The head of the Republican Party for a large suburban county in Oklahoma, Andrew Lopez, signed a letter last week arguing for end of public school systems.
According to the Associated Press, Lopez, chair of the Canadian County Republican Party, said public schools should rely more on operational funds from advertising, endowments, tuition fees, and sponsorships instead of the state. The letter also argued that there should be no property taxes.
But there were two versions of the letter, with one using more extreme language on public education than the other. The first version of the letter read, “A better pathway would be to abolish public education, which is not a proper role of government, and allow the free market to determine pay and funding, eliminating the annual heartache we experience over this subject.”
Lopez told News 4, a local outlet, of the difference between the letters, “…we understand that it’s going to be a transition period between properly funding and dealing with education as a public institution and then letting the public assume their rightful responsibility of self education and not allowing it to be a part of government’s role.”
He said he and other Republicans had a “strong stance that education is not a proper role of government.”
Some Oklahoma Republicans disagreed with Lopez. Oklahoma Republican Party Chair Pam Pollard told the Associated Press that Lopez’s views are not the official party position. Rep. Rhonda Baker (R) who is a former teacher, told The Oklahoman, “I have always been and will continue to be a supporter of public education.”
Still, the letter confirms many fears public education funding advocates have held for years. Public education funding has declined or remained stagnant in a number of states where schools were starved during the Great Recession. Reports on states’ lack of charter school oversight and the co-location of charter schools and traditional public schools have worried teachers. On the federal level, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has taken steps to weaken oversight of conditions at public schools while she champions a school choice model that ignores the roots of inequities in the public school system. DeVos has called public schools “a dead end.”
The letter also comes at a precarious time for lawmakers who are critical of public education spending in Oklahoma. This spring, Oklahoma teachers went on strike to restore education funding and raise new revenue for health care, public safety, and push for a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees.
The strike lasted nine days and became so heated that Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) compared teachers to a “teenage kid who wants a better car.” Special education teacher Stephani Barger told ThinkProgress at the time, “I just feel like in the 19 years I’ve been teaching, that the Oklahoma government has systematically just cut and cut and cut and given us no respect. We’re almost a hated profession in this state.”
The effects of the strike reached recent primaries and general elections. Sixteen candidates who have worked in public education in Oklahoma, including retired school counselors, current administrators, support staff, and physical education teachers, were elected to the state House and Senate in November. In August, eight lawmakers who opposed a bill increasing teacher pay lost their primaries.
Kevin Stitt (R), winner of the Oklahoma gubernatorial race, said in April that he would not have signed the teacher pay and revenue package, but changed his tune in September, when he said he would make another teacher pay increase a budget priority in 2019.