Ray Carter | May 8, 2019
Stitt nominee passes committee over Democratic opposition
Senate Democrats continued their efforts to block confirmation of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s nominees to the State Board of Education during a Tuesday committee meeting. Democrat legislators opposed the appointment of William Flanagan, Jr. to the State Board of Education after he voiced support for charter schools and virtual education and said officials could reduce administrative duplication and waste in Oklahoma schools.
Yet a Stitt appointment to the Board of Regents for the University of Oklahoma, who voiced similar views regarding waste and online learning, drew no opposition.
Flanagan, of Claremore, is a current member of the State Board of Education who has been nominated by Stitt to serve another term that will run through April 2, 2023.
Democrats peppered Flanagan with questions about charter schools, virtual schools, consolidation, transparency, and accountability. Flanagan spoke at some length on the need to reduce duplication in state schools, particularly in administration.
“We have 520 school districts. Most school districts in the states around us have already consolidated and that process should start,” Flanagan said. “It’s not where we spend the resources—we spend a lot of money on resources—but it’s how we spend it. And every dollar that we can take out of administrative costs should go back into the classroom. We’re not talking about reducing spending. We’re talking about spending it smarter.”
He said that process does not require closing school sites, but would reduce duplicate jobs.
“We should encourage that as much as possible when there’s duplication and it’s not efficient and it’s not a good expenditure,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan said he supported virtual learning, noting a friend is raising a grandson who benefitted from online schooling.
“That kid was really not handling school, was really not handling it at all,” Flanagan said. “So he got transferred to one of these virtual schools and it’s surprising how well that child adjusted to that environment.”
He said virtual schools provide an important service for a subset of students.
“It’s for some kids, but it’s not for all kids,” Flanagan said. “It’s a case-by-case basis. But in this one case that I personally know of, this child is succeeding now while he was failing in public schools.”
When quizzed about charter schools, Flanagan noted the State Board of Education has chosen to act as a state authorizer of a charter school only a handful of times in instances where a local district refused to sponsor the charter school.
“When I went into those decisions, I did not know how I was going to vote,” Flanagan said.
However, after review he supported “all of them” because the charter schools met the criteria set forth in state law.
The Senate Education Committee voted to advance Flanagan’s confirmation on a 12-3 vote that split along party lines. That continued a Democratic pattern of partisan opposition to Stitt’s nominees for the State Board of Education. Committee Democrats previously opposed the nomination of Carlisha Williams Bradley to the board. Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, has also announced her opposition to two other board nominees, Estela Hernandez and Jennifer Monies.
Hicks told The Oklahoman she “was aided in her decision by a set of criteria put together by Democratic lawmakers focused on education,” but the paper reported that Hicks “declined to share the criteria.”
While Flanagan’s confirmation drew opposition, the nomination of Oklahoma City attorney and businessman Gary Pierson to serve on the OU board of regents did not, even though Pierson voiced views similar to Flanagan.
Pierson said his work as a regent would include identifying ways to increase efficiency, saying the college may have “redundant systems” or “too many people doing the same job.” He also voiced support for virtual learning, saying the college system needed to focus on creating a “digital campus” that serves students who cannot reside in Norman but still need access to an education.
Pierson’s nomination advanced without opposition. While Hicks opposed Flanagan’s confirmation, she carried Pierson’s nomination in committee. Hicks told senators it was a “distinct honor” to carry the nomination and said Pierson was “uniquely qualified to step into the set of challenges that he is willingly accepting.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.