- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle, March 5, 2016

Making sense of Oklahoma’s 2016 presidential primary

When we asked local legislators their opinion on Super Tuesday, state Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, called the presidential primary the nuttiest race he’s ever seen.

We agree with the lawmaker. And we were surprised that Bernie Sanders claimed a state that’s been called the reddest of the red (the conservative Republican shade, not the Communist variety) by such a wide margin.

Running against Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton earned a whopping 54.7 percent of the vote in Oklahoma compared to Obama’s 31.18 percent, beating the future president by more than 20 percent. That was before anyone heard of Benghazi or Hillary’s email controversy.

There were about 130,000 fewer Democrats in Oklahoma in 2015 compared to the 2008 election.

“A lot of Hillary’s vote just died,” said Keith Gaddie, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma.

In the 2016 primary, Oklahomans voted in record numbers. This time Clinton only took two counties and totaled just 41.5 percent, which was beaten by the Bern’s 51.9 percent.

Bernie and former President Bill Clinton did some hard campaigning in Oklahoma. Sanders visited the Woody Guthrie Center last month in Tulsa and used the Okemah populist’s iconic “This Land Is Your Land” as part of his campaign.

Sanders also advertised heavily and targeted independent voters via direct mail, urging them to vote in the Oklahoma Democratic ticket’s open primary.

Sanders has described his brand of democratic socialism as creating government that works for everyone.

When CNN’s Brooke Baldwin recently asked Bernie’s supporters to describe socialism, some supporters had difficulty explaining, which was interesting. Still, Sanders’ message resonated with millennials and seasoned Okie liberals.

Is this turning into the People’s Republic of Oklahoma? No, but our state’s populism politics could help explain the shift. After all, Oklahoma’s state motto is “labor omnia vincit” (or “labor conquers all things”).

History buffs know that southern Democrats dominated state government as Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Circa 1914, the Socialist Party had the highest per-capita membership in Oklahoma, but those early 20th century socialists are long dead, too.

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Tulsa World, March 8, 2016

Legislative committee kills bill to tighten rules on mandatory vaccinations

The Senate Education Committee has narrowly killed a bill that would have removed the personal exemption for mandatory vaccination for public school students.

Sen. Ervin Yen, a cardiac anesthesiologist, said too many parents are refusing to protect their children from preventable, deadly diseases for no good reason.

His proposal would have allowed parents to opt out of vaccinations for religious or medical reasons but not unspecified personal objections.

The herd immunity of vaccination depends on a high rate of acceptance. Parents who opt out endanger their own children and others. Exceptions are opportunities for communicable diseases to catch a foothold in the population and spread to those who are too young or medically vulnerable to receive vaccination protection.

Mumps, measles and whooping cough are horrible diseases that no one should need to face.

Yen says he hasn’t given up on his proposal and will continue to push the issue through amendments and other legislative maneuvers. He has a history of winning battles others thought he already had lost. Last year, he managed to force through a bill with an enforceable ban on texting while driving after it appeared chances for that legislation were lost. We wish him luck.

Parents should protect their children from disease, and they should do their part to protect other children too. There’s no reason for state law to bolster false anxieties and unrealistic fears that are destructive to public health.

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The Oklahoman, March 7, 2016

Ignoring savings in the face of giant budget shortfall

Contrasting state budget challenges with lawmakers’ unwillingness to consider even modest cost-saving proposals at poor-performing dependent school districts, Oklahomans may wonder if there’s ever a financial crisis so dire that legislators will prioritize efficiency over status-quo spending.

Lawmakers face a $1.3 billion shortfall this session. Oklahoma has more than 500 school districts, far more than in other states of comparable size. It’s long been obvious that administrative streamlining could save money. This would not require closing any school sites, but would free up funds for more productive use elsewhere in schools.

When Oklahoma Watch reviewed U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2011-12 school year, Oklahoma ranked sixth-highest in the percentage of funds spent on district administration. Given that Oklahoma typically ranks among the bottom 10 states on most academic measures, that high ranking for administrative spending is not an indicator of success.

Yet a House committee soundly rejected a modest measure to combine administrative functions at dependent school districts (which do not have high schools), and the Senate Education Committee chairman announced he wouldn’t even grant such bills a hearing.

Some object that there are good dependent districts. Fair enough. The House legislation exempted those schools and targeted dependent districts that received a D or F on state report cards.

Oklahoma has nearly 100 dependent districts. More than 40 are D or F schools.

But the problem isn’t simply poor academic performance at some dependent schools. Poor local oversight that fuels financial irregularities is also a problem.

At Swink Public Schools, auditors uncovered nearly $235,000 in misspent funds. The school’s former treasurer and clerk are suspected of embezzlement.

At Grant-Goodland Public Schools, $200,000 went missing. The suspects include the superintendent and deputy treasurer; a member of the school board has been implicated. The school may close due to its now precarious finances.

In 2011, financial mismanagement did force closure of Boynton-Moton Public Schools, located near Muskogee. That 47-student district’s last superintendent was paid $90,000, which accounted for 30 percent of the school’s total budget and violated a state law capping administrative expenses at 10 percent.

Under the Academic Performance Index, a precursor to A-F school grades, districts were given scores between 0 and 1500. The average school score was 1092. Boynton-Moton scored 335.

Auditors have noted questionable financial practices at several low-performing dependent districts targeted by the House legislation. In Brushy, school officials spent $64,541 to construct a steel building without competitively bidding the project as required by law. At Whitefield, the school improperly paid travel reimbursement to the superintendent for driving from his home to school. At Tannehill, the school paid over $1,000 for Internet service at the superintendent’s home. In Peavine, auditors found discrepancies between reported expenditures on federal programs and the actual amounts spent. The same problem was noted in Terral. In Mannsville, auditors found activity fund custodian receipts couldn’t always be accurately traced to bank deposits. Also, auditors “were not provided with any receipt books from Activity Fund sponsors, therefore no audit test could be performed on sponsor receipts.” In Ryal, several personnel contracts were overpaid without authorization.

The tragedy here isn’t simply that limited education dollars are being squandered and children deprived of a quality education - although that is appalling. Instead, the tragedy is that state lawmakers looked at these outcomes - poor academic results and sketchy financial practices - and still saw no reason for anything to change.

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