| March 25, 2014

YOU GUEST IT: Work in the classroom speaks louder than burning taxpayer dollars

Pres. Dwight Eisenhower once said, "Now, the education of our children is of national concern, and if they are not educated properly, it is a national calamity."

No doubt, the national calamity Ike predicted is clear and present. Our country is sinking when it comes to educational achievement, and Oklahoma, along with the other 49 states, is battling to fix the problem. As Oklahomans continue the debate over what standards will turn the tide and launch our children into a new wave of American exceptionalism, educators are preparing to storm the Capitol on March 31 to lobby for funding increases.

There is nothing wrong with petitioning government. Not only is it our God-given right to express ourselves, but the founders felt debate was essential to governing a responsible republic. What the founders never counted on was government lobbying itself with taxpayer dollars.

On March 31, it is predicted that tens of thousands of teachers and parents will act as unregistered lobbyists. Many school districts’ administrators and faculty feel that it is entirely justifiable to take a paid professional day or snow day to come to the Legislature and lobby lawmakers. That paid professional day, where children will get the day off without lessons, is funded with your money. Some districts are even supplying school buses to transport teachers and parents to the Capitol. The Oklahoma Education Association claims it will be paying for the use of the buses, drivers, and fuel, but it would not be a surprise if some administrators will throw some more of your tax dollars at transportation.

Educators may indeed have a set of grievances meritorious of discussion, including budget needs and mandates. However, as a legislator, one must ask how one can relinquish more money to those who are willing to burn countless tax dollars on a paid protest day as opposed to spending the money in the classroom.

Such an abuse puts a serious damper on the conversation.

Those who are passionately advocating the use of tax dollars for education lobbying have chastised legislators for not listening to teachers and the “dire emergency” they are facing. Ironically, they have done this through state government email accounts during school business hours.

If a legislator, who is a government employee just like teachers and administrators, used tax money to lobby a cause, there would be an ethics investigation and their name would be blasted in the papers. While this behavior is not acceptable, it seems administrators and stubborn bureaucrats are accustomed to using taxpayer resources as their personal politicking machine.

Thomas Jefferson once said “That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”

Well, my opinion is not bought with private funds and certainly not public funds. As public servants, we are tasked with being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and this display of tax-funded lobbying sets a bad precedent.

To help guide this discussion, I have asked for an opinion by the Attorney General on the matter. Government employees at all levels need to be on a fair playing field and know the rules. Taxpayers expect their tax dollars to go to work for their intended purpose. If new legislation is necessary to clarify, so be it. But, if existing rules and statutes need to be enforced, then justice must be sought.

To rally for a cause is one thing. To exhibit fiscal irresponsibility to make a grab at more tax money is another. To the school districts that feel a paid protest day is reasonable, your shouts are only whispers. To the teachers in the classroom who are dedicated to leading our children to success, we hear you loud and clear.

[Rep. Turner, a Republican, represents District 82 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.]

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