COMMENTARY: The wonderful thing about open records is that they are open to everyone
OKLHOMA CITY — In those glorious films based on the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ stories, the character of “Tigger” sang memorably concerning “The wonderful thing about Tiggers.”
At one point Tigger concludes a chorus declaring that the best thing of all about Tiggers is “I’m the only one.”
When records are open, our government is more transparent and its functions more understandable. And, those functions are subject to the kind of open and bold questioning that should characterize a free society.
Oklahoma’s system is far from perfect, but I have been able to work methodically on a news story (forthcoming) about our local public school district’s attempts to improve the quality of instruction and education.
I’ve been able to check and recheck information because it is online and readily accessible.
The program I’ve studied in some detail is financed by Title I federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants (SIGs).
Who could possibly be against school improvement?
Certainly not me. Here’s the problem, at least in my mind.
I studied seven local schools who have been grant recipients since Fiscal Year 2011.
The money to boost performance at those sites has gone to some of the best-known education consultants in America.
Only one school actually improved its performance on standardized tests and in the state’s A-F grading system for schools.
Of the other six school sites, one had flat achievement, while the remaining five declined in the most recent statewide assessments. Grants (projected through FY 2015) have totaled $27,566,250 since 2011 — with $7,907,380 of that for “professional services.”
Now, at a minimum, I think it’s reasonable to expect that after that much money is spent, performance gets better. But that’s only been the case at one high school (named for President Ulysses S. Grant, with a principal who is one of the best public school educators in modern Oklahoma history).
Those are facts, but those facts have received very little attention, a situation my modest efforts — as part of the Watchdog.org network’s observance of Sunshine Week — is in the process of correcting.
One wonderful thing about open records is that they can be accessed by professional journalists, citizen journalists (self-appointed but increasingly effective monitors of government), and simply those who want to figure out why in the world government does, what it does, so unwell.
Sunshine Week, observed across the nation both by reporters like me and scores of pro-transparency groups across the philosophical spectrum, seems an appropriate time to point something important out to our loyal readers.
Accessing open records — and forcing more government transactions to become open to public scrutiny – is no one’s monopoly.
The wonderful thing about the public’s right to access, understand, evaluate and comment upon the work of our government is that it is the birthright of every American, under law.
Let the sunshine in – every week and every day.
Associate Publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper, Pat is also bureau chief in Oklahoma City for Watchdog.org, and editor of CapitolBeatOK.