Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) told fellow lawmakers last week that they have no responsibility to ensure students have access to a college education.
The state's legislature has been debating a bill that would expand Oklahoma's Promise, a program that provides post-secondary education scholarships to qualified low-income students. State Rep. James Lockhart (D-Heavener) emailed colleagues to highlight a student named Austin, who, Lockhart was told, earned a 4.39 GPA and a 32 on the ACT, but doesn't qualify for Pell grants and has only received a few scholarships, which won't cover his tuition bill. In an email exchange posted on the state Democratic Party's website, Lockhart wrote:
How do we guarantee that students like Austin, who is clearly very much a top student, get an education? These are the ones that will cure cancer, create the next big invention or possibly become a great leader. How do we help these students?
It's OUR JOB to see this kid get an education. We want our best and brightest to receive an education that lets them reach their full potential. We are failing him.
It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education. It is not the responsibility of me, you, or any constituent in my district to pay for his or any other persons [sic] education. Their GPA, ACT, AS[V]AB, determination have nothing to do with who is responsible. Their potential to benefit society is irrelevant.
He clarified in an email to The Huffington Post that he supports free public K-12 education, but not beyond that.
"I support the Oklahoma Constitution with regard to funding common education and find nothing in the Oklahoma Constitution with regard to free Higher Education," Reynolds said.
Reynolds' comment runs counter to the broad sentiments of his party's early leaders. The Morrill Act of 1862, which was named for a GOP founder, Sen. Justin Morrill of Vermont, and signed into law by the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, essentially gave birth to public higher education. Morrill said the purpose of his namesake legislation was to create a "college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil."
More recently, a study from the State Chamber of Oklahoma, a business lobbying group, found that the state receives $4.72 in return for every dollar invested in public higher education and that public higher education was responsible for 85,000 Oklahoma jobs in 2011.
But Reynolds is noted for his willingness to disagree with Democrats and fellow Republicans. Last year, Tulsa World described him as the state "legislature's top naysayer" because he's voted no more than any other lawmaker. He sponsored legislation in January 2012 to reinstate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for the Oklahoma National Guard. And earlier this year, he sponsored a personhood bill essentially the same as a measure that failed in a divisive battle last year.