Join tonight’s #oklaed chat: Stereotypes in Schools

August 27, 2017 1 comment

I’ve taken a little break from blogging (and from #oklaed chats) this summer. I’ll be tuning in tonight, however, as students from Del City High School take over the chat.

Nothing brings me more joy as a superintendent than watching our students lead. I’m constantly amazed at what Mid-Del students accomplish academically and through their extracurricular programs. Student leadership, though, is certainly one of our greatest strengths.

I found out via Twitter that they had volunteered to moderate tonight’s chat. I had nothing to do with the questions, and I won’t be over their shoulder as they lead and discuss. This is all their deal.

When we listen to students, we are at our best. I hope you will join tonight an let them lead us. This conversation is more important than pre-season professional football or Game of Thrones. Remember, you can record TV. It’s a thing.

See you at 8 tonight!

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Class of 2017: When you see a chance…

May 27, 2017 Comments off

Taking a break from politics and budgets with my message to our three senior classes graduating today:

DCHS Jumping Gif 1

Teachers, principals, family, and friends, it’s good to see all of you. Without your support it’s hard to imagine all of these graduates being here today with all they’ve accomplished.

This graduating class will cross the country to go to college. It will cross the world as members of the military. It will impact the future of our community too.

Today, graduates, we celebrate your accomplishments. We stop to remember your first days of school, your awkward phase, the moments when you were figuring out what you want to do with your life, the times you’ve changed your mind about what you want to do with your life, all the friends you’ve made, and even a few heartbreaks along the way.

MCHS 4 90

Over the last thirteen years, you’ve had some amazing experiences that you will always remember. You’ve had some you’d rather forget too, I’m sure. Let’s not focus on that. The accumulation of these moments brings you here today, to a ceremony we call Commencement.

Commencement means beginning, and that’s what this is. As trite as it is to say, this is the beginning of the rest of your life. And I hope it’s a long and successful life, filled with excellence. You’ll have ups and downs; we all do. You – and only you – get to choose which experiences and which qualities define you.

The poet, William Blake, wrote, “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.”

What does this mean?

Well, “pestilence” is a pretty tough word to unwrap. At its most literal level, it means an epidemic or widely-spreading disease. It can also be used to describe something morally corrupting. That’s what he means here.

CAHS 3 100

“He who desires…” We all have desires. We all have hopes and dreams. And while patience is certainly a virtue, you can’t wait forever for the things that you want. Sometimes in life, you have to press the start button yourself. Sometimes you have to pause and re-start. Nobody else is going to hit the button for you.

The price to pay for never acting on the things you want out of life can be heavy. You miss opportunities. You wonder what might have been. Regretting inaction can weigh on you just as heavily as regret for the things you actually have done.

Regret, by the way, is one of the prices we pay for living life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d rather live with a mistake than spend a lifetime wishing.

Just remember that where you are today, and the opportunities you have in front of you right now are the end result of your own hard work and the support you’ve had around you. Make choices that mirror your passions.

If you haven’t figured out what your passions are, here’s a hint. They’re the things that make you hear a drumming noise inside your head – so loudly that you can’t ignore it. When you’re around certain people or doing the things you truly enjoy, that’s really just your heart pounding and trying to guide you. Listen to it once in a while. I know I’m supposed to tell you to think and plan – and you should – but leave room for what feeds your soul, too.

Cherish your family and friends. Seek mentors who seem happy and figure out what makes them tick. Be that mentor for others. Most of all, seize opportunities to be kind, especially when it brings you no recognition at all.

Ahead of you is your future. Nobody else gets to dictate it for you. Nobody else can navigate it for you. Own it.

Congratulations, and good luck, Class of ’17!

 

Xenophobia: Warrior Snowflake

I wrote last night that at the end of this legislative session, depending on the outcome of the budget, either everybody gets credit or everybody gets blame. I was wrong. Well, I was wrong-adjacent.

The first thing I read this morning was an idea by a group of 22 Oklahoma legislators calling themselves the Republican Platform Caucus. News 6 in Tulsa reported it first, but that’s not where I read it. It came from Peter Greene, who writes the blog Curmudgucation:

There’s a lot to unpack in the news from Oklahoma’s GOP legislators, but let’s just skip straight to the most awful. From this special caucus of conservatives, looking for ways to close a budget hole:

The caucus said there are 82,000 non-English speaking students in the state.

“Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate non-citizens?” [Rep. Mike] Ritze asked.

The caucus thinks that could save $60 million.

What the hell? I mean, what the absolute you-have-got-to-be-freaking-kidding-me hell??!! Let’s profile possible undocumented immigrants based strictly on what their primary language is??!!

The rest of their proposal only seems less stupid because the target-non-English-speakers sets the stupid bar so very high. But there’s still a lot of stupid here.

I love it when national writers mock us – especially when we give them good reason!

It’s not just bloggers either. The Washington Post has even picked up the story.

The caucus, and speculation of its actual size, is the subject of much social media interest as well.

No official list exists, but sources tell okeducationtruths off the record that…

Wait, I still have too much self respect to refer to my own blog in the third person. It’s ridiculous.

Mike-Ritzex175I have seen lists posted in three places, and they mostly match. I really want to post all their names and shame them, but I can’t guarantee that what I have seen is 100 percent accurate. I’ve even seen one legislator disavow membership.

Maybe their caucus isn’t as big as they say.

I can say that none of the names I’ve seen surprise me. And if a decent budget deal comes to fruition, it will be in spite of time wasted on garbage such as this by people who seek to further divide us, especially when the guy leading the charge can’t even work four full days.

 

I think we are all used to one or two isolated legislators saying ridiculous things about different groups of people. This is altogether different. This is a new breakaway wing of the Republican party. They even have a list of guiding ideals:

To address this concern raised by so many voters, this caucus was formed with the following objectives:

  1. Honor God as we serve the people of Oklahoma;
  2. Represent the principles we were elected on, the Republican Platform;
  3. Educate members about how a bill relates to the platform;
  4. Provide a UNIFIED Republican voice;
  5. Hold each other accountable to the values supported by the majority of Oklahomans;
  6. Support policies reflected in the Republican Platform and oppose policies that are contrary to the platform.

“Some say the platform is too long, but really its’ depth is a reflection of decades of hard work by those at the grassroots level,” said Rep. Roberts, R-Hominy. “Truly, the values and policies in our platform represent what it means to be a Republican. Our goal is to represent the values on which we were elected.”

“When members discuss how policy or budgetary decisions relate to the platform, new members will have the opportunity to learn from more seasoned legislators,” said state Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee. “It also helps us hold each other accountable, making us better representatives of the people we serve.”

I don’t know about you, but I can think of few things that honor God less than rounding up all students whose first language isn’t English and making them prove their innocence. Besides, as Ben Felder reports in the Oklahoman, it’s unconstitutional:

According to News 9, the caucus cited 82,000 non English speaking students as its motivation to identify non citizens.

The problem with that is being classified as an English language learner is not the same as being undocumented.

We don’t have firm numbers on how many undocumented students there are in the state as school’s don’t ask citizenship status. Oklahoma City Public Schools is over half Hispanic, but best estimates show less than one third are not U.S. citizens.

In fact, just 37 percent of Hispanic resident in Oklahoma County are not U.S. citizens.

But let’s assume there was an accurate count of undocumented students and it didn’t cost more to “identify them and turn them over to ICE” than it did to educate them, could the state Legislature do this?

The answer is no as it was ruled unconstitutional in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot deny an undocumented student from a free public education.

Of all the ideas and events that have embarrassed Oklahoma so far in 2017, this is perhaps the worst. If anything like this were to become law, it would lead to a culture of profiling and intimidation. Simply put, it’s un-American.

Most Oklahomans I know celebrate diversity in our schools. Having students from many different backgrounds makes our lives richer, not poorer.

I’m embarrassed that my friends across the country are seeing this story and letting it paint a picture of our entire state. If you agree, voice your shame to the members of this caucus.

 

It’s getting late. Do something.

FY 17 budget cuts.jpg

Used by permission from OSSBA

What you see above is real. In 77 days, public schools in Oklahoma have lost over $93 million in state funding. Oklahoma City Public Schools has lost the most, just over $5.3 million. Tulsa Public is next – just under $4.9 million.

In Mid-Del, we’re dealing with over $1.9 million in losses. As I’ve mentioned before, this is money that all districts planned on having based on the state budget passed by the Legislature (and signed by the governor) last May. Here’s the notice we received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education today:

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of May will be paid at the accumulative amount of 88.62 percent instead of the scheduled 91 percent of the current adjusted allocation. Revenue collections for the May State Aid payment are approximately $43.1 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 91 percent payment. The accumulative percentage of 88.62 percent includes the total amount short for this fiscal year updated for cash received through May. The cash flow shortage of $43.1 million for the May payment supersedes the $36.3 million for the March and April payments.

The May payment, available to districts on Thursday, May 11, is based on funds collected as of May 9, 2017. To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date to equal the amount of payment. The amount of funds collected as of May 9, 2017, is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 84.13 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801

  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 85.50 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478

  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 52.57 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000

  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 90.91 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.85

  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 92.96 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

More losses will come in June. Meanwhile, our Legislature continues looking for roughly $900 million to make up for a shortfall to next year’s budget.

To see what each district has lost to date, follow this link.


Several people around the state have asked me why they’re not hearing more from superintendents about what these cuts mean. Last year, after all, we went on and on and on.

I can’t answer for all superintendents. In my case, I’m too busy to spin my wheels. I need to focus on things I can impact. It’s not that the legislators who represent my district don’t hear us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They’re involved and astute.

I’ve been fighting for five years. It’s exhausting. Our day jobs don’t slow down just because we’re trying to keep our legislators informed. They’re aware of the problem. Some are even working on Sundays (which is still allowed as long as the Ten Commandments statue isn’t at the Capitol, I guess) to try to fix it.

Maybe too many people insist on getting credit. Maybe we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. And maybe our executive branch is too busy making dumb decisions like insisting on a $2.4 million test that means nothing or throwing state money down the commode by moving offices around for no reason at all.

This isn’t the time for anyone to play hero. If you’re in the leadership in the Legislature, you were there when this problem was created. It also isn’t the time for blame. Not yet, anyway.

doordonot.gif

Fix it, and all legislators deserve praise. Fail to do anything meaningful, and none do. It’s all or nothing. I’m trying to make a budget for the upcoming school year using numbers I don’t have. I’m not really in the mood to pat anyone on the back and say thanks for trying. Reading the Tulsa World tonight, it seems I’m not alone:

Uncertainty about state appropriations, which has a host of area school districts delaying their annual budget process for the new fiscal year.

“We’re tired of chasing rumors and ghosts,” West said. “This is the dance we’ve been doing every year for three years, but this year, we’re in a wait-and-see pattern. We’re not going to hire anyone until June. What I’m worried about is somebody is going to take another job. We’re having to put them off.”

Sapulpa Public Schools is holding off on offering new contracts to its first- and second-year teachers who have been employed on a temporary basis and Owasso Public Schools leaders say they’re hoping that building up their savings will help see them through Fiscal Year 2018, but they can’t be sure.

Leaders of Union, Jenks and Broken Arrow public schools are also waiting to finalize budget plans for next year, and being cautious about communicating how programming would be affected by cuts, until they have more information from the state.

Because Collinsville is a growing district, with 165 new students the past two years and 100 more expected for 2017-18, West said he has the luxury of being able to commit to offering new employment contracts to all current teachers.

So we wait. And we’re not silent.

And I’m not alone.

Craig, I’m too tired to sigh. Plus, there’s the $1.9 million. That has me pretty bummed out.

Our state leaders persist in working on our behalf, though.

pissing contest

Good thing they’re focused!

I can’t imagine what backlash legislators would face if they fail to do their job. It’s not just public schools. It’s all state agencies. It’s all core state services. This state has consciously chosen to re-elect people who willfully made us go broke. Elections have consequences. Hopefully, at some point, failing to lead will too.

Don’t know much about history?

Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin vetoed SB 2, which would have eliminated the state test for high school US History. This test costs the state of Oklahoma $2.4 million. It means nothing to the students who take it. As with all high-stakes tests, it forces teachers to narrow instruction to what they think will be assessed. Below is her reasoning.

US History veto message

I want to break down her veto statement one sentence at a time.

Senate bill 2 moves Oklahoma backwards.

Let that sentence linger in the air a minute. During the 6+ years of Fallin’s leadership, can you think of anything else that has moved our state backwards? Could it be three consecutive years of budget collapses? Other than our roads, bridges, schools, colleges, health care, prisons, law enforcement, and state parks, we’re having a fantastic decade! The 2010s will go down in history…oh, wait, they won’t. And even if they do, we won’t be able to afford the history books.

History is a vital component of a student’s academic coursework. It grounds students in our nation’s founding principles and our Constitution…

I agree that history is vital. And with US history dating back to 1607, we can’t cover it all in one year. That’s why the state breaks down the standards into three grade spans:

So the high school test covers the last 140 years. With all due respect, that doesn’t exactly include the nation’s founding.

…and teaches that American exceptionalism led the world to unite behind the concepts that liberty and freedom are fundamental human rights.

Not to be a noodge, but I don’t remember the world exactly uniting behind those principles. They’re great ideals. They’re core American values. And we’ve engaged in wars to end tyranny, which is a great thing.

This span of US History begins with Reconstruction, delves into immigration, westward expansion, and the industrial revolution before discussing WWI. It covers “social, cultural, and economic events between the World Wars,” such as the Great Depression. It moves through the Cold War all the way to our response to 9/11.

It’s more than our founding principles. It’s the narrative of how we got from that ontological perspective to where we are today. It includes our triumphs and our failings. It’s a mix of triumphs and human failings.

A test of facts, dates, and names doesn’t capture that.

In 2016, only 62 percent of students in Oklahoma scored proficient or advanced on their End of Instruction Exam on US History.

