Quote analysis: Speaker Steele, Treasurer Miller speak up and speak out
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Published: 18-May-2011


Speaker of the House Kris Steele has expressed disappointment in the apparent death – for this year, at least – of a conservative proposal aimed at assuring more maturity for pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten children.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Ken Miller gave mixed grades to the Legislature for their policy and budget performances this session. His critical conservative assessment appeared in his monthly commentary, this time entitled “Let the grading begin.” It included an expression of hope that the Legislature would, next year, be “as bold as this session’s efforts at pension, legal and education reform.”

Still, Miller’s presentation did not actually include a letter grade. CapitolBeatOK pressed for a letter grade. Miller and his spokesman seemed initially reluctant to accommodate, but in a follow-up discussion Miller agreed his grades for this year's session would be: “For policy changes made this year, an A. For the budget, a C." The treasurer made the case for the grade in his essay.

As for Speaker Steele’s quotable quote, in the last two days, supporters of House Bill 1465 may have run out of time successfully to advance the measure. H.B. 1465 is co-sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Johnson of Duncan and state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond. Both men are Republicans, but the bill ran into unexpected late opposition from Republican Superintendent Janet Barresi.

The bill would move the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten “cutoff date” from September 1 to July 1. As a practical matter, that would mean a child would have to be four years old by July 1 to enter Pre-K programs, and/or five years old by July 1 to enter kindergarten. 

After advancing from the House conference committee, the measure stalled on the Senate side. In response to a request for comment from CapitolBeatOK, Speaker Steele said, "The Senate has not articulated any specific concerns about this bill to me, so I am unsure why it was not heard. What I do know is it is unfortunate it received no hearing. This is an issue that deserves the full attention of the Legislature and I look forward to revisiting it next year."

Steele had consistently backed the bill and did not shift his view of Rep. Johnson’s bill, even after Superintendent Barresi’s opposition became known. 

Sponsors developed the proposal to allow a screening process for students who do not meet the chronological cutoff date, but who might be ready for school in developmental terms. 

In the words of a knowledgeable analyst interviewed by CapitolBeatOK, H.B. 1465 would mean “students are slightly older when beginning school, increasing their level of readiness to grasp necessary concepts and likely reducing discipline and remediation problems.”

Rep. Johnson has enthusiastically pressed the measure and seemed within reach of getting it through for the non-union Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), which had asked for the measure. 

On Wednesday, Superintendent Janet Barresi’s spokesman, Damon Gardenhire, sent a reply to a request for comment on the bill. He said in an email: 

"Superintendent Barresi knows the authors of this legislation had good intentions. She agrees in an ideal world, kids should be home with their parents for as long as possible before entering school. However, that scenario isn't always the reality, and the Superintendent was concerned this legislation would discriminate against low-income families. 

“Her primary concern was that this legislation would hurt parental choice by micromanaging what should be a family decision. She strongly feels that parents are best equipped to decide when their children are ready to attend school.” 



Editor’s note: When Miller and his spokesman were interviewed in a follow-up, CapitolBeatOK misconstrued a comment made when there was background noise. The third paragraph of this essay has been corrected to reflect Miller’s comments. I regret the confusion.

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