Unfortunately, SB 99 passed the Oklahoma Senate by a single vote. However, SB 99 must still pass the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Please watch for out next call to action against SB 99 on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
For the fourth year in a row, some in the Oklahoma Legislature have filed a bill aimed at hurting teacher advocacy. Although the bill has a newly assigned number for the 2023 Legislative Session, the language remains the same.
The bill is numbered SB 99.
Under the guise of protecting school employees, SB 99 aims to quiet the voices of Oklahoma teachers in the public forum, a detrimental outcome that would be felt most pointedly by Oklahoma students. In short, SB 99 is an attempt to remove educators from the public conversation.
SB 99 is bad policy paving the way for worse policy.
The Current Law and the Proposed Bill:
SB 99 changes the process for joining or terminating one’s membership in a professional education organization, like Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE).
The law was strengthened in 2018 to give individuals complete control of their membership status in a professional organization. One has the right to join or quit at any time, immediately. If the school district fails to comply with one’s membership termination order, it is required to refund any unsanctioned deductions; if the school district fails to refund an individual within thirty days, the amount owed to the employee doubles and continues to double every thirty days until he or she is fully repaid.
POE’s government relations team drafted and supported the 2018 amendments to the payroll deduction law. The then amendments—now law—significantly strengthened the protections for all school employees seeking to quit a professional organization, including POE. The 2018 changes ensured school employees completely controlled their membership status in any professional organization and could easily quit anytime.
POE stands by these 2018 changes. We firmly believe it is the individual’s right to join or quit any professional organization at any time, and we believe the process should be straightforward and efficient. The current law guarantees both.
SB 99, on the other hand, is an overreach that creates unnecessary bureaucracy. SB 99 mandates that the state government cancel all memberships yearly without consent or notice. It further mandates that every employee who wants to join (or rejoin) an organization obtain an application prescribed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction—not the respective organization or school payroll clerk. The bill sets no parameters regarding when the application would be made available by the state or how the application would be distributed to employees seeking to join an organization.
These changes would not grant more control or protection to the individual than the current law—they would diminish both.
From a recent POE survey, approximately 90% of POE members’ strongly oppose’ or ‘oppose’ changing the current process. The most frequent comment from the survey question? “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!”
The Intent Behind the Bill:
The intent of SB 99 is to create more red tape as a deterrent to those seeking to join a professional organization. If the application and renewal process can be made more complicated, even a little, proponents of the bill believe membership numbers would decline; at least, that’s the hope.
In previous years, attempts to pass versions of SB 99 involved legislation mandating an even more burdensome process to reauthorize one’s membership than the current proposal. After four years of pushback from POE members and others in the education community, SB 99 is more direct. Yet the bill’s goal remains the same—drive down membership.
The goal of driving down membership in an organization like POE is linked directly to our advocacy efforts. POE’s government relations team advocates on behalf of all our members. Many elected officials appreciate this and seek out the opinions of POE members on educational matters. They understand teachers and school employees cannot be at the State Capitol during the legislative session and rely upon POE’s team to communicate the opinions of our members effectively.
Yet some view our work and the positions of our members as obstacles. Instead of engaging in the exchange of ideas and finding common ground, they seek to remove the obstacle. In the case of SB 99, they seek to diminish the voices of school employees by hindering them from joining the organizations that advocate on their behalf.
The perspective of teachers, support staff, and administrators is vital to the public conversation about Oklahoma public schools. Of course, the views of parents, students, and community leaders must also be part of this conversation. Oklahomans have made a constitutional commitment to maintain and support a robust public education system for all Oklahoma children, and we must work together to keep our promise. Any attempt to remove individuals from the conversation—especially those who dedicate their lives to educating students—is wrong. SB 99 does not add to the public conversation; it seeks to tear it down.
SB 99, as said before, is bad policy paving the way for worse policy.