If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, you know I’m not really a fan of the single out-of-context statistic. Here are the state pass rates for the high school US History EOI since 2010, when Fallin was elected governor:

  • 2010 75%
  • 2011 80%
  • 2012 77%
  • 2013 80%
  • 2014 86%
  • 2015 79%
  • 2016 62%

If testing is so important, then why did scores go down? Where was your leadership during this time, Governor Fallin?

Or maybe it’s not about leadership. It could be that a new test and a new cut score had something to do with the 62%. Still, I wouldn’t rule out her leadership. This is her circus, after all.

If US History is not measured through a test, its importance in school will be lessened.

That’s just a slap in the face. Apparently the governor thinks our history teachers are incapable of doing their jobs. Strangely, I don’t recall her praising them in 2014 when the proficient rate was much higher.

I’m reminded of the time in 2015 that our governor put her knowledge of our founding principles on display:

You know there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, you have the legislative branch and you have the people – the people and their ability to vote.

Yes, she really said that. She actually forgot the branch of government she leads.

If only there had been a test.

The good thing is that we can fix this. Our Legislature may be struggling to find agreement on a budget right now, but they were pretty solid when they sent this bill to Fallin. The House vote was 65-23 with 10 absences. The Senate vote was 31-10 with 7 absences.

Now is the time to act. The governor’s action was predictable, just as it was two years ago when she vetoed HB 2625, giving parents a voice on third grade retention. At that time, the House voted 79-17 and the Senate voted 45-2 to override her veto.

That was one of the most critical moments we’ve had in the last few years. It showed how strong public education advocates can be when we unite. The state superintendent at that time called it pathetic and outrageous, which was a pretty strong indication we were right.

Maybe that helps us understand this veto. Rep. Katie Henke, the author of HB 2625 two years ago, is the house author for SB 2. The senate author is JJ Dossett, a former teacher who has been very outspoken on education and budget issues this year. I wouldn’t sleep on the role that spite plays in decisions such as this.

We don’t need to waste money on a meaningless test. Another $2.4 million could save about 55 teaching positions. Not that I’m counting.

Besides, if we wanted something resembling authentic assessment, it would look so much different. We can’t afford to continue insulting our teachers. Please call your state senator and representative and ask them to vote to override the veto.

They left the Capitol before 11:00 am today, but their voicemail works. Fill it up.

A developing story for #oklaed

April 30, 2017 5 comments

For those of you who don’t know her, Angela Little is a business professional, single parent, and fierce public education advocate.

angela little

For those of you who don’t know them, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is a right-wing think tank, founded in 1993. The OCPA had $2.7 million in revenue and $1.9 million in expenses in 2015. They closed the fiscal year with about $5.8 million in assets, including one controversial monument.

OCPA ten commandments

That’s impressive for a non-profit!

The OCPA also operates several side projects, including their Center for Investigative Journalism. They call it a center, but it really just seems to be one guy – Jay Chilton. You remember him – the guy who feigns outrage when educators get salty with their frustration. What I enjoy most about his writing is when he refers to his blog in the third person. Sentences that start with CIJ asked… and CIJ contacted… pepper his posts.

Maybe I should start doing that…

Okeducationtruths has learned that in spite of the best efforts of many in the Legislature, nothing has changed.

No, I don’t really like that at all.

I also don’t like drive-by hacks taking cheap shots at friends of public education. That brings me to Friday, when okeducationtruths was shocked – SCHOCKED! – to learn that CIJ had written a post fixating on Angela Little.

The post starts as a follow-up on the relationship between American Fidelity (Little’s employer) and Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s 2014 campaign. American Fidelity was a contributor to the campaign for which Hofmeister is under investigation.

That part seems like fair game. Hofmeister is a public official. She and others associated with her campaign face charges in Oklahoma County. That’s noteworthy.

About halfway through the post, though, it turned into an attack on Little.

While American Fidelity was identified in the indictment, neither the company nor any of its staff were charged with any crimes.

In May of 2016, American Fidelity appears to have adopted another unusual political strategy when it hired Angela Clark Little as part of the company’s “Strategic Quality Management” staff. Despite her listing as a full-time company employee, much of Little’s time is committed to advocating increased expenditures for public education, opposing school choice reforms, and campaigning for the election of candidates who support those positions.

Little’s lobbying efforts have been noted by many legislators and generally take place during regular working hours. If a business pays someone to lobby at the state Capitol, state law requires both the business and the individual to register with the state Ethics Commission and requires the lobbyist to file regular monthly disclosure reports.

Then a funny thing happened. Several legislators insisted that the post come down. It did, briefly. Since CIJ hadn’t reached out to little for a comment, he was asked to pull it until that could happen. Then he sent Little the following message via Facebook Messenger:

Ms. Little, My name is Jay Chilton. I am the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Oklahoma City, a project of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. I recently published a story concerning American Fidelity and your activities as a pro-public education activist. Some of my readers have asked me to reach out to you and ask if you wished to comment. I thought you would like to use written communication so that you could be certain I would not mis-quote you, and if I did you would have a record. Please elaborate as you deem appropriate as to your position relating to the facts of my article. Thank you for your time, ~Jay

Well, he didn’t misquote her; he just truncated her response. I asked her if she’d like me to post it in it’s entirety here. See below:

I began my advocacy in 2014 when I was employed as a data analyst with Devon Energy. Having 8 year old twins brought concerns about the 3rd grade retention testing and I strongly opposed implementation of the Common Core State Standards and helped advocate for the repeal. In Feb 2016, I was laid off from Devon Energy along with 2700 other employees which made it nearly impossible to find a job. During my layoff, I spent time at the State Capitol advocating for my children and their teachers as I continued to look for a new position in my field. My time there allowed me to create relationships with many elected officials who shared my passion for public education. Thankfully, I was offered a job with American fidelity in May 2016 after a friend alerted me to a job posting for a position similar to the one I had with Devon Energy. I help various areas of business implement technology solutions in a cost-effective way by determining the requirements of a project or program. Since I am currently employed, I have only been to the Capitol four times this session for which I used paid personal time off. Thankfully, the relationships I made last session have allowed me to reach out to Legislators and discuss issues in the evenings since I am unable to be there during the day. My current focus is helping our teachers get a much needed raise. They say it takes a village to raise a child and as a single working mother, teachers have become a vital part of my village so I want to help them like they have helped me over the years. The State Capitol was built for the people. The paid lobbyists came second so why do we feel everyone who’s there is getting compensated monetarily? I do this for my boys who are my entire world. Their happiness and future success is the only compensation received or needed. It would be different if I were there on behalf of an industry but I am there on behalf of my children. I am and will continue to be their voice.

Angela Little doesn’t have the resources, history, and connections of the most powerful people in this state. Just the same, she makes a difference. I don’t always agree with her either, but I’m thankful beyond words that she’s an advocate for public schools. Last summer, she caught the attention of the Oklahoman editorial board. Now it’s the OCPA, which is basically the same thing. If those are your enemies, you’re probably my friend.

Chilton finished his revised post (after including a cursory Little quote and removing statements by legislators) with the ominous statement that “This is a developing story.” Of course it is. And anyone who doesn’t play nice and kowtow to the will of the OCPA will face their wrath.

We all have the right to visit the Capitol and engage our legislators. That doesn’t make us lobbyists. What OCPA and CIJ and others like them want is for all of the public education supporters in the state to sit down and shut up.

Good luck with that.

Five years to a modicum of renown

April 24, 2017 2 comments

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today marks five years that I’ve been writing this blog. To commemorate the accomplishment my endurance, I thought I’d make a list of the top five things that have improved for Oklahoma schools during this time.

5 gif

Then I decided not to; I’m not sure I could list five.

Funding has fallen to the point that school districts are decreasing the number of days of attendance. We still have A-F Report Cards, though we hope they will be kinder and gentler (and less tied to poverty) when we have new tests. We still have our annual fight with voucher supporters who call us names and block us from public venues. And we still have legislators thick-skinned enough to run for election but so thin-skinned* that they can’t bear to hear of our frustration. Worse yet, we’ve continued to send many of them back to the Capitol so they can try to replace real science with a Folger’s substitute.

second cup at home.gif

What has changed is that more people are sharing their experiences directly with policy makers. Teachers, parents, and students all have given their voices to the cause. What has this budget cut meant? How has that policy change impacted school climate?

Thanks to all of us, the people we elect have better understanding of the struggle than ever before. The result is that our state leaders now tweet pictures doing what educators have been doing for decades – catching up on work on a Sunday evening.

I don’t doubt that their work is hard. After five years, though, I’m too tired to hope for a better plan outcome right now. So instead of the post I had intended to write, here are some stats on my blog that probably interest only me.

796,846 total page views
10,970 views in one day
2,658 comments

Total stats

That’s an average of about 13,000 page views per month. As the bar chart above shows, some months have much higher traffic than others. Here’s a better illustration.

month by month stats.png

In June of 2014, the blog had over 68,000 page views. Something about a dentist and a primary election may have helped there. Hard to say.

I also enjoy responding to the comments I receive – the ones I allow to post anyway. Believe it or not, I have deleted a few nasty attacks from time to time. Let’s face it – not all of the people who follow and read this blog are fans, of me or of public education.

5897 Twitter followers
4265 Facebook likes
606 email recipients
115 WordPress followers

Twitter Blog Count
FB Blog Count

Followers

In spite of the modicum of renown my friends at the OCPA say I’ve earned as a blogger, I can’t tell you that what I write moves the needle. I don’t wake up and see how much better it is. I’ve made great friends in advocacy. I frequently discuss ideas with other writers, many of whom have better blogs and more readers.

I’ve learned some pleasant (and unpleasant) things about myself. I’ve even advanced in my career during this time. Because of that, I’m more focused day-to-day on what I can do for the students in Mid-Del than for the students in Oklahoma. I have to be.

And I still need a constructive hobby that isn’t directly tied to my career.records in the rectangle.gif

I don’t know where we go from here. Maybe our leaders really will find a way to help schools. Never say never, right?

For those of you who stop by and read, I can’t thank you enough. For those of you who fight the fight, I hope you’ll keep going. The job is never done.


*Not you. Definitely not you. I’m obviously referring to somebody else.

Last Dance for #oklaed?

April 20, 2017 1 comment

While we wait to see what will happen with state revenue and funding levels for public education, I’m going to take a little family break tonight and see my all-time favorite band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who begin their 40th anniversary tour tonight in Oklahoma City. In their honor, I thought it would be good to use a few classic songs to speculate on where we’ll end up in the next five weeks.

Breakdown (1976) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

It’s alright if you love me
It’s alright if you don’t
I ain’t afraid of you running away, honey
I get the feeling you won’t
There is no sense in pretending
Your eyes give you away
Something inside you is feeling like I do
We said all there is to say

Many of our teachers feel that this is the message Oklahoma has been sending them for years. Rather than continuing to pretend, they’re running away. It’s tragic.

You Wreck Me (1994) Wildflowers

Tonight we ride, right or wrong
Tonight we sail, on a radio song
Rescue me, should I go down
If I stay too long in trouble town
Oh, yeah, you wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes you do

I hope they open the show with this one, not that I’d be disappointed with any other choice I imagine. It’s a song about relationships that you just can’t break, even when they’re unhealthy. People  who re-elect the same politicians who created Oklahoma’s massive budget deficit in the first place would be a good example of this.

Free Fallin’ (1989) Full Moon Fever

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too

Sometimes when I listen to politicians, I feel like this must be their impression of teachers. Look at that list of things the good girl loves. I don’t know how he left off sweet tea.

When a US Senator tells a teacher not to worry about her pay because she’ll get her reward in heaven, I know I’m right to feel that way. I know that teachers should be demure an compliant and not worry about raising their kids on WIC and Sooner Care. Those will soon be gone anyway, right?

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1981 – with Stevie Nicks) Bella Donna

Baby you could never look me in the eye
Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words
Stop draggin’ my,
Stop draggin’ my,
Stop draggin’ my heart around

Oh, they’ll look us in the eye and say whatever we want to hear. Still, they’re dragging us around.

Don’t Do Me Like That (1979) Damn the Torpedoes

Someone’s gonna tell you lies
Cut you down to size
Don’t do me like that
Don’t do me like that

The check is in the mail. My dog ate it. We were able to provide flat funding for education…

I Need to Know (1978) You’re Gonna Get It!

I need to know (i need to know)
I need to know (i need to know)
If you think you’re gonna leave
Then you better say so
I need to know (i need to know)
I need to know (i need to know)
Because I don’t know how long
I can hold on
And if your makin’ me wait
If you’re leadin’ me on
I need to know (i need to know)
I need to know (i need to know)

These lyrics capture how every superintendent and principal in the state feel about their teachers right now. Those in districts close to other states especially feel it. We also need to know what funding looks like. We’re trying to keep the people we want to keep so other districts don’t grab them while leaving enough slack in the budget for a wide range of scenarios. Actually, that’s better for the next song…

The Waiting (1981) Hard Promises

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

We get another signal from the Legislature. We lose another teacher or principal. We think we might be able to bring back some of the things we cut last year. We can’t be certain. In a little more than a month, the government we’ve chosen will tell us where we stand.

So much can change in that month.

Funk #49 (1970) James Gang Rides Again

Jumpin’ up, fallin’ down
Don’t misunderstand me
You don’t think that I know your plan
What you try’n’-a hand me?

Since Joe Walsh is the opening act tonight, I thought I’d throw in one of his best songs. Plus it gives me a chance to remind teachers to take heart in that better plan that opponents of SQ 779 had in their pocket all along. Right? Right?

Walk Away (1971) Thirds

Ok, I couldn’t limit myself to one song by James Gang.

Takin’ my time, choosin’ my lines
Tryin’ to decide what to do
Looks like my stop, don’t wanna get off
Got myself hung up on you
Seems to me you don’t wanna talk about it
Seems to me you just turn your pretty head and walk away

In spite of the fact that I believe the Capitol has more people wanting to help public schools than hurt them, I struggle to get past the few who repeat nonsense. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve heard one legislator say that school districts have enough carryover to fund raises right now. Others believe that there is no teacher shortage. In short, we have people pretending to serve the public with no interest in facts. I try to hope. I really do.

