| January 5, 2012
Education Establishment Prefers Low Voter Turnout
Ever wonder why local school boards often represent their constituents poorly? It’s because most of Oklahoma’s center-right majority doesn’t vote in school-board elections.
In a speech last year at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels explained why Indiana decided to move its local school board elections from the spring to the fall.
In the spring, he said, “nobody votes. It’s a lot easier to dominate, for a small or for an interest group to dominate the outcome and elect a friendly school-board in the sparsely attended primary elections.”
Oklahoma should follow Indiana’s lead. Because as Hoover Institution fellow Bill Evers points out, Progressives have been able to transform our local school districts through such things as “nonpartisan elections, district boundaries that did not match other jurisdictions, [and] holding school elections at times other than that of the General Election.”
So instead of electing school-board members who represent the views of Oklahoma’s center-right majority (see chart), we find ourselves with school-board members who represent the views of the education establishment whose voter-turnout apparatus put them into office. And this results in bad public policies. I’ll cite five examples.
First, we see some surprising provisions in teacher contracts. Gov. Daniels points to provisions ranging “from things as trivial as what the humidity in the school shall be or what color the teachers’ lounge shall be painted—I am not making this up—to more troublesome things like the principal can only hold staff meetings once a month or can only hold them on Mondays, to still more troublesome things like no teacher will be required to spend more than x hours with students [and] … no teacher can be observed in the classroom by the principal without a pre-conference and two days’, three days’, five days’ notice.”
Problems exist in Oklahoma too. Last year the Education Action Group analyzed collective-bargaining agreements from six Oklahoma school districts and concluded that teacher-union contracts are “bleeding Oklahoma schools dry.” I can’t say I was surprised when scholars at AEI and The Heritage Foundation recently concluded that American public-school teacher salaries are $120 billion over market value.
Second, we’re treated to the spectacle of school boards disobeying a state law granting scholarships to special-needs children. This was too much even for the liberal Tulsa World, which decried the “school anarchy.”
Third, we’re treated to an even more disturbing spectacle: school boards using tax dollars to file a lawsuit against the parents of special-needs children.
Fourth, we have a school board (Jenks) teaming up with other tax consumers in the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce to oppose reductions in Oklahoma’s income-tax rate.
Fifth, we have a school board (Sand Springs) passing a resolution declaring its opposition to scholarships for special-needs children.
These sorts of things happen because not enough Oklahoma voters are voting. (“Huh? I didn’t even know there was a school-board election this week.”) It’s time “to restore avenues for popular participation,” Evers says. It’s time to move school-board elections to November.