CANADIAN COUNTY, Okla.-- Ahead of the new legislative session, the Canadian County Republican Party has released a letter they plan to send to lawmakers on various issues they would like to see addressed.
The letter primarily focuses on the issues of education, property, and abortion.
Party chairman Andrew Lopez previously drafted the initial letter, which stated in part, "A better pathway would be to abolish public education, which is not a proper role of government, and allow the free market to determine pay and funding, eliminating the annual heartache we experience over this subject."
It has since between revised.
"On the first letter, we came with the strong stance that education is not a proper role of government and while we still believe that, we understand that it’s going to be a transition period between properly funding and dealing with education as a public institution and then letting the public assume their rightful responsibility of self education and not allowing it to be a part of government’s role," Lopez told News 4.
In the finalized version, the group provides examples of how to fund education "differently," according to Lopez, who called for the elimination of property tax.
"We give the examples of how to fund education differently in there through endowments, sponsorships, advertising, tuition fees for families that actually use the service, and so that goes to if you’re going to have a service, don’t take from others’ wealth. Don’t eliminate somebody’s property rights to fund your child’s education," he said. "We charge property tax to the citizens and if you do not pay, you lose your property. That means we have zero property rights. It means we’re renters in the state of Oklahoma, and that’s why we need to eliminate the property tax. Not saying that public education will go away but we need to find a way to properly fund it if it shall exist."
News 4 spoke with Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA). Hime said while they respect the group's opinion, there were points he felt were too vague.
In the final letter, the group noted "very few of our 500+ school districts spend at least 65% of their budgets in the classroom. We insist that you pass legislation that requires school districts to direct at least 65% of their annual spend to the classroom, where the two most important people are, the teacher and the student."
"First, you’re going to have to tell me what does 'in the classroom' mean? Because when you look at our dollars and cents, majority of the money does go into the classroom. They’re probably talking about the coding of money to instruction which would basically just be the teacher salary and materials for the teacher," Hime said. "Really, you need to take that in context and look at the big picture across the nation. There aren’t states that are spending 65 percent in the classroom. There are five or six that are at maybe 60 percent and all those states are funding education at over $12,000 per student."
He told News 4, this idea has been raised in the past.
"It didn’t get any traction nationally or Oklahoma, because it’s an arbitrary number with no real definition," he said. "You have local school boards looking at what they need, and the idea of spending 65 percent or 60 percent or a number in a classroom means what are you going to eliminate? Are you going to eliminate counselors? Teacher assistants? Assistant principals? School buses and transportation? Electricity?"
In response, Lopez acknowledged there have been districts which expressed concerns over whether this is feasible.
"What we are pushing for is to challenge the idea that we keep pouring money into education without getting down to the finer details that say, where is this money going? Why isn’t education improving? We want the money that the teachers fought for this year, clearly they spent time fighting for it. We want it to actually go to their salaries and be maintained for their salaries and not somehow get taken away for some special projects," he explained.
Moving forward, Hime said they too are asking the hard questions.
"How do we improve education in Oklahoma? How do we work with Governor Stitt on his goal to be top 10 in education? For our teachers to be number one in the region? We need that forward visionary approach to education — not looking at the past or what we need to cut or not do," he said. "At the end of the day, it’s a letter from a couple of people in one county. We got 77 counties in Oklahoma, 77 republican party committees, 77 democratic committees, a few independent, libertarian,etc. That doesn’t even represent the people of that county. That represents a couple of people in leadership. I think the legislature will take it with a grain of salt as most of it should."
News 4 reached out to the Canadian County Democratic Party to inquire whether they had plans of sending a letter of their own to the Legislature and they gave us the following statement:
"The Canadian County Democrats are aware of the letter to legislators written by leaders of the Canadian County Republican Party. We do not doubt their sincerity and respect their right to engage in the political process. We do not have plans to send counterpoint letters to Oklahoma legislators. We believe that public education is an essential government responsibility, as well as a cornerstone of successful economic development. The Oklahoma Constitution states, 'The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.' (Article XIII, Section 1) We agree, and are willing, as taxpayers, to pool our resources to accomplish critical missions that we could not achieve alone as individuals – such as support of public education, public safety, public health and public infrastructure."