Legislature overrides Fallin veto on reading bill; Barresi calls decision a 'pathetic' step back
by Randy Krehbiel and Barbara Hoberock
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Legislature moved swiftly and decisively Wednesday to override Gov. Mary Fallin's veto of a bill modifying the state's third-grade reading-sufficiency law.
The override motions passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate. Seventy-six "yes" votes were needed in the House and 36 in the Senate.
The results were a sharp rebuke for Fallin and the state Chamber of Commerce, which came out in strong support of the governor's veto.
Fallin said the Legislature's decision to uphold House Bill 2625 "returns us to a system that has failed Oklahoma children for decades." State Superintendent Janet Barresi called it "pathetic."
But HB 2625 author Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, said such claims are unfounded and that her legislation will ultimately strengthen children's reading skills.
Her bill shifts promotion-retention decisions about third-graders who score unsatisfactory on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test to teachers and parents.
The existing law required students not covered by certain exemptions to be retained.
Henke took only a few questions and no debate on her motion to override Fallin's veto and said afterward that she was dealing in her pregnancy with an onset of the Braxton Hicks contractions that have limited her legislative activity the past three weeks.
Henke is in the 33rd week of pregnancy.
"I'm going home to lie down," she said.
Henke said she hadn't been sure whether she had the votes for an override and that some members she had not counted on wound up voting with her.
"Any time it's this late in the session and you know there already have been some vetoes, it makes it difficult," Henke said.
"I think with this particular bill, people just stuck with it because of the parents and their local educators."
The Senate passed its override motion within 30 minutes of the House vote. There was no debate or discussion -- but applause erupted on the Senate floor.
Lobbying was intense on both sides of the issue.
School groups and parents lobbied for an override, which Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard was at the Capitol to support. Meanwhile, members of Fallin's staff were working to defeat an override attempt.
"As a mother, I think that is a great disservice to our children -- that we are setting them up for failure if they can't read and they can't learn the subjects and they are going to be moving on to the fourth grade," Fallin said.
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, HB 2625's Senate author, disagreed.
"I'm very grateful for the overwhelming support of this bill by my fellow members of the Senate," he said. "This will retain the high standards set out to make sure Oklahoma students are learning to read at the appropriate level, but the decision that a child needs to be held back won't come down to a single high-stakes test. It allows for a series of assessments throughout the school year and gives our local schools, professional educators and parents greater input."
Ballard thanked representatives and senators for "placing a high value on the voice of parents and educators in reading instruction for our students. They were heroic in stepping forward to vote on behalf of Oklahoma children."
"I pledge on behalf of all TPS students, teachers and employees that we will do everything in our power to ensure that all students are reading on grade level," he said. "It is imperative that we make parents and educators a part of the process, and I am glad to say that our legislators confirmed that position today."
Randy Krehbiel and Barbara Hoberock
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