Won’t Back Down (1989) Full Moon Fever

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground
And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey I will stand my ground
(I won’t back down)

Tom Petty describes this as his most personal song. Almost 20 years after Full Moon Fever, Johnny Cash recorded it and made it even more haunting.

With this song, I want to remind our Legislature that they can’t take the easy way out. I’ve heard several say that budget plans include some “51” and some “75” ideas. The first are revenue sources that they can authorize with a simple majority in each chamber. In total, these will just nibble around the edges of the state’s fundamental problems. The second group, which would be legitimate tax increases, will be harder to pass.

I hope the leaders supporting ideas from both columns stand their ground.

Heading for the Light (1988) Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Been close to the edge, hanging by my fingernails
I’ve rolled and I’ve tumbled through the roses and the thorns
And I couldn’t see the sign that warned me
I’m heading for the light

In 1988, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison formed a supergroup and recorded an amazing album. This song has a distinct George Harrison sound, but I’m including it anyway. Besides, most of the Wilburys performed on Full Moon Fever.

The Last DJ (2002) 

Well the top brass don’t like him talking so much,
And he won’t play what they say to play
And he don’t want to change what don’t need to change
There goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say, hey hey hey?
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
There goes the last DJ

I think of this song every time I read a post on Blue Cereal Education or Curmudgication. Or every time someone reminds me to be nice to the people who may or may not help public education. Or every time think tank people call me a bully. 

The people you can silence probably aren’t worth hearing anyway.

Something Good Coming (2010) Mojo

I know so well the look on your face
And there’s somethin’ lucky about this place
There’s somethin’ good comin’
Just over the hill
Somethin’ good comin’
I know it will

At this point, I guess we just have to believe or not believe. Something good will come, or it won’t. Maybe we’ll get there this time. Maybe things will improve. Maybe.

For me, tonight, I’m going to live something I say to people: Find what feeds your soul and pursue it fiercely.

tp 40.png

Oh no, not again!

April 12, 2017 2 comments

Here we go again. Today, just as has happened the last few months, school superintendents received our latest notice that our state aid checks would be short.

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of April will be paid at the accumulative amount of 79 percent instead of the scheduled 81 percent of the current adjusted allocation. Revenue collections for the April State Aid payment are approximately $36.3 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 81 percent payment. The accumulative percentage of 79 percent includes the total amount short for this fiscal year updated for cash received through April.  The cash flow shortage of $36.3 million for the April payment supersedes the $18.9 million for the March payment.

The April payment, available to districts on Thursday, April 13, is based on funds collected as of April 11, 2017.  To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date to equal the amount of payment.  The amount of funds collected as of April 11, 2017, is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 72.13 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801
  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 77.35 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478
  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 52.57 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000
  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 82.05 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.95
  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 85.08 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

Your Notice of Payment report can be found under Payment Notices in Single Sign On at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.  For your convenience, a report showing the 81 percent compared to the 79 percent is located under Important Notices on the State Aid Web page at http://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid.

We will be closely monitoring each month’s cash and make adjustments as needed.  If you have questions, please contact State Aid.

We’ve become accustomed to mid-year cuts. It’s a sad but true fact. They still hurt. Every month is a new stomach punch.

In Mid-Del alone, our share of the shortfall is $813,200. That’s about 18 teaching positions. In other words, when we presented our board a budget last summer based on the funding promised by the state, we were at least $813,200 long on the revenue side. With two more months to go in the fiscal year, it’ll easily pass a million.

Last summer, we projected that we would end the year with a stable fund balance (carry over), and we’ve worked throughout the year to save money where we can. Maybe the $5 million we cut from the budget last year wasn’t enough. Apparently we should have done more.

Maybe our class sizes aren’t big enough yet. Maybe we should cut some bus routes. Maybe there are too many sports. Maybe the four-day week should get a closer look by those of us who aren’t there yet.

If we keep enduring cuts, there are no good choices. We either make Terrible Decision A, or we make Terrible Decision B. No amount of shaming by legislators or state officials will change that.

I get it. Oklahoma is broke. We’re broker than broke. Every state agency is enduring cuts. I’m glad to see more of them speaking out about what those losses mean too. And I know many great lawmakers ready and willing to help us, if the right coalition comes together. No Republican can afford, politically, to carry the flag for tax increases alone. That’s just reality.

Unfortunately, we have a variety of legislators representing Oklahomans at the Capitol. Some, conveniently, choose not to believe in things like the teacher shortage, budget collapses, or even science. I can’t tell you that all the legislators wanting to help public education will be enough. It’s going to take pressure on those who really don’t value what we do.

We need to explain to some, still, why having a budget carryover is not a way to fund teacher raises. We need to share our stories about class sizes we’ve increased and programs we’ve cut. We need to do it boldly. This isn’t the time to mince words.

Do we accept this as the new normal, Craig? Not only no, but hell no. Our kids and teachers deserve better than to have a bunch of passive leaders who roll over at this. The companies that allegedly won’t come to Oklahoma because of all the four day weeks are probably smart enough to be scared off by the state’s scant per pupil funding as well.

We are in a man-made fiscal crisis. If we didn’t vote, or if we voted for the people who continue to cut off revenue streams for basic state services, we are to blame.

Oh, and one other thing, in case you’ve missed it. While we weren’t watching, the state has spent the entire Rainy Day Fund.

In fact, officials admitted earlier this month that the state’s constitutional reserve — known as the Rainy Day Fund — has been emptied in order to pay bills and meet payroll.

Doerflinger repeated earlier assurances that enough revenue will come in during the final three months of the fiscal year to replace the borrowed money, but said the situation still calls for new revenue sources.

“The fact we have had to borrow from these funds shows just how serious the state’s revenue problem is,” he said.

Doerflinger would not rule out the possibility of a second round of spending cuts before the end of the budget year on June 30.

March receipts totaled $352.1 million, or 9 percent below the official estimate and 10.7 percent below actual collections for the same month a year ago.

Year-to-date, general revenue collections are 2.8 percent below the estimate and 6.2 percent, or $231.3 million, below the prior year.

 

bull durham self-awareness

Whether depleting the Rainy Day Fund without legislative approval is legal or not really isn’t for me to decide. I’m not a lawyer, but I know when something sounds sketchy.

What this means is that our state budget hole is closer to $1.3 billion. That framework for teacher raises is meaningless unless the state fills that hole. All the rhetoric in the world means nothing if our elected officials can’t agree on where to find new revenue.

As the image below shows, our legislators and governor passed a budget last May that hasn’t been met by reality. That’s three in a row. It’s trend behavior.

revenue shortfall

Conveniently, no cuts from the budget happened until after the November elections. Go figure.

We’ve cut the fat. We’re cutting limbs. There isn’t much left.

 

Happy Humpday (and enjoy today’s testing errata)!

April 5, 2017 Comments off

It’s April, so let’s all stop what we’re doing and test some kids! That’s why we’re here five days a week, right? Well, five-ish.

I know I should be less flippant about standardize testing, but if I were, how would you recognize me? As a state, we spend millions on tests that give us very little in the way of useful information months after the fact. At least the process is a well-oiled machine, right?

You’d think that. Unfortunately, Measured Progress, our testing company has twice this week had to email us and say my bad! On Monday, it was fifth grade math.

grade-5-math-errata-notice_original.jpg

Certainly our students wouldn’t be confused at having different answer choices in their testing books as they do on their answer sheets, right? F and A are quite closely linked (in a single summative kind of way).

It’s a typo. These things happen. At least they don’t cause us to invalidate tests though.

Today’s problem was a different story.

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Because of the length of some tests, we give them in two separate sessions. So we should have different directions for each session. The lack of clarity caused some confusion and created test invalidation in some schools. I don’t know how many schools were affected. I was just told some. One was in Mid-Del, and the students affected will have to start the test over.

mistakes were made.jpg

It’s fine, though. Measured Progress is going to make it up to the kids with pizza.

And no, I’m not making that up.

While I make light of testing, I can tell you that our teachers and principals take the process very seriously. They’re rule followers. They don’t want to mess up and jeopardize their careers. They don’t want to frustrate their students. That’s why I try to test monitor in our schools when I can.

Mistakes are inevitable. They’re still frustrating.

I’m sorry you’re upset.

March 15, 2017 4 comments

Caesar:
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2

Yesterday, a bunch of people who support public education went to the Capitol and met with elected officials who support public education. Pictures were taken. Ideas were shared. Good times were had by all.

I stayed home and worked on household chores. I’ve had all the conversations I need to have with my representative and senator about public school funding. We all agree it’s a problem. They’re looking into it.

Since I missed yesterday’s event, I also missed out on the lecture from a freshman representative who doesn’t like our tone. From Red Dirt Report:

Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Tulsa) spoke to the group Tuesday morning dismissing their tone and rhetoric. During his face time with the group he said, “We pass the teacher pay raise, and immediately after passing the teacher pay raise the focus shifted from we want a pay raise to those idiots passed a pay raise, but they don’t have a way to fund it.”

The first-time Republican representative went on to explain, “Teachers from my district, that I am friends with immediately started beating me up on this issue.” He told members of the group that they do not fully understand the budget process.

Talking to teachers, he proceeded to use simple numbers to explain that the legislature is not in control of much of the state revenue citing; the legislature will only appropriate $6 out of $17 billion dollars this year.

Fetgatter then gave teachers a learning moment with this example; “If I gave you $3,000 to pay your bills for the month, you would be excited about that and then all the sudden you only get to choose where $900 of that goes because the rest of that is already going to be apportioned out.”

Thank goodness he gave that example. Most teachers wouldn’t know what to do with $3,000 a month, of course, because its well over what they take home.

Using Fetgatter’s example, though, I doubt very many teachers get to decide where even $900 a month goes. Try living on a teacher’s salary, especially with kids. I’ve been there and done that.

Or try running a school district, Rep. Fetgatter. Salaries alone consume 90 percent of our budget. We get to make choices between things like textbooks or new school buses. So please, lecture me.

Don’t get me wrong, Rep. Fetgatter. I don’t blame you. You’re brand new. You had no idea what you were inheriting when you ran for public office during one of the most highly publicized eras of educator activism this state has ever seen.

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Rep. Fetgatter, I’m glad you were there. I’m glad you’re working on solving the revenue problems of this state before things get even worse. I don’t doubt your sincere frustration with getting lumped together with the members of last year’s Legislature who passed a budget built upon unrealistic funding projections.

To all the first-year Legislators at the Capitol: you are not responsible for this month’s version of State Aid Mystery Theatre, which superintendents received today:

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of March will be paid at the accumulative amount of 70.96 percent instead of the scheduled 72 percent of the current adjusted allocation.  Revenue collections for the March State Aid payment are approximately $18.9 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 72 percent payment.

The March payment, available to districts on Thursday, March 16, is based on funds collected as of March 14, 2017.  To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date equals the amount of payment.  The amount of funds collected as of March 14, 2017 is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 64.98 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801
  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 68.45 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478
  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 46.43 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000
  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 72.96 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.95
  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 77.20 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

Your Notice of Payment report can be found under Payment Notices in Single Sign On at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.  For your convenience, a report showing the 72 percent compared to the 70.96 percent is located under Important Notices on the State Aid Web page at http://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid .

We will be closely monitoring each month’s cash and make adjustments as needed.  If you have questions, please contact State Aid.

I blame the Ides of March. Actually, I should know better than to open email on this day. How many years did I teach Julius Caesar to excited high school sophomores? Nothing good can come of it!

More cuts are coming during the remaining months of this fiscal year because the people in charge of the state’s budget spent the last several years cutting taxes to the point that we can’t run our state. Since you’re new, you’ll probably hear some of your colleagues, and maybe some members of the governor’s staff, explain that the problem is entirely because of low prices in oil and gas. You might even hear a murmur about online shopping.

Maybe, if you’re fortunate, you’ve even run into someone from the Greater OKC Chamber passing out details about their better plan for funding education.

Just remember, state law requires the Legislature to fund education by April 1 of the preceding year. Rob Miller has a few thoughts on that:

Failure to pass an education budget by April 1st will cause the wrath of the God to fall upon your head. You’ll have to work Fridays. Your shoelaces will not stay tied. You will gain weight for no reason. The hair from your head will move to your back. You’ll develop a painful rash in a delicate area of your body. Rabid squirrels will invade your home and procreate with your Shih Tzu. You will be stuck for eight hours in an elevator with a large man with horrible body odor and severe flatulence. Food in your refrigerator will mysteriously spoil. Your bank accounts will be hacked by a Nigerian Prince. Your mother-in-law will move into the guest room permanently. Your car will start making that expensive knocking sound again and no one will talk to you at parties.

What it comes down to is that if you do your jobs, we’ll tone down the rhetoric. If you don’t, I’ll be cutting again – more than the 100 jobs we had to reduce for this school year.

That said, I have no opinion thus far on how effective the 2017 Legislature will be. I won’t until the session ends.

Standridge and Vouchers

February 28, 2017 4 comments

State Senator Rob Standridge will say or do just about anything to pass a voucher bill at this point. This week, he has sent his colleagues an 18 page backup document that includes letters of support for SB 560. Here are some highlights. First is from his letter:

Coming from an area of the state dominated by the left and those that think school choice should not be allowed for anyone, even for the poor kids of the inner city this legislation targets, I understand that this legislation is not easy.

This is a tremendous starting point. Standridge is from Norman, which now is apparently dominated by the left. Never mind that he won re-election in November facing an independent candidate and no Democrat. Facts really have no place here.

I have heard some say that if we could just spend more money in the failing schools in Oklahoma and Tulsa county that things would just turn around. I certainly support funding public education better, and as it is a condition of this legislation, giving our teachers a raise. But certainly we are not sure what level of funding will turn around our inner city schools which are failing, and if you look to the funding of inner city schools in Washington, DC…is there really an amount that will fix inner city schools and should we continue to wait for that to happen while kids pay the real price?

So is Standridge saying ALL inner city schools in the state’s two largest counties are failing? If so, then why is he pushing so hard for Cleveland County, where his children attend private schools, to get vouchers too?

