The “C-word” debate ignites pre-session passions (Steve Lewis Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Although many legislators like to wait until the deadline to file all their bills, a few House and Senate bills have already been filed for the 2015 session.  One interesting proposal is Senate Bill 15, the “Rural Education Empowerment Act,” filed by Senator Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma City Republican serving his first term.  SB 15 provides that if the average daily membership of a school district falls below 250 students, the administrative functions of the district will be combined with those of a contiguous district when the current superintendent retires or otherwise departs. 

Administrative functions are defined to include most management and supervisory duties except for the principal or assistant principal.  The “savings” are earmarked for spending on students with disabilities, reimbursement for teachers for expenses related to obtaining national board certification, advanced placement and other gifted and talented programs, and technology.  To avoid the stigma of “school consolidation” the bill provides that it shall not be construed as requiring the closing of any school or school facility.

The proposal didn’t take long to draw a response from first-term Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Mulhall, who was quoted saying, “this sounds like another attempt at eventually consolidating rural schools, and I plan on working with rural members of both sides of the aisle to make sure this bill never sees the light of day in the House.”  Rep. Pfeiffer represents a House district composed of many rural communities, and his reaction is to be entirely expected.

Small schools represent a way of life in much of Oklahoma.  Students attend homogenous classes with teachers and students they may have known all their lives.  The classes are small and the atmosphere is usually safe.  It’s common sense for many people that this is the type of classroom that’s best for kids.  Many have the advantages of private schools, but they are public.  People with children in these schools will fight to protect them, and they expect their representatives and senators to do the same.             

I’m reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell called David and Goliath.  The theme of the book is that many things thought to be advantages are actually disadvantages.  One of the examples he cites is school size.  People believe intuitively that small classes are better.  Research actually proves that this is true – but only up to a point.  If classes are too small there is not enough diversity of interest and personality to generate the discussion and activity necessary for the best educational experience. The problem with the consolidation debate is that it always seems to be about saving money.  It should be about how to provide the best education.  But a rational discussion about schools and kids is pretty difficult to come by.  


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

2 thoughts on “The “C-word” debate ignites pre-session passions (Steve Lewis Capitol Update)

  1. Great article.
    Many people I talk to also fear that administrative consolidation is the easiest & first step toward school consolidation. Your point about small schools having small class sizes is a great one. If small schools are the only places we have reasonable class sizes, that’s a strong argument against consolidation. I fear with the current extreme teacher shortage, however, class sizes in small schools might not be faring all that much better. I would be interested to know how the student to teacher ratio differs from small schools to big ones.

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