Politicized schools threaten education
by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA)Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Illinois state worker could not be forced to pay fees to a political organization as a condition of keeping his job. The First Amendment protects all Americans from government officials prodding us to support their pet special interests. Some Oklahoma school officials seem to reject this idea.
During Oklahoma’s primary election season, Bixby Public Schools administrators allowed school facilities to be used for political activities by a union Oklahoma Education Association affiliate, the Bixby Education Association. The BEA is a union that represents government employees and gives 40 percent of the dues it receives from teachers to their far-left affiliate, the National Education Association.You might agree or disagree with groups like the BEA, but no one can deny they are political. In fact, the BEA used schools to organize phone calls and door-to-door canvassing targeting a strategic list of voters. Asked about these activities, the BEA deleted references to targeting particular voters from its website and insisted they were just reminding people to vote.
That is hard to believe given how much adult interest groups like the BEA have at stake in shaping the debate. Organizations like the BEA have worked hard this year to shift education debates away from academics and toward funding. Their allies – including local school administrators – do everything they can to keep the public conversation focused on state government rather than on what local districts might do better.Should education debates focus just on money? Are local administrators incapable of directing more resources to the classroom? Students might benefit from a public debate on these questions, but the interests of a handful of adults often trump the needs of students.
Bixby Public Schools was already a tragic example of adults protecting their own power and money at the expense of students and taxpayers. Last year, the district got caught mishandling sexual assault allegations in order to protect Superintendent Kyle Wood. The school board allowed him to retire with full benefits plus a $167,000 payout even though the alleged assaults took place at Wood’s own home.Public schools, like every other part of government, should be separate from campaign politics. Government employees have the same right to be involved in politics as everybody else. But no one should use government resources or power in political campaigns.
Elections are about the people being in charge of our government, not the other way around.Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.