Saying the measure provided no evidence of educational improvements and voicing concerns about increased costs and constitutionality, Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a bill Wednesday to move control of education standards and testing from the state Education Department. Supporters tried to salvage Senate Bill 1111 on Wednesday until Henry vetoed it about 8:15 p.m. Backers offered changes in a separate bill, but none of the proposals addressed concerns cited in the governor’s veto message. It was the seventh veto the Democratic governor has issued in his first year of dealing with a Republican-controlled Legislature. It’s the same number of vetoes he issued during the entire 2006 session when the Senate last was controlled by Democrats. The Republican-backed proposal was opposed by the state Board of Education. State schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett, a Democrat, also opposed the measure. It was supported by the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition, a nonprofit group that says it wants to improve the state’s public schools, the Oklahoma Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators as well as the Oklahoma City, Tulsa and state chambers of commerce.
What’s the reaction?Backers of the bill expressed disappointment. "Frankly, this news is really discouraging,” said Mike Neal, president and chief executive officer of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. "We can no longer continue to ignore the facts. Oklahoma is ranked among the bottom five states in the nation in education and, if passed, SB 1111 would have provided the most far-reaching education reform in Oklahoma since the mandates of House Bill 1017 in 1991.” House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said an independent office is needed to improve the testing and accountability of the state’s public schools. "More of the same is not good enough and hasn’t been for quite some time.” Henry said it’s important for the state to improve its testing, "but I wasn’t convinced that simply shifting those functions from one agency to another did anything to reform or improve our public schools.” We would have created another arm of bureaucracy and asked taxpayers to pay for it without any assurances or evidence that it would yield progress.” In his veto message, Henry criticized SB 1111 because it transferred appointing authority from the executive branch to the legislative branch, an action in conflict with the constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.
AT A GLANCEWhat would The measure have done? The measure would have moved the Office of Accountability and its 20 employees out of the Education Department and would have authorized it to oversee education standards, testing and data gathering. The office would have been governed by a board appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore. No member would have been an elected official. The chairman would have been the governor’s secretary of education, unless that person was the state schools superintendent.