And why doesn’t he want any accountability in the private schools that will educate the voucher students they will accept? If test scores are how he knows that inner city schools are failing him, then why won’t we be giving state tests to the students who take their vouchers and go private?

Believe me, I completely understand that OEA, CCOSA, and other left leaning organizations have convinced educators that school choice is a bad thing…

Skipping over the fact that Standridge believes all education organizations (except the ones who write bills for Senator Brecheen and a few other colleagues) are left leaning, he also makes the argument that educators are incapable of thinking for themselves. The OEA and CCOSA are bad, and they have convinced these weak minded people that choice is bad. But I want to give them raises. I really do!

Similar to the Civil Rights movement many decades ago led by Republicans, championed by Republicans, but lost to the media as an effort from the left…

Stop. Just stop. You’re embarrassing yourself, Rob.

I would reiterate that the goal line for SB 560 is a thousand yards away, and possibly even years away, but please help me move this ball down the field so that, hopefully, we can provide opportunity for that young 9th grade boy or girl that without this scholarship life may pass them by.

Yes, this bill merely chips away at the edges of what Standridge and the other signers of letters in this packet really want: universal school choice.

Again, let me say that I’m not against school choice. Thousands of students in Oklahoma attend public schools in a different zip code from their residence. Some of our legislators, past and present, have enjoyed public school choice. We have charters. We have virtual school.

We. Have. School. Choice. Right. Now.

We just don’t have vouchers.

I spoke today with one superintendent who says that Standridge recently told him, They’re coming. Why not control the model? Or maybe I’m one of those gullible educators that the senator thinks will believe anything.

It’s also worth noting that Standridge has worked over the rural caucus promising them that vouchers to the state’s three most populous counties won’t hurt school funding for the rest of them. On the other hand, I’ve heard Standridge talk about the need to consolidate rural districts. That’s the same guy. Is he really looking out for your schools?

Senate Bill 560 would subsidize the private school tuition of more than 36,000 students in those three counties. Adding to the number of students currently served depletes funding for the rest of the districts. This would take money from 74 counties to subsidize the biggest three.

But it moves the ball incrementally down the field.

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That’s not all. We also have support documentation from key allies. I won’t list them all, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide a brief excerpt from David Barton and his fact-challenged Wallbuilders organization:

Nearly three-fourths of [Texas] citizens say they are not getting their money’s worth for what we are spending in education, and sixty-eight percent now want school choice, even in rural areas…I assume it is the same in Oklahoma.

…In Texas, there is a very aggressive push to increase salaries for educators, and our legislators are sympathetic to these demands. But at the same time, we cannot reward teachers or systems that underperform.

The playbook, if we are to extend the sports metaphor, is strongly anti-public education. And it’s nationwide.

To be clear, though, a voucher won’t provide a student with a meal or transportation. It won’t guarantee access to school choice. And it won’t have any fiscal or academic accountability.

With that said, I’m headed to Kamp’s for tonight’s school choice discussion. I hope I make the cut this time!

Please contact your senators and ask for a no vote on SB 560 tomorrow.

Doerflinger says…

February 25, 2017 Comments off

As you probably know by now, the state of Oklahoma declared a revenue failure again this week.

For the second time in two fiscal years, the state of Oklahoma has declared a revenue failure, meaning tax collections are below the estimates used to pass the state budget last session.

“Our revenues are difficult at best, and maybe they fall into the category of pathetic,” Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger told a packed room of elected officials, bureaucrats and media this morning. “Our situation is dire. I beg you to have an appreciation for the situation we have before us.”

What this means is that state agencies will receive a reduction in funding from what was budgeted at the beginning of the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. For public education, that’s over $46 million in mid-year cuts.

Doerflinger could not emphasize enough how critical this situation is.

Doerflinger also alerted the board to an even larger budget hole for Fiscal Year 2018 than had been anticipated: $878 million, up from $868 million. He more than subtly urged the board — and legislators — to consider Fallin’s bold revenue ideas.

“I don’t know how much more I can emphasize that the time for action is now,” Doerflinger said. “It’s not a game. We need new revenues.”

Doerflinger spoke at a podium directly in front of Fallin and Lamb, who stepped down from Fallin’s cabinet last week because he said he could not support the governor’s proposal for sales tax to be implemented on a variety of services.

“The governor is a pragmatic person, a reasonable person,” Doerflinger said to a silent, crowded room. “She has put forward a bold proposal. I know she and I look forward to specific plans to be revealed by other people involved in this process.”

Fallin’s bold proposal includes eliminating the grocery sales tax and corporate income tax. She would replace them with a menu of taxes on services, such as tattoos, oil changes, and haircuts.They also want to increase the cigarette tax.

The governor’s estimates (which are Doerflinger’s estimates) are huge. I question whether they’re reliable. These are the same people who have worked with legislative leaders to “balance” the state budget each of the last three years, leading to massive shortfalls every time.

According to Fallin’s estimates, applying sales tax to services would bring in $1,703,879,742 (that’s 1.7 Billion dollars with a B) to government coffers. Of that, the state government would receive $934,247,035, county governments would get $648,274,017, and cities would collect $121,358,690.

This is essentially a 10% tax hike on small businesses and consumers across the state, as the cost of doing business and obtaining services will go up about 10%.

Fallin lists 164 different categories she wants taxed. This includes all manner of construction-related contracting services, cable TV, pet grooming, carpet cleaning, business and legal services, utilities for residential use, funeral services, medical services… the list is very long, and you can view it here.

Fallin FY2018 sales tax hike.png

It’s not a very good plan, but at least it’s a plan.

I’ve been pretty quiet the last few weeks. I’ve seen lots of revenue plans (such as nearly tripling the beer tax) and teacher pay raise bills. What I haven’t seen is any momentum behind a solid idea to fix the fundamental problems in this state.

For three years, we’ve listened to state leaders blame the budget hole on low oil and gas prices. In her State of the State address this year, Fallin even blamed online shopping for contributing to lower state revenues.

These things contribute, but not as much as the tax cuts our state has passed during the last ten years. And yes, I know that dates back into Brad Henry’s second term as governor.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute estimates the annual cost of these tax cuts at more than $1 billion. You and I have barely felt those cuts. Most are large cuts for the wealthy and cuts for oil and gas. Other states that rely on fossil fuels for revenue haven’t been hit this hard. They also haven’t decimated their own tax base to intentionally starve the beast of core state services.

Repeating the gravity of the situation, Doerflinger spoke Friday to a Republican group in Tulsa. You can watch clips of his remarks at the Tulsa World website. I’ve transcribed a few sections:

0:25 At some point, we have to determine what type of state we want. Do we want to invest in things like common education or not, and if not, and if we’re not, then we should just tell teachers – and I have friends that are teachers, I have friends that are corrections workers, I have friends that are child welfare workers – at some point we just need to tell those people that we don’t care, or we need to decide that we need to invest in those areas. And I’m telling you, that there are still areas and places we can improve from an efficiency standpoint.

Based on the last few years, I’m reluctant to say what kind of state his audience envisions. Fallin is still governor. We keep digging deeper holes in our budget. An actual plan to raise teacher salaries by $5,000 was defeated at the polls in November. Like it or not, this is the Oklahoma standard right now.

1:50 And agencies have peddled doubt and fear for so long that it’s hard for you to believe me whenever I stand up in front of you and try to make an argument for the fact that these agencies have taken serious cuts over many years and if we’re going to hit them this year with the Draconian-style cuts that I think some people would have us hit them with, then we’re at risk at this point of doing real harm. Some of these people that we’re talking about, if they sustain these type of cuts – and I’m not a dramatic person – people die. We’re putting our corrections workers at risk. We’re putting child welfare workers at risk. And then again, if you care about teachers and the teacher pay raise, I don’t know how you fund that without looking at some types of new revenue.

 

If stating directly what ongoing cuts mean to those we serve means we have peddled doubt and fear, then I don’t know what to tell you. Then again, he’s not a dramatic person, and he thinks people are going to die if we don’t do something different.

2:40 If the agency known as the State Department of Education and if the Education Establishment in general would start coming with more solutions to the problem versus just the answer being solely we need more money, because there are opportunities to realize efficiencies within the common education universe. The problem is that the Education Establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it doesn’t benefit the children in this state, so enough of that already.

That’s some weird phrasing: the agency known as the State Department of Education. How else would they be known? And of course, there’s the red meat for his base: the Education Establishment.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m fixated on improving the education my district provides our 14,300 students. Cutting $5,000,000 from our budget last year and over 100 support, teaching, and administrative positions doesn’t make that easy. Losing almost $1.3 million in the second half of this fiscal year doesn’t either. School funding is being held hostage by someone who shows no evidence that he can reverse trend behavior.

And that is really disgusting.

3:20 What we are doing is not sustainable. It’s not, and we need to figure out – the collective we – how we want to approach that. I – again, if anybody things the budget that I pushed out this year is the budget that I wanted to push out – it’s just not true, but it was the reality that we faced in order to try to invest in our state and try to avoid doing real harm in areas where – I can tell you, it was a guiding principle. The governor has told me, the last two years for sure, please try to protect areas, Preston, where people die, or real harm occurs, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.

This entire scenario reminds me of a scene in The Hunt for Red October. A Russian admiral, played by Sean Connery, wants to defect to America and bring his big, bad new submarine with him. He’s being chased by another Russian submarine, which fires a torpedo. Connery’s sub outmaneuvers the other one, and the torpedo tracks towards the one that fired it.

One of the Russians turns to the ship’s captain and says, “You arrogant ass; you’ve killed us!”

As with the torpedo movie, we’ve taken the safety features off our budget. We’ve all but eliminated taxes on horizontal drilling. We give money away by the bucket to corporations that fail to invest it back into our state. We keep cutting taxes and then desperately trying to steer out of the way of disaster.

And every time we do this, someone in the Education Establishment will say how grateful we are that we were held flat, as opposed to facing more cuts.

I’m over that.

And if you want a list of some of the suggestions we’ve made over the years, check out Rob Miller’s blog post from today. He’s not thrilled with Mr. Doerflinger either.

During a speech to the Tulsa Republican Club Friday, State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger remarked that the Oklahoma state government cannot continue to function at anything close to current levels without new revenue, calling the state’s current budgeting path “not sustainable.”

Duh, ya think!

Thank you, Preston Obvious.

Rob discusses several funding and policy solutions we have proposed for years. We’re not beholden to the status quo. I would love to change many things about how we pay for education and how we provide it.

What the Education Establishment can’t do is fix the state budget. Hopefully someone can.

We’re cutting again; Now it’s #yourturn

February 23, 2017 15 comments

GR Failure 2.23.17.png

This afternoon, I received the following email from the State Superintendent about finances:

Dear Superintendent,

The General Revenue (GR) failure that was announced on February 21, 2017, has affected the FY2017 Midyear State Aid Allocation. Based on the FY2017 adjusted budget approved by the State Board of Education, we have reduced the funding formula’s GR portion by $7,270,161.

The adjusted funding formula allocation has also been reduced by the projected shortfall in the Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017 Fund) by $39,151,255, for a total cut to the formula allocation of $46,421,416. The adjusted allocation has been posted on the State Department of Education’s Single Sign On (SSO) application under Allocation Notices at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.

Additionally, there will likely be a shortfall in the Common Education Technology Fund before the end of the fiscal year. We are closely monitoring the fund and will make necessary adjustments to the allocation in the coming months.

The new adjusted midyear allocation (02/23/17) has a factor of $3,008.60, which decreased by $42.00 from the FY2017 Midyear Allocation of $3,050.60 on January 4, 2017. A comparison report and all of the documentation (reports) will be posted on the State Aid web page athttp://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid by Friday, February 24, 2017. Your allocation may be modified as other conditions change.

The Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA) funding has also been cut by the GR failure in the amount of $3,094,213, but we are able to maintain the allocation without any cuts to the Jan. 1 count adjustment (02/24/17) at this time.

Thank you for the work you do each day to serve your students and communities.  These are difficult times which will require strong leadership at every level within districts and at the OSDE. Please let me know how we might offer greater support or assistance to you in the coming weeks and months.

Where should I start? How about by telling you what these cuts mean to one district with 14,300 students.

General Fund Loss $961,431
Anticipated Tech Fund Loss $336,501
Total FY 17 Loss $1,297,932

That’s about 25 teaching positions (once you factor in benefits and employer taxes). That’s a reading or math textbook adoption for the entire district. Or 14school buses. Or a safe room. Or hundreds of new computers. Or a new roof on a wing of an old building.

That’s money the state told us we’d have available to serve our students this year. We don’t. That’s why we’re planning a bond issue that will take care of some of those costs.

Through the first three weeks of the legislative session, we’ve seen the Senate Education Committee look for ways to provide funding for private schools, in the form of vouchers. We’ve seen a pointless bill requiring students to pass a citizenship test before they can graduate. We’ve seen a bill that would term limit school board members (who are volunteers) and a bill to cap superintendent salaries. We’ve even seen a plethora of teacher pay raise bills, all with no funding source.

What we haven’t seen is a plan that addresses the fundamental revenue shortfalls that cause budgets to fail and all state agencies to reduce services.

This is the third year in a row that the state has seen a massive budget shortfall. It’s the second year in a row with a general revenue failure.

I believe the Capitol has many elected officials who mean well. There are also some who keep telling district leaders that we have to be willing to give something up, to become more efficient.

We cut over $5 million from our budget last year. Here we go again.

Your turn.

Bills about five-day weeks won’t change per pupil funding. Bills about consolidation won’t change per pupil funding. If you consolidated all the schools in Cimarron County into one district, Mid-Del wouldn’t get one more dollar. Nor would Tulsa. Or Miami. Or Chickasha. Or Woodward. Or Poteau. We still will have x dollars over y students. It’s simple math.

Don’t pass a teacher raise if you can’t fund it. Don’t neglect the operational costs we’ve been cutting for years and say you’ve “helped schools.”

Educators and parents: please take to social media and share #yourturn stories. What are you buying or raising money for that schools should be buying? What have the cuts of recent years looked like for you?

