The Republican effort to strip power from the current state Board of Education continued Monday with Senate approval of a bill to replace the board's members with statewide officials.
Senate Bill 435 passed on a party-line vote, 32-15, in the full Senate's first substantive action of the legislative session.
The bill would replace the board's six appointed members with the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. The state schools superintendent would remain the chairman of the board.
Currently, those positions are all held by
The six members now serving on the board of education all were appointed by former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.
“We need to make sure that whoever is in charge is one who is accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma,” said Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, who co-
Since 1971, the board has been made up of the governor's appointees. Before that, it was made up as proposed in SB 435.
The bill now goes to the House, which also is heavily Republican.
Democrats have dubbed the bill an overreaction that punishes the board for lashing out against new Superintendent Janet Barresi, a Republican.
During their first meeting with Barresi last month, board members refused to hire employees Barresi had selected, made an employee cry by commenting on her pregnancy and warned Barresi she had not been elected
Democrats on Monday questioned why Republicans did not unveil plans to shake up the board until after last month's board meeting, which occurred after most bills had been made public.
Ford said the changes would have been proposed regardless.
Senate Democrats asked several other questions about the bill Monday but did not formally debate it. Democrats are outnumbered 2-to-1 in the Senate.
Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, asked whether Ford was concerned future statewide officials may not be as well-versed in education policy as board members who have worked in
Ford said the officials would have access to people who could answer questions for them.
Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, questioned whether having the secretary of state on the board supported the Republican argument that the bill makes the board more accountable to the public. The secretary of state is appointed by the governor.
Ford said the secretary of state is accountable to the governor, who is accountable to the public.
Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, asked whether Ford was aware of any Republicans who had made campaign promises to change the board of
Ford said no.
The bill has an emergency clause, meaning the board could be immediately disbanded if the bill passes the House and is signed by Gov. Mary Fallin.
House Speaker Kris Steele, who is the House author of the bill, and Fallin have said they support changing the way the board is comprised.
The Senate Education Committee this month also approved Senate Bill 718, which would transfer power from the board to the superintendent.
The bill was criticized for placing too much power in the hands of the superintendent, so SB 435 was filed as an alternative.
“We felt that this bill better represents the will of what people are wanting,” Ford said.
A spokesman for Bingman said the Senate does not have plans to vote on SB 718.