Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
The Norman Transcript, May 27, 2013
State should require, fund school shelters
The tornadoes that struck our county this week have caused most of us to assess the safety of our families, our co-workers and friends. Although much of the dialogue has looked at individual shelters, public and private schools can't escape the focus.
Oklahoma does not require storm shelters or safe rooms in public schools. Nor does any other state. Some districts and communities have included them for newer schools and homes. None of the state's nearly 600 school districts have such a mandate. Moore is considering a mandate for new homes to be so equipped.
Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday estimated only 100 of the state's 1,752 public schools have storm shelters or safe rooms big enough to accommodate students, faculty and staff. She said there would be pushback on any requirement but a policy discussion is warranted.
It's time for Oklahoma lawmakers to hold such a debate on the needs and the state's commitment to funding such a requirement. The Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school shooting in December lead to a task force and more requirements for schools but no allocation of funds, despite rising state coffers and calls for funding of two cultural museums.
Individual districts have the abilities to include such requirements in their new schools or retrofit existing schools but it may slow their growth plans. State lawmakers can add to the private efforts already begun and designate a funding source for schools to tap. One such private measure was announced Thursday when Apache Corporation donated $500,000 to pay for safe rooms or shelters in Moore schools.
Wichita residents passed a $45 million bond issue in 2008 after a violent tornado ripped through there. The money funded shelters in 60 schools. Some were for planned new schools and some retrofits of existing schools.
Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano told a business group Friday he could start retrofitting schools with shelters within two weeks if the state funded such an enterprise.
Norman's recently-built Reagan Elementary has a safe room, which was money well spent.
We believe lawmakers can and should make a commitment to the state's children and designate a funding source for all schools to tap.
To paraphrase a clichÃ© heard more than once since last Monday's deadly storm, can you really put a price tag on the life of a child?
The Oklahoman, May 23, 2013
Students deserve serious conversation about school safety
Was it really just weeks ago that the conversation about keeping children safe at school centered on whether the Legislature would OK the arming of teachers? The debate seems like so long ago. Nature is good at rearranging the weather in ways that mess with time — and rearranging priorities in the process.
Elementary schools reduced to piles of metal beams, soaking insulation and rubble won't leave the minds of Oklahomans any time soon. Neither will the images of first responders lined up to remove concrete blocks and crushed pieces of wall as they searched for the seven students who perished at Plaza Towers Elementary — the very place their parents or other caregivers dropped them off Monday morning, never imagining it would be the last time those children stepped foot into a school house.
We already know that the heroics of teachers saved lives at Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary, the other school leveled by the tornado. They are heroes, indeed. But as the hours passed and rescue workers searched in vain for signs of life at Plaza Towers, you couldn't help but wonder how this could happen and how such a tragedy could have been avoided.
The coming days and weeks are likely to raise more questions than answers for grieving families. Moore schools Superintendent Susan Pierce said all schools took precautions as the severe weather approached. Other officials said that while some Moore schools had storm shelters, Plaza Towers and Briarwood did not.
One idea is to dismiss schools on days when tornado outbreaks are highly likely, the "snow day" concept transferred to springtime. But this raises concerns about having so many kids at home alone when severe weather strikes. Most of those homes would offer less protection than the average school building.
Talk of requiring storm shelters at every Oklahoma school was inevitable. If state Rep. Joe Dorman hadn't picked up the mantle on that issue, someone else would have. So often, this is how policy is made. In the face of tragedy and chaos and heartache, we want answers. We want the pain to stop. We want to prevent such a horrific disaster from ever happening again.
We owe the children at Plaza Towers and at Briarwood this conversation. It's the very least Oklahoma can do.
Schools are not financed in a way that would make a massive effort to install storm shelters large enough to house an entire student body a real possibility. That's especially true if talk trends to underground shelter, the preferred method of sheltering in the face of the most violent tornadoes such as the one that struck Monday. Unlike some states, Oklahoma provides almost no money for schools to pay for capital improvements. Schools largely rely on local bond issues, which are underwritten by property taxes, require supermajority voter approval and have strict limits on the amount that can be financed.
If a mandate for storm shelters makes its way from the state to school districts, the state would need to pay for it or provide a funding mechanism. Dorman is suggesting a statewide bond issue.
We've already heard the reasoning that it's too complicated to consider and work out the details this session. Maybe that's true. We do know this: The Legislature has no problem twisting arms and making things happen quickly when it wants to badly enough. We owe the little ones in Moore a serious conversation on school safety not related to guns, even with the clock ticking toward sine die.
Tulsa World, May 28, 2013
Lawmakers' Hurricane Sandy votes haunt Oklahoma
Four members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation - Sen. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn and Reps. Jim Bridenstine and Markwayne Mullin - had their reasons when they voted against legislation that included federal relief aid for states hit by Hurricane Sandy.
For the most part the reason - or excuse, depending on your point of view - was that the bills contained large amounts of money for purposes not related to the devastating hurricane that hit the East Coast. All of them said they didn't oppose federal aid for Sandy victims, only the particular bills that contained that aid.
Unfortunately, almost no one in America remembers the Oklahoma lawmakers' stated reasons for voting against the Sandy relief bills. All anyone remembers is that they voted "no."
Predictably, those votes have come back to haunt those lawmakers and the state. Politicians around the country have criticized Oklahoma seeking relief aid for victims of last week's deadly Moore and Shawnee tornadoes after our leaders opposed aid for the East Coast. Bloggers, twitterers and pundits have joined in the fray. "Firestorm" is too strong a word to use for the criticism, but it certainly is a controversy. Most of the criticism has been leveled at Inhofe and Coburn.
Few critics argue that Oklahoma should be denied federal aid. Most have opined that Oklahoma should receive assistance despite the votes of the four members of Congress.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose state was buffeted by Sandy, defended Oklahoma's storm victims:
"Americans need to help other Americans when we're in trouble," Christie said. "We never support irresponsible spending ... everything that's necessary to help them absolutely, and should be done quickly."
It's a shame that the votes cast by Inhofe, Coburn, Bridenstine and Mullin very predictably resulted in this distraction, which has shifted some of the focus away from where it should be - on the victims of the Moore and Shawnee tornadoes.