Senator Jay Paul Gumm said politicians should not have the power to force consolidation on rural schools. The Democratic Senator from Durant will re-file legislation returning that power to Oklahoma’s voters.
“Rural Oklahoma is the heart and soul of our state, and rural schools are the life force of those communities. Forcing rural schools to consolidate or close against the will of the community would be devastating and threaten the rural way of life,” Gumm said.
“Parents and local voters are the ones who should have the final say on this – not politicians, judges or bureaucrats who do not live in rural Oklahoma or understand the quality of life we treasure here.”
Gumm’s proposal would allow Oklahoma voters to decide whether to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to prohibit any school from consolidating unless approved by a majority of voters in each of the affected school districts. Gumm has introduced similar legislation twice before, and won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Oklahoma Senate.
In each of the last two Legislatures, Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House of Representatives killed the measure in the “smoke-filled room,” even denying the proposal a hearing. In effect, Gumm said, House Republicans have greedily kept that power for themselves rather than entrusting it to the people of Oklahoma.
“Senate Republicans have repeatedly supported this proposal in overwhelming numbers, while House Republican leaders go out of their way to kill it,” Gumm said. “Rank-and-file Republican representatives support the bill, and have even co-authored it; Republican leadership, however, simply has refused to entrust this power to the people they claim to serve.”
Gumm said he expects bipartisan Senate support again in 2009. He is hoping House Republican leaders either “see the light or feel the heat” on this issue, which he said is critical to the future of dozens of Oklahoma communities.
“Oklahomans have the power to break this logjam in the House,” he said. “I call on people of both parties who believe in rural Oklahoma, and who believe that the power to consolidate schools should belong to the people, to join this fight. Let your voices be heard.”
Together, he said, Oklahomans can end the threat of forced school consolidation once and for all.
“Together, we can ensure that the guarantee in Oklahoma’s Constitution that ‘all political power is inherent in the people’ applies to questions of school consolidation,” he said. “Together, we can wrest this power from a few powerful politicians who will stop at nothing to keep it and return the power to the people in whom it should be entrusted.”