The Duncan Banner

April 13, 2014

Lawmakers rap Common Core standards

Derrick Miller
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Although state Rep. Dennis Johnson and state Sen. Don Barrington were for Common Core when it was first proposed, they now say the education standards aren’t as they first appeared.

The education standards address English language arts and mathematics for grades Pre-K through 12 and serve as expectations for what students should know at the end of a school year.

 Johnson, however, said he opposes the Common Core standards “on basic principal.”

 Johnson,  Barrington and Sen. Corey Brooks, all Repulicans who represent portions of Stephens County,  discussed Common Core and issues during a legislative coffee Friday at Cameron University-Duncan. The coffee meeting was headed by the Duncan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Oklahoma Legislature passed a Common Core bill in 2009, and Oklahoma schools began moving toward the new standards in 2010.

Johnson, a former mayor of Duncan, said  he has received numerous emails about Common Core, with 99 out of 100 emails against the standards.

The Oklahoma House has passed House Bill 2399 to repeal Common Core. The bill has since moved to the Oklahoma Senate chamber.

Barrington said he was for Common Core when it was first brought to the Senate, but has noted a change in the standards from what he read  in 2009.

“You look back at it, and you find out what’s in it,” Barrington said.

The Common Core standards were written in a way to prevent the federal government from taking control, but Brooks said other federally-based programs have gotten absorbed in the  language, including FFA, National Merit and ROTC.

He said a shield is needed to prevent federal control, but the language needs to be more direct.

The legislators were also asked about teachers’ pay, comparing the amount of money school superintendents make versus what teachers make.

On March 31, educators, parents and students rallied at the State Capitol requesting more money for education. Brooks said much of the discussions related to the need for more funds in the classrooms, not necessarily for wage increases for teachers.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Brooks said.

Barrington said there have been discussions of a bill requesting a monetary split of the Oklahoma transportation fund. That fund would take money away from transportation and  use it for education.

He said it’s a good idea to support education, but it might be tricky to take funds away from transportation.

“County commissioners and ODOT (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) are afraid of losing money for roads and bridges,” Barrington said.

Johnson had similar thoughts, noting at one point 8,000 Oklahoma bridges were deficient and dangerous.

“It’s targeted for transportation, and I think it should stay there,” Johnson said. “But we can always talk about it.”

Each of the legislators mentioned the increasing needs of education, from more technology to rising standards.

“Teachers work hard,” Johnson said. “Today is different. It’s much harder for the kids.”

Other topics included:

Each legislator said he is in favor of reducing the income tax, as long as it’s done within reason.

Barrington said the state has to be wary how much is being reduced because many state services are paid with funds from income taxes.

“People expect a lot of services,” Barrington said. “We have to be cautious. I’m not opposed to lowering taxes. There’s just a lot of things that depend on that funding.

“I wish we could zero out our taxes like Texas, but I don’t want to increase ad valorem taxes like Texas. We need to be cautious when cutting taxes.”

Brooks referred to the tax reduction as a “balancing act,” ensuring people keep as much of the money they earned as possible but making sure services are still funded.

“We need to be conscientious of how we consider tax cuts,” Brooks said. “I don’t think anyone will know what it will look like.”

To provide incentives for horizontal drilling in Oklahoma, taxes for horizontal drilling were reduced to 1 percent from 7 percent. But that time is almost up, which could push the taxes back 7 percent.

Johnson said he thinks the incentive will end somewhere between 1 and 7 percent, but isn’t sure where to expect it to stop, not wanting to discourage horizontal drilling

“Ninety-five percent of our wells are horizontal,” Johnson said. “I guess that means it’s working.”

Brooks said the legislature will have to focus on what’s fair.

None of the current legislators were in office when the Native American Cultural Center was approved nearly 15 years ago, but each has dealt with the project, which has reached a standstill.

Brooks said he would like to get the project finished, instead of having the state pay for upkeep to a facility that is incomplete.

“There’s millions spent in upkeep and security,” Brooks said.

He said the state could regain some of those funds if the building is completed because businesses may move in next door, bringing more funds into the state.

Barrington said he opposed a bill to complete the project because he doesn’t believe the project will offset the loss the state has taken.