As I attended this year’s first legislative event on Tuesday, the Organizational Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, I felt optimistic about the opportunities that will be presented this session. Every election changes the makeup of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, making it possible for new ideas to be infused into the process and allow measures that failed narrowly in past years to get a new chance.
I have a great deal of respect for our educators. I also have deep respect for the leaders of our community who throw their hat in the ring to serve on our school boards. There are many things that teachers, administrators and school board members are doing right. I have said many times before that our educators are the backbone of our communities. Often doing a thankless job, they shape our state’s future everyday with the work they do in the classroom as well as the board room. I believe their job to be one of the most important any person could hold.
However, we all know that there are some changes needed in public education. Among the discussion of more funding for education, more local control for our school districts, and less overreaching mandates from the State and Federal government, are smaller, yet significant improvements that can be made. One of the best ways to enact change is to attract new blood and broaden the public conversation about the problems facing education. However, due to the timing of school board elections, those discussions are rarely held, and new blood is rarely attracted. Constituents have pointed out to me again and again that school board elections receive low voter turnout. Election return numbers from all across the state back these claims up. An Oklahoma City election in February of 2009 garnered only eight percent of registered voters. In rural areas of the state, that eight percent is actually a very high number.
One way I feel that this process could be improved is by tying school board elections to other elections already being held, such as municipal elections. This reform would also save the state money while encouraging more participation in the process.
Unions and special interest groups have successfully controlled school board elections across the state for years. Yet, when individual teachers were surveyed by the Professional Oklahoma Educators Association in 2009 and asked whether school board elections should be coupled with already existing elections, 85 percent replied yes. When you control the way elections are held you can control who wins. I prefer transparency and engagement over control.
I have run this legislation every year I have been in office because it is something I believe in and have heard clearly from my constituents. Last year, I received a floor vote but did not receive the votes needed to pass legislation to institute this reform. It failed on the floor by a vote of 44-47. However, this year, there is new blood in the House and I hope to see it receive greater support. This fight isn’t as large as some of the issues we discuss and debate every year, but this reform is a small step in the right direction. I believe it will effectively engage more people in the decisions made by our local communities.
It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.