Elected leaders: Do something. #FixThisNow

Oklahoma Definitely Deserves Better

January 31, 2017 5 comments

Shortly before the November election, a group called Oklahoma Deserves better appeared out of nowhere and threw nearly $900,000 into a campaign against SQ 779, the penny sales tax. Right after election, they pretty much vanished. Their website isn’t even around anymore. The magic of the Internet preserves some of their work, however.

we-deserve-a-better-plan

As you remember, SQ 779 failed. While several legislators have proposed bills to increase teacher pay, there’s still the little mystery of how the state will fund it.

Fortunately, you can peruse the list of donors who contributed this money (all between October 1 and December 31 of 2016). If you know any of these people (or work for any of the companies that contributed), maybe you can ask them about that better plan. I’d love to hear it.

fullsizerender

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Thanks for the Metaphor

January 28, 2017 3 comments

Thursday evening, I did not attend the school choice summit at Oklahoma City Community College. I registered for it. I went to it. Unfortunately, I did not get in because I had been flagged as a security risk.

It wasn’t just me. Other people I know didn’t get in, including my wife. We were told by one of the event organizers that OCCC had initiated the flagging process. Trent England had even tweeted as much the day before.

In fact, I am concerned about accuracy. That’s why my wife called the OCCC police to find out why we had been labeled as security risks. They said the event organizers had flagged us. I’ll let the event organizers and the college work out their differences on that one. It sounds complicated. Read more…

Get thee to a Thuggery!

January 25, 2017 5 comments

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.

William Shakespeare
Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
(a few pages after that one more famous scene)

Two evening events on my calendar this week relate to education advocacy. Last night, I attended the Education in Oklahoma panel discussion at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma featuring strong public school advocates.

ed-panel-webimage

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nita R. Giles Public Policy Program and the Oklahoma Policy Institute present Education in Oklahoma, a panel discussion examining feasible solutions to problems facing the Oklahoma education system.

Panelists: 
Phyllis Hudecki, former Oklahoma Secretary of Education, executive director, Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition

David Perryman, Oklahoma State Representative

Mickey Hepner, dean, College of Business, University of Central Oklahoma

Joe Siano, superintendent, Norman Public Schools

Megan Benn, consultant

Moderator: 
Gene Perry, policy director, Oklahoma Policy Institute

As I said, it was a friendly crowd. I didn’t detect any dissent from those in attendance either. They discussed some of the issues public schools are facing and some potential solutions for solving them. I heard little with which I would disagree. Other than Hepner, I was previously pretty familiar with the rest of the group.

usao-1  usao-2

Tomorrow night is an entirely different ball of wax. I was thinking of going to Full Circle Bookstore to hear Scott Inman speak about the upcoming legislative session.

observer-inman

It was on my calendar and everything. Then I caught wind of another event:

school-choice-summit

The School Choice Summit and Expo is tomorrow at Oklahoma City Community College. It’s scheduled from 4-9 pm, and it’s free. I’ll just be attending the main event from 7-9. Apparently, this bothers some of the people who aren’t big public school fans.

trent-england-show

“Thuggery paid for with our tax dollars, at least for now.”

So I’m a thug because I’m going to an event that is far outside of my bubble? Sure, there will be people there who see me and are uncomfortable. It happens all the time. I assume these people are adults, though, and that they can handle being in a room with someone who isn’t a fan of vouchers – especially the kind that come with no accountability.

By the way, my tweet that Trent England responded to was from Friday night at 8:59 pm. I’m not really sure how my thuggery was paid for with tax dollars. And what’s with the at least for now business?

trent-england-deuce

Oh, they’ve called the police in for order. The libertarians are so scared of teacher thugs like me that they’ve called the cops. How cute. As KFOR reports:

So far, no word if the event will be canceled, but OCCC assured us they will have campus police available for the safety of the students.

Check that. They’ve called the campus police. All is well.

I have so many issues with all of this.

  1. It’s a public event. I registered on Eventbrite. I announced that I’d be coming almost a week ahead of time. I’m not even trying to sneak in.
  2. My plan is to listen, take notes, maybe ask a question or two, and then write about the event if I come up with anything good.
  3. Nobody is threatening violence. There is a group I don’t know much about organizing a group to support public education, but they’re not even making signs.
  4. How is my tweet on a Friday night anything “paid for with our tax dollars”? I have a life outside of work, you know. And last I checked, Twitter is free.
  5. Is Trent England threatening my job or all public education jobs? He really needs to work on his clarity.

Dictionary.com defines thug as a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. I hardly see myself as a ruffian, robber, or murderer. I do like the sound of the word ruffian. I just don’t think I can pull off the vibe.

Again, as we have seen in the past few weeks, there are some in power who view dissent as vitriol. That’s ridiculous. We need to quit eyeballing the extreme positions and locking into them. That’s why I’m going tomorrow night. I might actually learn something. I also might want to bang my forehead on the seat in front of me for wasting my time. I’m keeping an open mind about it.

What I’m not going to do is recuse myself to a world of like-minded people. I have plenty of those around. I have few friends who are on the other side of education issues anymore. That was never my intent. While I don’t expect to make new friends in the middle of an OCPA/ALEC/Walton event, I can at the least hear what others are saying about the public schools I’m proud to lead.

If that makes me a thug, so be it. Another perspective, Mr. England – and just bear with me here – is you need to work on not being so thin-skinned.

Flush with Bears and Lies

January 22, 2017 1 comment

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

President Donald J. Trump
Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

I don’t discuss national politics here very much. Whatever influence I have is limited to the state of Oklahoma. I can’t tell you much about the state of public education in Maine or Oregon. I haven’t researched it. I haven’t lived it.

I have lived in Oklahoma all my life though, and I’ve yet to see a time that we were flush with cash, as President Trump said Friday. I’ve worked in public education for 24 years, and I don’t believe that we’ve left our students deprived of all knowledge, either.

 

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Public education advocates (me included) often share the table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that Oklahoma schools have endured the deepest cuts in state funding in the country. The table also shows that while we aren’t exactly alone, more than 20 states have increased funding for public schools.

The CBPP includes a more detailed breakdown of the funding data:

Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the Great Recession, our survey of state budget documents over the last three months finds.  Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold.  Our country’s future depends crucially on the quality of its schools, yet rather than raising K-12 funding to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education, many states have headed in the opposite direction. These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.

Our survey, the most up-to-date data available on state and local funding for schools, indicates that, after adjusting for inflation:

At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold.  In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.

In at least 18 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period.  In at least 27 states, local funding rose, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support.  Total local funding nationally ― for the states where comparable data exist ― declined between 2008 and 2014, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.

While data on total school funding in the current school year (2016) is not yet available, at least 25 states are still providing less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than in 2008.  In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent.

Most states raised “general” funding per student slightly this year, but 12 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve.  Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit.

During this time of recession and austerity, I take no comfort in knowing that other states share our misery. One reason is that Oklahoma continues doing the one thing that makes times like these harder.

Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but recently some have enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues.  Four of the five states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years. (See Figure 6.)  Another state that cut taxes deeply ― Kansas ― also has imposed large reductions in general school funding, but the precise size of those cuts cannot be determined because the state eliminated its funding formula earlier this year.

also-income-taxes

When it comes to politicians bashing public schools, I can’t let lies lie. We are hardly flush with cash. President Trump knows this, yet minutes after taking the Oath of Office, he said it anyway.

Unfortunately, if the lie is repeated enough, it will gain traction. That’s Trump’s plan. Lie and repeat. Don’t even rinse.

Trump’s son Barron attends a private school in New York where tuition is $45,000 annually. Does he want to compare our schools with that one? Does he not understand that public schools have nowhere near that kind of funding? To be fair, neither do most private schools.

The second prong of the lie – that we deprive our students of all knowledge – is simply ridiculous. Public education critics typically look at international test scores to show that other countries’ students outperform ours. Data without context is a dangerous thing, though.

pisa-and-poverty

American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Finland outperform Finland’s schools. American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Canada outperform Canada’s schools. And Estonia. And Australia. And New Zealand and Japan. Yes, Japan.

We have amazing schools in this country and in this state, but they don’t all exist to serve the same purpose. Nor do all of the countries to which we compare ourselves serve all students. They don’t all serve special education students. Comprehensive high school education for all is not a guarantee in every nation.

These facts don’t matter to Trump and the school reformers drooling over his election. His lie feeds the narrative that public schools are failing. It feeds the sycophants too, which brings me to Betsy DeVos.

Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education has paid her way into his Cabinet. She’s very open about this.

Trump may have run against big money in politics, but his choice for Education Secretary has made no apologies about her family’s political spending. Betsy DeVos has been a major financial backer of legal efforts to overturn campaign-spending limits. In 1997, she brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures that were aimed at cleaning up so-called “soft money,” a predecessor to today’s unlimited “dark money” election spending. “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

You and I don’t have a chance of being heard by the likes of Trump and DeVos. Collectively, all of us who will read this post probably don’t have the wealth of any member of the DeVos family. For years, we’ve been fighting the Kochs and Waltons in this state. She just adds to the oligarchy.

That’s why I found an exchange between DeVos and Senator Bernie Sanders during her confirmation hearing this week very interesting:

Sanders: “Mrs. DeVos, there is a growing fear, I think, in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very, very wealthy billionaires control, to a significant degree, our economic and political life. Would you be so kind as to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?”

DeVos: “Senator, first of all thank you for that question. I again was pleased to meet you in your office last week. I wish I could give you that number. I don’t know.”

Sanders: “I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?”

DeVos: “Collectively? Between my entire family?”

Sanders: “Yeah, over the years.”

DeVos: “That’s possible”

Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”

Well which is it, Mrs. DeVos? Do your donations buy you unlimited access inside the walls of influence, or did you get there because you’re so involved and well-informed?

I really need not to focus on this. Yes, she made the ridiculous statement that we need guns in school because of grizzly bears, but this moment of comic relief is a distraction. I downloaded I don’t know how many bear memes and gifs while I’ve been working on this post. I admit it’s slowed me down.a-polar-bear-fell-on-me

evil-bears-with-rainbowsDeVos also was confused by the difference between proficiency and growth. She had no clue what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is. Is it possible the Secretary of Education-nominee has never heard of the country’s foundational special education law?

Presidents have a right to appoint the people to their Cabinet who they feel are best-equipped to execute their policy initiatives. That’s what winning the election gets them. The Senate has to confirm those appointments, though. Merely going through the motions of a confirmation hearing, however, does not meet that standard.

I’m bothered by many of the things DeVos believes about education. I’m more concerned, however, about the fact that she simply has no clue what she’s doing. Understanding the difference between proficiency and growth is so easy that a dentist could get it!

Oh wait, bad example.

Maybe the Senate will deny DeVos. On the other hand, she’s put a lot of money into the campaigns of many who will make that decision. Even if they don’t confirm her, she’ll be replaced with someone else who shares the Trump mindset and who is willing to repeat the lie.

We must fight back with truth.

The School I Choose

January 22, 2017 2 comments

I wrote this four years ago at the beginning of National School Choice week, and I thought it would be worth sharing again. We have many of the same threats to public education we had then, and we have some new ones too.

Demand of our elected leaders that public schools have the resources to meet the needs of our children – all of them.

okeducationtruths

The mantra this week is that parents should get to choose the schools their children attend; that their zip code shouldn’t choose it for them. It’s quite the idyllic belief – that out there, somewhere is the perfect school.

As a parent, I’m still looking. Here’s what I hope to find.

  • I choose a school that values children for the unique individuals they are.
  • I choose a school with a strong, active PTA.
  • I choose a school where the parents of the other children value education as much as I do.
  • I choose a school that has well-paid faculty who are happy to come to work.
  • I choose a school where the teachers receive meaningful professional development and are treated as professionals.
  • I choose a school that teaches all students, regardless of background or ability.
  • I choose a school that has enough technology to prepare my child for the world…

View original post 499 more words

Categories: Uncategorized

A Pocket Full of Mumbles

January 18, 2017 Comments off

I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer

One of my former students, Larin Sears Rottman, is a teacher in Washington, DC. Her husband is an assistant principal there. Both are University of Oklahoma graduates, and they still have family in this part of the country, but they love it out there. I mention this because of an article that she posted to Facebook over the weekend. She added this at the beginning:

This is a very short read that is very real for me. I am from Oklahoma, but D.C. is my HOME. I live in a real house, in a real neighborhood. I wake up each day and go to my real job to make the world a really better place. There are far more REAL people than politicians in my city. Respect D.C.

I won’t post the article here, but you get the basic idea. People who have real families and live in real neighborhoods and who work and send their kids to real schools there don’t like the generalization that it’s a swamp.

Sure, 220 years ago, when Pierre L’Enfant began to lay out the city design Actually, the District was never a swamp. It was a tidal marsh. But DRAIN THE TIDAL MARSH doesn’t really roll off the tongue, now does it.

Still, as of 2009, 46% of DC’s residents were actually born there. For that matter, OU President David L. Boren – the son of a congressman – was too.

Generalizations hurt. When you make them, even if you mean for this to happen, you’re probably hurting the wrong people.

Over the last couple of months, since the defeat of State Question 779, I’ve seen more of them on social media. Everyone is making them!

generalization

It’s the love language of identity politics. Liberals this. Conservatives that. Gender. Race. Religion. Sexual Identity. Wealth. Geography.

That’s one of my favorite ones. Remember when Ted Cruz was attacking Donald Trump for being from New York? Or have you heard a defensive Republican point out that Hillary’s popular vote margin over Trump is virtually erased if you exclude California? It makes sense. After all, that’s more American than discounting the opinion of voters in the most populous state?

Even making generalizations about voters is specious. Hillary supporters are just a bunch of whiny crybabies (or crybaby whiners, if you prefer). Trump supporters excuse all the horrible things he says. I’m probably doing this wrong because I never use exclamation points. Ever!

This isn’t a blog about DC, or presidential politics, or racism, or sexism, or class warfare, though. It’s an education blog in which I have tried, for nearly five years, to set the record straight. Mainly, this involves responding to the action (or inaction) of policymakers and false narratives presented by groups with influence.

