In the months following the tragic tornadoes this past spring there have been many issues that have been brought to the forefront of Oklahoma politics, but no issue has gained attention like that of availability of storm shelters across the state. Living in Oklahoma provides the distinct possibility individuals at home or work, as well as school students at their schools will have to take shelter from severe weather at some point in their lives. There has been one possible solution that has gained the attention of the media that I wanted to address.
One of my colleagues in the House of Representatives, Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) has started an effort towards an initiative petition to place on the ballot next November a $500 Million statewide bond issue to help local school districts pay for safe-room shelters in their schools. This petition would require 155,000 signatures from registered voters in the State of Oklahoma. State law gives supporters of a petition 90 days after it is filed to gather the signatures necessary, or 90 days after the Supreme Court determines the petition is sufficient.
First off, I applaud Rep. Dorman and his efforts to look for a solution to this problem. As someone who represents an area hit hard by the storms it is very pleasing to see other lawmakers outside of this area look for ways to help and have a willingness to address the issues. I am very appreciative of that!
However, I cannot agree that this is the right approach to addressing the problem of safe-room shelters in schools. I firmly believe that each school should have some sort of safe-room or location that can be used as an adequate shelter. My opposition is not to whether or not schools should have shelters; it is in the approach that has been taken. I don’t believe this is a state issue. I believe that each individual school district should continue to have the power to set bonds and make this a priority if they see fit.
I have always been a huge supporter of local control in our education system so that each district has control over their needs and desires. It is somewhat surprising to me seeing Rep. Dorman who is also a proponent of local control pushing a non-local solution. If our schools see this as a priority, they have the ability to take control of this issue already without placing further bonded indebtedness upon our state.
As with any issue, there has been mixed reactions within my district and the education community on this issue. There is much hesitation from a state standpoint as well. In my conversations with the Oklahoma Emergency Management Office as well as the Governor’s Office, they agree that this should be and is a local issue. However they have assured me that should this petition be placed on the ballot and passed next November, they will be ready with a plan to effectively and responsibly allocate this large amount of funds. They are already working on plans and guidelines on how this money will be spent and distributed to school districts across the state.
Now that you know how I feel, let me know your thoughts. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office and share your opinion on this, or any other topic. My office can be reached at: 405-557-7349, or Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. You can also follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, or Twitter: @VoteCockroft27. It is an honor to represent you at the State Capitol!