His non-stop 1927 transatlantic flight in the “Spirit of St. Louis” brought him world acclaim. But today, few recall the name of the mechanic who modified the fuel tanks on Lindbergh’s plane and lengthened the wings by more than 10 feet to increase lift.

This young mechanic, Douglas Corrigan, actually pulled the chocks away from the wheels of the Spirit of St. Louis when Lindberg departed San Diego for Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, to begin his historic flight to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France.

While Charles Lindbergh went on to become a household name following his New York City ticker tape parade, it is a little known fact that 13 years later, an even larger New York City crowd attended a ticker tape parade for the mechanic whose own remarkable feat caught the imagination of a depressed American public.

Douglas Corrigan, whose nameless, ragtag jalopy of a plane prevented him from obtaining the Bureau of Commerce’s permission for his own transatlantic flight, became known as “Wrong Way Corrigan,” when in July 1938, he filed a flight plan west from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Long Beach, Calif., and promptly flew east to County Dublin, Ireland.

In many ways, Corrigan’s feat was more remarkable than Lindbergh’s. Lindbergh flew the finest plane that money could buy, while Corrigan flew in a patched and soldered plane with NO radio and only a 20-year-old compass. His door was tied shut with baling wire and he sat hunched forward surrounded by so many fuel tanks that he could not see in front of the plane. Many would call that “flying by the seat of his pants.”

Oklahoma’s version of “flying by the seat of its pants” is not doing so well.

Oklahoma policymakers are flying like they cannot see what is in front of them. They slash programs that are the only hope to break cycles of poverty and domestic abuse. They refuse to accept federal funding for mental health treatment and counseling and health coverage to improve the health of uninsured working Oklahomans.

Men and women who want to provide for their families and worry about putting food on the table have no access to health care and risk losing their jobs when they become sick. Consequently, they get so sick that they must use an emergency room because a simple shot or prescription will no longer cure them. That red ink is most of the $560 million in uncompensated care that Oklahoma hospitals suffered in 2014.

Wrong Way Corrigan’s navigational “errors” sent him in the wrong direction but gave America a laugh and raised its spirits. The damaging path that Oklahoma has taken is no laughing matter and puts virtually every vulnerable Oklahoman at risk. Oklahoma voters must demand leaders who will address these issues.

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

Elwood P. Dowd

Elwood P. Dowd - May 1, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

Jimmy Stewart’s 1950 portrayal as Elwood P. Dowd featured a carefree and kind man whose best friend was Harvey, a six-foot, three-and-one half-inch rabbit. The movie was a humorous approach to mental illness, sanatoriums and the somewhat frightening methods of treatment available sixty-five years ago.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma has some of the highest rates for mental illness and substance abuse disorders in the country, and it is not a comedy. According to Terri White, Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner, Oklahoma is No. 2 in the nation in the number of adults struggling with mental illness.

Mental illnesses are often intertwined with other serious health issues such as obesity, smoking, alcoholism and other types of substance abuse. The stigma of mental illness has resulted in decades of untreated citizens and a consequential under allocation of resources.

In Oklahoma, more than one in five people (22.4%) are affected with some level of mental illness and nearly one in eight (11.9%) have substance abuse disorders at any given time. According to the website of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, only 195,000 of the between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahomans who needed treatment actually received services in FY15.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that while the rest of the country spends $120.56 per capita to treat mental health disorders, Oklahoma is spending less than half that at $53.05 per capita. Decades of ignoring these needs means 6 out of 10 adults who need treatment do not receive it and consequently, Oklahoma’s incarceration rates are among the highest in the country, we have an exorbitant demand for foster care and our rate of adults reporting serious thoughts of suicide is 5th highest in the nation.

As Oklahoma’s economy worsens, demands for services rise. In February of this year, the front of the Journal Record carried the headline, “Someone’s Going to Get Hurt.” The article by Brian Brus observed the direct link between bad economic conditions, young unemployed males who lack parenting skills and the incidence of non-accidental trauma to infants and children. Sadly, economic downturns mean decreased tax revenue and cuts to social service programs just as the need for those programs escalates.

In a 2013 Oklahoma Watch interview, Commissioner White stated that her biggest worry was the treatment gap of hundreds seeking services every day and no resources available.

Commissioner White stated, “If the goal is to shrink government and spend less…put the dollars here. We can save you money in corrections, we can save you money in uncompensated health care, we can save you money in foster care. When mental illness and addictions are treated, people live full and productive lives. They have families. They run companies. They can do anything when they have treatment.”

The cost of treatment is less than $2900 per year while the cost of jail, prison or foster care is 7 to 10 times that amount as reported on the Department’s website in its FY2016 budget request.

Instead, budget cuts of $22.8 million have resulted in the loss of over $17 million in federal matching dollars. That $40 million dollar hole has directly affected the availability of services to more than 73,000 Oklahomans. Deeper cuts are expected next year.

The treatment sought for Elwood P.Dowd by his sister Veta, was not for his benefit, but so that his somewhat eccentric behavior would not interfere with her social status. When the stigma is gone, so is the shame. In the nick of time, Veta realized the true value of a kind, loving and carefree brother.

Awareness is the key. In 2005, the television shows Huff, Monk, Scrubs and ER, all won Voice Awards from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for their portrayal of people who manage mental health conditions.

Mark Twain’s observation that a jail is needed every time we close a school is equally applicable when we refuse to properly fund treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.

Questions and comments are welcome. 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.