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Generalizations seep into the public education conversation too much too. Whether it’s a state senator talking about all the waste in public schools (without offering a single example), or another one making sweeping, disparaging remarks about school board members, this kind of recklessness does not steer us towards solutions.

With the First Regular Session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature set to convene in 19 days, I’m unwilling to make generalizations about this new group as a body. The book is closed on the 55th Legislature. I can comfortably say that they failed us – both sessions. They built upon the failures of the 54th and 53rd legislatures. For six straight years (three straight Legislatures), we’ve been treated to a menu of fiscal catastrophes.

I don’t blame all the legislators (lowercase). I blame the Legislature (uppercase) though. The body failed to help with teacher raises, specifically, and with so many other critical state functions, in general. Individuals within that body had good intentions, though. Many did. Maybe most did. They just couldn’t get it done. In the end, we won’t judge you by your intentions. It’s your outcomes that tilt our moods.

That doesn’t mean the 56th Legislature will be the same, though. We have 45 new legislators. Most of them love teachers. Just ask them!

We need to remember that they haven’t served during the session yet. We really need to remember that when we engage them on social media. Some of the returning legislators are on our side too. Maybe many. Maybe most.

My friend Blue Cereal Education posted a blog this morning titled Don’t Raise Teacher Pay (To Be Nice).

We shouldn’t tolerate the implication we’re somehow looking for charity; we’re not. It’s unbecoming to play on sympathy, especially when we’re not the only profession getting shortchanged at the moment. Besides, pity or warm toasties are horrible reasons to raise teacher pay or increase school funding. They’re emotionally driven, unreliable, and fundamentally inaccurate.

Public schools aren’t businesses, nor should they be. You’ll hear that a lot in the upcoming voucher battles, and it’s entirely true. But neither are we charities, or churches, or some type of third world profession. We’re not asking for handouts or love offerings while Sarah McLachlan plays in the background.

Nevertheless, teacher pay needs to go up substantially, and soon – but not for me. It needs to go up for you. And your kids. And your pocketbook. And your state.

A decent public education system is an essential function of civilization. We’re a fundamental element in the social contract that allows people to live together in relative peace, to specialize, to become more productive, and to progress artistically, culturally, medically, financially, and lots of other –allys.

Blue Cereal is right. All teachers need raises. I’m not saying that all teachers are fantastic or that all superintendents are worth what their districts pay them. I’m not saying I’ve never met a board member with an agenda. Nor am I saying that all legislators or all Republicans in the state are out to get us.

As an example, I recently had an exchange about school funding (and waste) via Facebook Messenger with a legislator I know. I won’t share his remarks (without his consent), but I’ll share a portion of mine:

I have some thoughts on waste. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder. We have some patrons who don’t value athletics at all. To them, every time we buy a football helmet, it’s waste. To the mom whose son is on the field getting hit, it’s not. Some people want us to get rid of the arts. Or transportation. Or child nutrition. Or they want teachers to clean their own rooms (which I would highly suggest not proposing).

I managed a restaurant for four years in college. There I learned that limiting waste, more than anything, was about predicting the future. If we prepped a certain amount of food expecting customers and had to throw a lot of it away, which was wasteful. Some nights at closing, we threw away very little. Sometimes, we underprepared which then backed up the kitchen, and probably cost us business.

My point is that every enterprise has waste. Every government agency and every business does. Every superintendent I know tries to limit it – often to the point of increasing the frustration of the workforce. You won’t find one of us who hasn’t tried to find waste.

I get it. You’re trying. So are we. In trying times, that’s what we all do.

Loveless’ Education Policies need a Mechanic

January 16, 2017 2 comments

Jayden Mills, a Chickasha HS Senior, has some great thoughts on bad analogies. His post has a perfect ending! I’m glad he’s getting a great education where my parents and grandparents did.

From The Desk of An Oklahoma Student

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Senator Kyle Loveless posted on Facebook, “My opinion piece in the Oklahoman about Educational freedom” attached was this article. If you’re reading this, chances are you know how I feel about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or vouchers.

But what really irks me about this particular post is that in his article, he compares his envisioned education market with the competitive market of the car service industry: “When my car breaks down, I don’t do business with the closest mechanic to my home. I find the mechanic who can provide the best service and repair for my money.” He goes on to say that he is “proposing legislation that allows qualified families to move their child from a public school and take up to 75 percent of the student’s funding with them.”

What I’d like to know (And I commented this on his Facebook post) is this:
Imagine that the closest mechanic…

View original post 574 more words

Calling all students (to tonight’s #oklaed chat)!

January 15, 2017 Comments off

Tonight I will be moderating the weekly #oklaed Twitter chat at 8 pm. I asked students I know (mostly from my Superintendent’s Advisory Board) to submit questions.

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They sent me over 30! I had a hard time eliminating them, so prepare yourself for a fast and furious ride.

If you’ve never participated in a Twitter chat, rest assured it’s easy. Just search for #oklaed and follow along. Jump in when you feel like it. Or lurk. Plenty of people show up and just watch it all happen.

If you are a high school or college student, I especially would love for you to join us. Your experiences and ideas need to guide our long-range planning more than anyone else’s. You’re the primary stakeholders in what we do.

Here are the questions, in case you want to think about your responses in advance. See you tonight!

The Best of You

January 14, 2017 Comments off

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Foo Fighters, Best of You

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Edmond parent and fierce #oklaed activist Angela Little wrote a reminder to us this week on Facebook about the newly elected legislature.

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In case you can’t read the image, here’s the text:

Let’s play pretend for a moment…. Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a school where they taught kids nothing and just let them sit around and watch movies all day. Parents were obviously irate and didn’t want their kids at this school. So the district decides to clean house and hire new admin and new teachers. Fresh start for this school. Now pretend you are one of the brand new teachers or admin hired. But the parents still hated this school because of how it once was. Do you feel that’s fair to you and your abilities since the issue was with the past staff not the current? I can only imagine you would like the chance to show these parents that you are going to do things differently and want them to have an open mind on this instead of preconceived notions, correct?

It’s a brand new Legislature, folks. We have like 40+ freshman and an entirely new leadership. Don’t hold them accountable for mistakes of their predecessors. This doesn’t mean we should proceed without caution but we must give them a chance to show us what they can do to help our cause.

It’s a good analogy. It really is. I’ve told parents and community members for as long as I can remember not to judge a school today by the memories they have of it from when they were growing up. New blood is a good thing.

Or are you gone and on to someone new…

Still, there are 100+ returning members of the legislature, and some of them – I’d like to think fewer than 20 – are virulently against us. They have a vouchers or death mentality. They want to starve public schools to create larger gaps in services and then point out the schools’ shortcomings so they can divert funding to private schools. For years, we’ve listened to promises from many to support funding teacher raises, and nothing of the sort has happened.

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In the past, those people have been in leadership roles. I won’t name them here. My perception is that those carrying the flag for such causes now have less sway among their colleagues.

I was too weak to give in, too strong to lose…

What concerns me is that we’re Oklahoma, and we have a type. Sure, we may have moved on to some new people, but on the whole, we tend to put up with the same behaviors we have said we would never again accept. It’s human nature.

Has someone taken your faith? It’s real, the pain you feel…

Rep. Michael Rogers (who authored last year’s bill revamping teacher evaluation – for the better) is proposing a $6,000 teacher raise. HB 1114 would raise the minimum teacher’s salary by $1,000 for the 2017-18 school year, another $2,000 for the 2018-19 school year, and another $3,000 for the 2019-20 school year.

I have three fairly significant questions about the bill:

  1. How will the state fund the raises?
  2. Will funding come on top of money to restore cuts that public schools have faced in recent years?
  3. Will districts paying above the state minimum have to give raises at least this large?

Let me be clear, though. I want this bill to pass. I appreciate Rep. Rogers putting it forward. I even emailed him today to tell him so.

The hope that starts, the broken hearts…

I just don’t want to get my hopes up yet. Teacher raises have been a long time coming. Even if this passes, we’ll continue losing teachers. A $1,000 raise won’t keep many people in Oklahoma. Implementation might be too slow for some, and that’s a problem.

New House Speaker Charles McCall has said he supports the bill, and that he thinks it has a good chance of passing. On paper, they believe it would raise Oklahoma teacher salaries to the highest in the region.

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The surrounding states are bound to raise teacher salaries too. If HB 1114 passes and salaries climb by $6,000 over the next three years, we probably won’t be at the top. Also, the variance in teacher pay among districts in Texas varies much more than it does here. It has to do with the way schools are funded in the different states.

Still, it’s something. Senator Holt’s ideas for a $10,000 raise are worth discussing too. His plan lacks details, but he needs to get a chance to promote it. Maybe I was too dismissive of it myself last year.

It’s been two months since voters rejected SQ 779, which would have funded $5,000 raises for teachers.That sting is fresh. Because of all the build up, that amount is the minimum raise many teachers are willing to settle for.

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In the halls of the Capitol Wherever there is a microphone at the Capitol, there is a representative or senator willing to give lip service to teacher raises – with strings attached.

I’ll support raises for teachers if you’ll agree to a merit pay system…

I’ll support raises for teachers if we’ll consolidate all of the school districts…

I’ll support raises for teachers if they’ll all burn their union memberships…

And where there is a legislator proposing raises with conditions, there is a chorus of usual suspects willing to add a loud Harumph!

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That should be our challenge – to keep focus on the people like McCall, Rogers, and Holt. They mean well.While it’s rare a bill written in January passes as written, this should be our starting point.We should avoid the harumphing kind of people whenever possible.

If you can’t see staying in Oklahoma because of the hope of $1,000, I get it. You have to do what’s best for you and your family.

I’ve got another confession my friend, I’m no fool.
I’m getting tired of starting again, somewhere new…

I’m still here, and I’m going to support ideas that have the potential to move us forward.

And so it starts…

January 11, 2017 1 comment

A year ago at this time, we were just beginning to learn the depths of our state’s revenue failure. The state had declared a revenue failure, which began a series of cuts for school districts everywhere. It’s not just that we knew we’d have less money for the following school year; no, we had to make cuts right away.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Today, superintendents around Oklahoma had a serious sense of déjà vu.

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In case you can’t read the image, it’s a memo from Superintendent Hofmeister letting us know of a funding shortfall (which is different than a revenue failure). Here’s the key part:

Based on the December revenue collections, the 1017 Fund is approximately $11.7 million or 3.5 percent below the estimate. The total January deposits are approximately $9.7 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled payment in full.

At this time, for payment purposes, instead of reallocating State Aid Allocations statewide, we will reduce the percentage of payment based on available cash.

  • For Financial Support of Schools (State Aid formula funding), we are only able to pay 8.47 percentthis month instead of the scheduled 9 percent (a 0.53 percent payment reduction).
  • The January accumulated percentageof the latest allocation is 53.47 percent.
  • To calculate your state aid payment, multiply the accumulated percentage by the most recent allocation and then subtract the amount paid to date. The result is the amount of payment for each month.
  • The effective date for the January payment remains Thursday, January 12, 2017.
  • At this time, all other line items continue to be paid at the scheduled accumulated percentage.

We will continue to look at each month’s cash revenue and re-evaluate our course of action on a monthly basis.

School districts receive 11 monthly state aid payments. They are uneven. There is no July payment. The August payment is eight percent of the overall state aid. September and May are ten percent. The other months are nine percent.

Wait, that’s a lot of numerical verbiage. Let me try it in a table.

Month % of State Aid Received Month % of State Aid Received
July 0% January 9%
August 8% February 9%
September 10% March 9%
October 9% April 9%
November 9% May 10%
December 9% June 9%

For the first six months of this fiscal year, we received the payments we expected to receive. The memo today tells us our January payment will be short.

It will be on time, but it will be short. The shortage will be different for each district, but our payment will be about $281,000 less than we were expecting.

And that’s just January. We don’t know if this fund will be short again next month, or maybe every month for the rest of the fiscal year.

And we don’t know about other funds.

And we don’t know if the state will declare revenue failure again this year.

What I know is that we cut over $5 million from our budget this year and elimnated about 100 jobs. Yet somehow, we’re still taking on water.

That’s why I hate the question, “How can school districts save money?” We’re already doing that. And the people who work for us are busy exploring their options.

At the semester, we had a teacher leave us to take a job in a correctional facility. That’s the most re-tweeted tweet I’ve ever tweeted. Apparently that struck a nerve with people. It did with me. That’s why I tweeted it.

It also struck a nerve when the editorial writers at the Oklahoman tried to make sense of Rep. Kevin Calvey’s press release about Superintendent Hofmeister’s budget request. Their synthesis only made things worse.

Bureaucrats seldom volunteer to embrace efficiency and often resort to doomsday rhetoric when changes to the status quo are proposed. The problems noted with the Department of Education’s budget request won’t be unique among state agencies.

Whether we volunteered for it or not, whether we’re embracing it or not, we’re becoming more efficient. As for the doomsday rhetoric, I’ll refer you to today’s memo and to the teacher leaving us for a correctional facility.

Teachers want raises. They also want to have manageable class sizes. Oh, and they want current instructional materials. Technology that works would be nice too. It’s the little things.

Today, I don’t feel like blaming anyone. I don’t feel like calling out particular politicians who I think have contributed to a climate in which all functions of state government are suffering.

I also don’t feel like being told we need to be more efficient.

A few legislators get it.

A few isn’t enough. Today, we bleed a little more. Next month? I don’t want to think about that yet. I’m just waiting on the weather to possibly give us another four-day week.

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One way or another, we have to make ends meet, right?

Bring on 2017!

December 31, 2016 1 comment

Year end recaps are usually trite and self-serving, so why should mine be any different? I won’t belabor the huge loss of talent that we’ve seen this year. Sure, we’ve seen the passing of Prince, Alan Rickman, John Glenn, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Sharon Jones, David Bowie, and even the guy who played Schneider on One Day at a Time. We even had three major celebrity losses (George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds) in the last week!

That’s not the talent I mean. Besides, CNN says we need to get over ourselves because it’s not even the worst year in recent memory for celebrity deaths. They have numbers and everything.

