ESA bill (S.B. 560) passed Oklahoma Senate Education Committee before being ‘pulled’ – an interview with the sponsor
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Published: 03-Mar-2017


OKLAHOMA CITY – State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, sat down with CIJ following a meeting of the Oklahoma Senate Education Committee on Monday where his Education Savings Account bill, S.B. 560, passed by a one-vote margin. Standridge talked about the bill, the debate, the vote and what happens next. (This past week, Standridge ‘pulled’ the bill for now, meaning it could be considered again during the 2017-18 cycle of the 56th State Legislature.) 

CIJ: Your bill passed by the narrowest of votes, one vote. Tell me what your thoughts are, how you feel, and what you think of what happened this morning [Feb. 21].
Standridge: I think it was a good conversation. I think people want to see us do something, they’re just hesitant about the way in which we do it. Some of the senators made the comment that they want to make sure it doesn’t affect rural schools. Well, I need to cement that up and make sure we’re not doing that. But it’s a win for kids. It’s a win for children, it’s a win for students, it’s a win for opportunity. If I win a win for kids by one vote, I’ll take it, every day of the week.

CIJ: A group, which appeared to be made up of teachers, administrators, and education union lobbyists, voiced an audible groan when Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, voted in favor of the bill following what seemed to be an extended internal struggle. Were you surprised by Sen. Pittman’s vote?
Standridge: No, I think … We had visited about this issue. It is very important in Oklahoma City. If you look at, Positive Tomorrows we talked about, if you look at the Urban League. Those folks that care about those kids that are hurting are for choice. That’s what’s unusual to me, because we’ve turned this discussion somehow into a partisan discussion now, and that’s… look at Sen. Shumate [former Democratic state senator from Tulsa], who now works down at the University of Oklahoma. He’s a huge proponent of school choice because he knows.
Sen. Pittman knows that in her district, in those areas that give another option, another choice, to the child of a single mom, or that child that’s homeless, or that child that’s not fitting in any of the holes that we’re giving them. I think she’s struggling because some people just talked to her about issues teachers may have and, you know what, this scare tactic has been going on for years. I would ask those teachers to go talk to teachers in a charter school. Talk to a teacher in a Catholic school. Those teachers love their jobs. So, to say that it’s bad for teachers is baffling to me.
This is about the unions scaring teachers to death. They’re scaring them, that somehow it’s hurting their job or their position? This is not the right way to think about it. The right way to think about it is, “Are we helping kids?” first and foremost. That’s the moral imperative. Secondary, how do we fund public schools? How do we pay teachers enough? But, that is secondary to kids. We’ve got to remember that.
I applaud Sen. Pittman. I think that she knows that her heart is in the right place. She’s a good person. I applaud her vote, I applaud her stance. I really do, I know it was a tough vote. I think it was a courageous vote and I think it was the right vote for kids, I really do.

CIJ: Where does this go now?
Standridge: Well, it’s dual-assigned so, we’ll get the road map out and see what chance we have. We have 42 Republicans. I would think that, I mean it’s a conservative issue. It’s on our state GOP platform. It’s on our national GOP platform. When we poll Republicans about this issue, 80-90 percent of them say “yes.” I would hope that we’d get a majority of those folks, but you never know. They always try to paint it as a rural-urban thing. I’ve got to work really hard to stymie that. That’s going to be my challenge, I guess, is how do we build a comfort factor that it’s not going to negatively impact rural schools.

CIJ: During the debate, Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, called your bill the “Dr. Josef Mengele bill” and compared it to some of the atrocities committed by Mengele during World War II in Nazi Germany. What were your thoughts? Did it seem a little harsh?
Standridge: It seemed a little harsh, to be honest with you. I would never make those types of analogies. I’ll never forget, years ago, I had a bill. It was about the Plan-B pill. I’m a pharmacist, and it was about the Plan-B pill. I was looking out for kids. I was saying that kids needed to have parental notification if they were going to buy this Plan-B, if they were under 16 years old. I think that’s reasonable. I had a senator compare it to the tornado that had just occurred two days before in Moore. These types of things happen. I wonder if the senator who says something like that really didn’t think it out thoroughly. Because that’s not even …

CIJ: So, chalk it up to hyperbole?
Standridge: I think so. I really … When I talk with my friends that are educators, both in public school and in private school, and charter school, it’s a mixed bag. Some of them like this idea. Talk to the teachers at KIPP Charter School. Ask them how the environment is for kids. Ask them about the interaction they have with the parents and the kids. They do a phenomenal job. Private schools do a phenomenal job and public schools do. We just need a mix of everything so that kids have the best opportunity we can give them.

Note: Jay Chilton first posted this interview at the Center for Investigative Journalism, based at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in Oklahoma City. It is reposted with his permission. (http://www.ocpathink.org/post/esa-bill-passes-education-committee-qa-with-state-sen-rob-standridge#sthash.wX3RA0fs.dpuf)

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