I’m talking about the ongoing talent loss in public education. Year after year, we continue to teach more students with fewer teachers. Of the teachers we have, more and more of them have entered the profession through the emergency certification route.

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Five years ago, Oklahoma granted a grand total of 32 emergency certificates. Halfway through the current school year, we already have 1,082. Teachers are leaving the profession because they see a better pathway for supporting their families somewhere else. Worse yet, we don’t have very many college students picking the profession to begin with.

We continue to have budget problems. Our Legislature had to fix a $610 million budget hole in Fiscal Year 2016 (2015-16). They had a $1.3 BILLION shortfall in FY 17. As they set to work on the FY 18 budget, they will begin with an $870 million deficit.

Knowing that any prospect of significant teacher raises died November 8th with the defeat of SQ 779, teachers who have options will spend the spring looking elsewhere for opportunities. Some will look to other careers. Some will look to other states.

The exodus isn’t beginning because of the election. It’s continuing. It may even be accelerating. Even Texas newspapers are noticing. The Dallas Morning News piggybacked on a Tulsa World article in August about one such move: LeAnna Snyder moving from Tulsa to Grand Prairie for a $20,000 raise. She cited the fact that her own children are about to enter college and she just had to do more for them. It’s more than the money, though:

“Yes, I’m getting a raise of almost $20,000 — and that’s a big help to my family, especially with two kids about to be in college. But it’s not just salary,” said Snyder. “It’s retirement, it’s class size, it’s supplies. It’s about kindness and respect. When you walk into that building in Texas, it’s clean, it’s not old, it’s sharp-looking. It felt safe.”

It’s not just Texas, either. Snyder could have crossed the Kansas or Arkansas borders for raises as well.

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Tulsa World

In fact, all the states that border Oklahoma have higher average salaries than we do.

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Tulsa World

We still have legislators and policy groups who dispute those figures. We even have teachers who do. Remember that when you see an average teacher’s salary figure, though, that you’re looking at salary, insurance, and retirement – not just taxable income. Also remember that those are the same numbers used for other states.

State support for public education has been trending downward for a long time. According to data from the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (OEQA), from FY 2000 to FY 2015, the state share of school funding dropped from 57.3% to 47.7%.

Fiscal Year Local Share State Share Federal Share
2015 40.8% 47.7% 11.6%
2010* 36.1% 46.5% 17.4%
2005 34.1% 52.2% 13.8%
2000 32.8% 57.3% 10.0%

*In 2010, federal stimulus funds supplemented state aid.

Another way to look at this is to place state funding for education side-by-side with public school enrollment growth, as KOSU has done. For FY 08, the Legislature appropriated $2.53 billion for common education. The amount dropped the next three years and then increased the following three years before dropping again this year.

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KOSU

As it stands, funding is $100 million lower than it was eight years ago, but enrollment is nearly 50,000 students higher. It’s also worth mentioning that 2016 dollars have less buying power than 2008 dollars. Fortunately, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has calculated the extent of Oklahoma’s per pupil cuts, adjusting for inflation.

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Per pupil state funding in Oklahoma is down nearly a quarter since 2008. That’s the worst figure in the country. Sure, we’ve seen a downturn in energy sector of our economy, but it hasn’t hit all the states that produce oil and gas as hard as it has hit us.

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North Dakota is another oil producing state, and they lead the nation in per pupil funding increases. They’re even adding to their equivalent of our Rainy Day Fund as we have all but shaken the last coin from our piggy bank. I don’t want to model everything we do after North Dakota – they’ve had a pretty rough time the last few months with DAPL, you know – I just want to live in a state with sound fiscal planning. And I don’t want to move.

Part of our state’s problem is that we give too many tax breaks without getting anything in return. The 2016 version of the Legislature fought this travesty head on – by eliminating the Oklahoma Earned Income Credit. This was, in essence, a tax increase on the state’s poorest citizens. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same politicians used that reasoning for opposing the penny sales tax.

For more than a decade, we’ve seen declining tax revenues in Oklahoma. Some of this is due to policy decisions; some is due to oil prices. Due to cuts to income taxes alone, the state has lost over $1 billion in revenue since 2008. I know, you want to keep more of what you earn. So do I. We’re not the ones benefitting from these tax cuts, however.

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If you’re making what an average school teacher in Oklahoma makes, your cut was about $29. Actually, it was less. Your taxable income is less than the $47,500 listed in that table.

Pretty much every state agency has seen funding cuts during the current cycle of budget woes. Meanwhile, working Oklahomans haven’t seen game changing tax breaks.

Oil companies have, though. We continue giving tax breaks all over the place to them, though.

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International Business Times

Similar to what we’ve done in Oklahoma, North Dakota has reduced property and income tax rates. They’ve continued to tax drilling, though.

Apparently, we’re going to dig out of this hole by taxing haircuts, tattoos, and cigarettes. Twice, in fact, since the end of the legislative session in May, I’ve met with Republican legislators who blame Democrats for not supporting a cigarette tax proposal that they think would have raised $150 million annually. I reminded both that Republicans have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, and that they also hold the governor’s mansion.

After November 8th, Republicans now hold even wider margins in both chambers of the Legislature. They have a 75-26 advantage in the House and a 42-6 gap in the Senate. Republican unity would seem to be a bigger issue than courting Democrats to their side. Hopefully, many of the newly elected legislators will be as education friendly as they’ve sounded.

Of course, we also have distractions. Days before the election, the state superintendent was indicted for alleged violations of state campaign laws. Interestingly, the charges were filed at the end of absentee ballot voting and at the beginning of early voting. Do I think that made a difference?

  Absentee Early Voting Election Day Total
Yes 52,989 63,895 466,545 583,429
No 46,147 86,400 721,026 853,573

Yeah, I think it made a difference. Before the indictment, Yes on 779 had a slim margin. After the indictment, it was No in a landslide. Are the charges against Superintendent Hofmeister valid? I’m not a lawyer or a judge. Out of thousands of pages of evidence that were reviewed, we’ve only seen a 32 page complaint by the district attorney’s office. We haven’t seen or heard defense arguments yet. A lot can happen between here and there. The timing (on allegations that were 17 months old) definitely stung, though.

We also have the distraction of what appears to be a hush hush settlement orchestrated by the former Speaker of the House. In case you’ve missed the drama over the last couple of weeks, I’ll let the Oklahoman sum it up for you:

A fired legislative assistant and her attorneys were secretly paid $44,500 in state funds in November to settle her sexual harassment complaint against a state representative from Tulsa, records show.

Hollie Anne Bishop, 28, complained Rep. Dan Kirby, 58, began sexually harassing her shortly after she started working for him in January 2015. She complained she was fired without explanation on Nov. 20, 2015, in retaliation for reporting the harassment.

She accepted a $28,414.20 payment, online records show. Her Edmond attorneys accepted a $16,085.80 payment.

The payments appear to have come from taxpayer funds meant to operate the state House of Representatives. The payments were made Nov. 22 after Kirby, a Republican, won re-election, the records show.

Keep in mind that while education and every other function of state government saw a cut in funding, the Legislature increased its own operational budget by 183% for FY 17. Surely this isn’t why, is it?

It’s also worth noting that Kirby won his re-election on November 8th –two weeks before the settlement was paid. Is that timing also fishy? Of course it is.

Since the revelation of this settlement before Christmas, Kirby has resigned, we have learned that outgoing Speaker Jeff Hickman was instrumental in lining up the settlement, Kirby has rescinded his resignation, and that new Speaker Charles McCall wants to investigate the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Scott Pruitt is headed to the Trump administration, the incoming Secretary of Education does not appear to have ever set foot in a public school, and – oh yeah! – we still have nearly a billion dollar hole to fill.

I don’t envy the task our legislators have. Some who are well-meaning engage with public education advocates on social media quite effectively. Others shut down quickly and lament that they are tired of hearing us complain without offering any solutions. I have two things to say to that:

  1. You ran for office. Aren’t you supposed to have some ideas?
  2. We’ve been giving you our ideas for the last several years now. Do we need to list them again?

In the past few years, the Legislature has listened to us on non-revenue issues. They added parents to the third-grade reading committee. They authorized changes to A-F Report Cards. They passed new academic standards. They eliminated End of Instruction tests and simplified teacher evaluations too. Year after year, they’ve even turned back voucher bills.

I know that most of our legislators listen to us. We just can’t seem to get anywhere with funding.

In spite of all of this, I’m going to remain hopeful.

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We have 700,000 public education students to teach in this state. More than 14,000 of those are in my district alone. I even still have one in my household. Public education continues to be a bargain for taxpayers and a building block for citizenship. In spite of the challenges – both for funding and respect – I see great things every day in our schools. Even the teachers who are looking for an exit come to work and try to make an impact every day.

We have new and returning legislators who need to continue hearing from us. They need to know what our struggles look like. They need to see faces. They need to hear our opinions about everything from funding to vouchers to accountability. We owe them that. We should call them, and they should call us.

2016 is gone, and good riddance to it. Bring on 2017, come what may.

One more chance to get it right

December 13, 2016 2 comments

Critics of Oklahoma’s current A-F Report Card accountability system (including me) typically have two complaints about the system. First is that the methodology is poor. Half the score is simply a rendering of the percentage of students passing tests – which is closely tied to poverty; the other half is tied to growth. In measuring growth, we’re also double counting our lowest-performing students. In other words, our students who struggle the most count a total of three times.

The other issue many of us have is with the A-F label we ultimately attach to each school. It’s insulting to distill all the work schools do into a single indicator. Even though A-F is not explicitly a ranking system, much of the public assumes that an A school is better than a B school. Context be damned. A is better than B. Always.

For these reasons, the Legislature tasked the Oklahoma State Department of Education with leading a task force to make recommendations for improving school accountability prior to the end of this calendar year. As directed, the OSDE brought together “students, parents, educators, organizations representing students with disabilities and English language learners, higher education professionals, career technology educators, experts in assessment and accountability, community-based organizations, tribal representatives, and businesses and community leaders.”

The task force met four times and provided the OSDE with feedback. The last of these meetings was on November 9th. On November 28th, the US Department of Education changed one key piece of the federal requirements under which we have to operate. We no longer have to have a summative score. The task force never met after that one requirement was removed.

It’s important to note that we don’t know how the task force conversation would have sounded if they could have discussed revising our accountability system with this piece of information. I doubt the different constituency groups would have been unanimous in their feelings on A-F Report Cards, or any other type of summative score. We also can’t know what the OSDE would have done with the feedback, even if it had been given. Task force members gathered to provide feedback only. They were not a voting body with any kind of decision-making authority.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of the work that has been done or the leadership under which the task force has worked. Superintendent Hofmeister and her staff expertly led this process. The lead researcher, Marianne Perie, from the University of Kansas, was thorough and good at explaining statistical processes to an audience with a varied background in that kind of work. Ultimately, the methodology of the accountability system being presented to the State Board of Education this week is solid. It will likely yield results that are not singularly correlated to poverty.

The end product is good, and an improvement over the current accountability system. That solves half of the problem from paragraph one. The other half remains – that schools will still receive a summative score.

I’ve always bristled at the idea that we need to label our schools this way. By always, I mean from the moment I began writing this blog nearly five years ago. I don’t think a star rating system would be much better. School accountability isn’t Yelp, or this strange sign I found in China a few years ago.

star-rated-toilet

I believe in accountability and transparency. Publish our schools’ test scores. Publish any data point you want. Just provide context. A summative score doesn’t do that. No matter how much detail is on the OSDE website for each school, the newspapers will skip to the end and publish the thing that’s easiest to consume. Calling A-F accountability, though, is like calling Velveeta cheese. It’s an accountability-like substance.

Recently, a couple of Mid-Del employees put together a list of all the schools in the five largest counties in the state and sorted them by grade span and by poverty. For example, one table showed all the elementary schools that have between 25% and 35% of student receiving free or reduced lunch (FRL). Of the 23 schools in that table, Mid-Del had one, and it had the highest numerical score on the current A-F system.

schwartz

Compared with similar schools, Schwartz Elementary has outstanding academic performance, however you measure it. On the other end of the spectrum, there were 60 elementary schools on the list with an FRL rate at or above 95%. We had one such school, and it had a 68 on the report card. That’s a D+, and it’s higher than 53 of the other schools on the list.

Numerical Grade Distribution of Elementary Schools with at least 95% FRL
70-78 5
60-69 11
50-59 23
40-49 13
33-39 8

Let that sink in. No school in the five largest counties in the state with higher than 95% FRL had a numerical grade higher than a 78. Meanwhile, none of the schools in the 25% to 35% range had a score lower than 80. Does this mean that all schools serving mostly upper-middle class kids are better than all schools serving the kids with the highest levels of poverty? Of course not.

This is the thing I hate – the labels. If you provide most people with this entire view, they’ll get it. An A on a report card may be misleading. So may an F. Even though the new accountability system will do more to provide context, the summative grade will damage that effort.

A-F Report Cards feed a narrative. They are one of the most toxic pieces of the recent education reform agenda. They blur the difference between simple and simplistic.

Please understand that I hope the State Board of Education this week will recognize the hard work of the state superintendent, her staff, and the entire task force. Regardless of how they see the A-F labels, they need to recognize the quality of the work that is being presented to them. I hope the legislature and governor will recognize this too.

Like Weiners at the Bar-S Plant

November 27, 2016 2 comments

As November comes to a close, and our newly-elected Legislature begins its charge of finding a way to close yet another budget hole, some among their ranks want to focus on a task that misses the mark entirely.

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Yes, instead of finding funds for public schools, Sen. Kyle Loveless is busy trying to find funds for private schools. He’s spent his entire first senate term on this task, and it looks as if his second will be no different.

I’ll give Loveless credit for one thing: he puts himself out there. You don’t really wonder where he stands. He loves to bait people, and for some of us, responding is a compulsion.

Judge if you want; I know I should walk away.

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I hate the term school choice, mainly because it’s inaccurate. It’s a euphemism. It’s a voucher that people can apply towards private school tuition if either (a) they can afford the remainder of the tuition, or (b) the school chooses to waive the remainder of the tuition. It’s not choice because the school doesn’t have to accept the bedraggled child that Loveless and his ilk choose they want to save from the failing public education system they turn around and claim to want to help.

As to my friend Kenny Ward’s point on Loveless’s post that the poll has some bias because the pollster hates public education, well there’s some truth to that.

trolling-shapard

That was me trolling his Twitter feed yesterday. Then Bill Shapard, Jr. lashed out at the lot of us.

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Look, guys! We’re number one! We even published an article about it one time!

Yeah, well #oklaed is number one too. In budget cuts, that is. It must be true. It was in the Oklahoman.

Oklahoma’s cuts to general education funding since 2008 continue to lead the nation, according to the latest report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Nearly 27 percent of state per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, has been cut since 2008. That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for educating funding reductions.

Shapard feels the compulsion as well, I guess. He keeps attacking Tyler Bridges, Ward, and me.

shapard-and-the-wiener

Yes, he says he wants to open 12 Corn Bible Academy type schools in Clinton, and he compares public education to a wiener factory. That’s the guy running Sooner Poll. That’s the guy who claims his work is not reflective of his bias.

Maybe looking at the polling language would be instructive, then.

“Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?”

FAVOR — parents have the moral right to choose … 51.5%

OPPOSE — it drains money from public schools … 37.3%

UNDECIDED … 11.2%

First of all, the question compares two things. It should read, “Which viewpoint comes closer to your own.” As long as it’s an education question, a basic grasp of middle school grammar would be nice.

More importantly, the question is poorly worded. Whether that indicates bias or not is another question, but look at the two choices. Parents have the moral right to choose, and it drains money from public schools. Are those options mutually exclusive? Can’t a voucher be a moral right that also hurts the public schools?

It’s also incomplete information. I oppose vouchers for a number of reasons. As I said above, the number one reason is that the private school doesn’t have to accept any kid who shows up with a state aid check in hand. Yes, vouchers will deplete school funding. Yes, vouchers will go to schools that don’t face the same accountability measures as public schools. Yes…actually, if you want a great top ten list of reasons why vouchers are a bad idea, Steven Singer has a great one put together already.

I also question the phrase public or private school which best serves their needs. As Tyler Bridges stated in his response to Shapard this morning on Facebook:

Out of respect for many that I know at CBA I will not speak to their school, as they have great things going on and have great people out there. That being said, using their 1:7 ratio of staff to students, their very small student body, as well as their student makeup, is hardly a quality comparison Bill. My question would be this: if CBA took a representative sample of 100 students (which would more than double their enrollment) from Clinton PS (83% free/reduced, 15% poverty, 35% bilingual, 23% ELL) do you feel they are so much better at providing a quality education that they would continue to turn out the same product as they do now?

Private schools don’t face the number of variables that public schools do. Our students’ situations are often unpredictable. Shapard may be convinced that 12 schools like Corn Bible Academy in Clinton could do a better job than Clinton Public Schools do. According to CBA’s website, they serve about 80 students. Clinton has over 2,300 students. I’m not a statistician, like Bill Shapard, but I think it would take more than 12 CBAs to meet the need of Clinton’s students.

But I digress.

Shapard’s poll question puts the two options on unequal footing. He gives one moral standing. He gives the other a fiscal outcome. Wording matters, and he knows it. Just because a few hundred people who still answer their land lines pick (a) over (b) doesn’t mean it’s good public policy.

One positive thing about Loveless feeling he must constantly twist the fork in the back of public education is that we also see a clear illustration from those who hate public education about the toxic narrative they love to spew. Here are some examples of comments (with names removed) from Loveless’s post yesterday:

  • if everyone gets there 7-9 grand per year, the market will fill the need. Catholic schools have been doing it for 70% less for decades in the inner cities. And outperforming public schools substantially.
  • We’re not talking Heritage Hall and Casady. Go to any large city in the US and compare inner city Catholic schools with the public schools- they take anyone.
  • Let’s just cowboy up and admit that it is about the folks who work in education not wanting to admit that the system is failing but nobody wants to lose their job. For once, let’s just stop saying it’s about the kids…heard that for decades- it ain’t.
  • Believing that tax paying parents should have a choice in how their money is spent on their child’s education is not “hell-bent on destroying public education”. It’s actually the exact opposite.

I don’t know the cost of Oklahoma’s Catholic schools, but I do know the cost of attending any private school is two-fold: tuition and donations. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that tuition alone doesn’t fully fund private schools. They rely heavily on donations. If they start filling up with students attending on vouchers, their donations will decrease. The families using a voucher aren’t going to have the deep pockets their traditional students have.

And yes, I’m certain that we’re probably not talking about Casady and Heritage Hall. That helps prove my point though. No amount of politics and wordsmithing truly grants parents the choice of where to enroll their children.

I challenged the commenter who wants us to cowboy up to come into any of the Mid-Del Schools (after passing a mandatory background check) and tell all the staff that why they come to work is not about the kids. Crickets.

As for the last comment, we don’t all contribute the same amount. Whether it’s income tax, property tax, motor vehicle tax, or any other state revenue source, all of our contributions look different. Thus what we pay into the tax base that funds public education is different. We don’t get rebates for the services we don’t use. I haven’t needed the assistance of a highway patrolman for years (no matter what the one I met a couple of weeks ago thought). Still, I don’t get a rebate for not using their services. I also don’t get to re-allocate those funds elsewhere. That’s not how any state function works.

I’ve said for as long as I’ve thought about such things that I don’t care if you homeschool your kids or send them to private schools. That’s your choice. It may be the best thing for your kid. It’s not for me to decide. I just don’t think the money should follow the child. My business is managing the district’s resources for the kids we have now and the kids we’ll have in the future. Since about 90% of our budget goes to payroll, the vast majority of the investment is in the kids we have right now.

Loveless posted another article from Choice Remarks on his Facebook page last night. This one was titled “Nearly 4 in 10 Oklahoma teachers would choose private or home education for their own children.” One of my good friends, Pam Huston (a principal in Moore) posted the same article on Facebook, but with some major shade.

pam-huston-to-the-rescue

Above the article, she wrote:

This article could also be titled, ‘Over 65% of teachers surveyed agree that public charter schools are the least, or second to the least, favorable option for their own children.” It’s all in how the results are spun……results are posted in the comments below.

Below are the results:

poll-question

These are teachers responding. Of the four choices, teachers have public schools ranked one or two nearly 80% of the time. I think these results are basically a Rorschach Test. You see what you want to see. Yes, some teachers would love to put their kids in another school setting. Some teachers wish they could be home educating their children. I see no problem with that.

Choice Remarks is one of the many offshoots of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). On a post-election blog, school choice kingpin Brandon Dutcher further discusses the argument for vouchers.

As we approach 2017, the taxpaying parents of 100,000 Oklahoma students, despite being compelled to pay for public education, have in effect said to public school officials: “Your product is sufficiently unattractive to us that you can’t even give it away.” Moreover, Oklahoma has enacted a private-school voucher program and a tax-credit scholarship program. And as we move ever closer to Rod Paige’s vision of universal school choice—by expanding our current programs, enacting ESAs, providing for individual tax credits, and more—I suspect the vindictive resentment will grow.

Dutcher fails to note, then, that 700,000 students remain in public schools. If the 100,000 are dissatisfied, then the 700,000 must be content, right? Of course not. Neither of those assumptions are necessarily valid.

As for the vindictive resentment, yeah, it’ll grow. Keep characterizing public schools as failures, and we’ll resent you. Keep scheming ways to further deplete school funding, and we’ll resent you. Keep using poor measures of school effectiveness and ignoring the effects of poverty on learning, and we’ll resent you. This is no surprise. I won’t shy away from it. I doubt my blogging peers will either. I’ll keep saying, I’m sorry you’re upset, and you’ll probably keep saying the same thing. Neither of us will mean it.

The charge of the choice brigade approaches. Soon, it will have a new standard bearer: future Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking her up, but Rob Miller has:

For the past 15 years, DeVo$ has used her family money and influence to push an agenda to transfer public tax dollars over to unaccountable for-profit corporations. We know she will promote education savings accounts (ESAs) and other vouchers schemes and that she will work to funnel public money to church-sponsored schools.

To steal from the latest Geico commercials, “it’s what she does.”

If you recall, Bet$y DeVo$ has spent the past few years serving as the Chairman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), an organization which has as its vision “the transformation of public education by breaking down barriers to educational choice.”

Among other political activities, AFC has worked in the shadows to fund the legislative campaigns of hundreds of school-choice proponents across the nation. In recent years, they were the ones who contributed to the successful Oklahoma mudslinging campaigns against Melissa Abdo in 2014 and Lisa Kramer this year, just to name a few.

With the head of the Amway empire running education, we won’t just be getting school choice; we’ll be getting a voucher pyramid scheme extraordinaire!

pyramid

People like Loveless will sidle up to everything ALEC, OCPA, Choice Remarks, Sooner Poll, and the like throw out there. Because he won re-election in June and didn’t have to run a general election race, he has had a five month head start on trolling public education.

Meanwhile, others in the Legislature are busy trying to craft a budget to help all state agencies. Some even want to fund public schools, rather than finding ways to fund private ones.

November 8th was a disappointment for many of us in the #oklaed community. I get that. Nonetheless, we must keep fighting. If we don’t, the future is easy to predict.

One

November 9, 2016 12 comments

Mid-Del Family and Friends:

Over the last 24 hours, I have heard a wide range of people discuss what Tuesday night’s results mean to them. Specifically, I’ve heard several theories of how to interpret the overwhelming vote of Oklahomans against State Question 779 – the penny sales tax initiative.

It reminds me of the novelty paintings you used to see everywhere – the ones where you’re supposed to blur your eyes until an image comes into focus. Usually it’s a unicorn or a waterfall or a ninja or something. Well, that’s what people tell me. I never can see it.

blurry unicorn.jpg

Almost every theory I’ve heard includes some version of the idea that the people of this state and that our Legislature want to help us. They want to give teachers raises. They want to more fully fund public schools, but not this way. In some versions, the portion of the tax that would fund higher education gets people riled up. Sometimes, the criticism centers on school districts themselves. More often, I hear people frustrated that we’re letting our elected officials off the hook.

I did have a vision before the election results started coming in. It included using whatever proceeds we received from the penny sales tax to fund teacher raises beyond the minimum of $5,000, adding back positions that we’ve cut, and increasing support salaries. Now that’s all gone blurry, and when I try to focus on what to think of Tuesday night, I see nothing with clarity.

I started writing this as a pep talk. I really meant to send you an encouraging message. I hoped to tell you with clarity what this all means. Right now, I just don’t see it. Before the election, I guess I was seeing what I wanted to see in the blur of our political landscape. I was hopeful.

No, I never thought hard-coding a tax increase into the state constitution was the best solution. It’s just the only one that had come to the table. It was all we had. Now I hear renewed support for teacher raises from policy makers across the state. I can’t tell you to look at the picture, though, and see something that I don’t see myself. Maybe it’s there. I just don’t know. If it is, we’ll know within the next six months. If it’s not, well, we’ll know that too.

What I do know is that the day after the election, we had school. We picked up students at the bus stops and got them home. We taught them. We fed them. We cared for their social and emotional needs. Maybe that’s not the image our Legislature and voters see when they look at us. It’s what I see, though.

The same state that voted against the penny sales tax wants to remind us that they appreciate teachers. On some level, I believe them. Maybe that just means I’m looking at the picture, trying to see the unicorn, and listening to the voice over my shoulder insisting that it’s there.

Or maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that sometimes. Maybe there is no state consensus. There’s you, and there’s me, and there’s the people around us. If you teach my child, and I believe you care about my child, then I value you. I appreciate you. If you teach in my building and you help carry me through tough times, then I value you. I appreciate you.

We have over 14,000 students in this district who need us. If you’re disappointed right now, please just remember that it’s not at them. And if you can’t grasp the 14,000, then look at the next student you see. That one student needs at least one of us to make a difference in his/her life. You may be what keeps one student coming back to us just one more day.

I’ll keep fighting for them. I’ll keep fighting for you. Maybe you can’t see the big picture any more clearly than I can, but I hope you can see that.

Those of you who frequently read my blogs know that I often add a song at the end to wrap up my thoughts. For tonight, I thought I’d combine two of my musical loves: U2 and Johnny Cash. We started the school year singing “Sweet Caroline,” and it was #sogood. Tonight, I’ll leave you with “One.”

 

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Last Call

November 5, 2016 1 comment

This election season started a long time ago. Can you believe the first Republican debate in the presidential race was August 6, 2015? The first debate for the Democrats was two months later. We’ve been listening to the vitriol and obscenity of these people for well over a year now.

You would think that having longer to vet our presidential candidates would be a good thing. Yet here we are. These two. I won’t say their names or add their pictures here, but they are the major source of our collective politics fatigue right now. I know a few people who enthusiastically support one or the other of them. Most, however, seem to be voting against one of them.

I hope that we feel better about our local and state races. In the last month, several have turned ugly – maybe not to the extent of the presidential election, but then again, the stakes aren’t as high.

Candidates like Paul Sullivan (HD 69) and Lloyd Snow (SD 37) deserve #oklaed support, not just because of what they’ve done and who they are, but because of what their opponents have done and who they are. The same can be said for so many others. Here are a few:

There are even some incumbents I want to see keep their seats, even though they have opponents I also could support. Two that come to mind are Scott Martin and Katie Henke.

By the way, if any of these people feel any sense of accomplishment with me supporting them, they should know that candidates I’ve endorsed in the past have a pretty lousy winning percentage.

There are some races in which I don’t know enough to offer an opinion. And there are others I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Then there are the state questions. I’m not a farmer, but 777 seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have this strange feeling it would tie our Legislature’s hands unnecessarily, like SQ 640 did a generation ago. Lawmakers would have to have a “compelling state interest” to pass any regulations about farming/ranching. Shouldn’t “compelling state interest” be the threshold for passing all laws? Maybe if you can’t show that, you should just sit on your hands in general.

State question 790 feels the same way to me. It plays into the myth of the war on Christianity. Framers of the initiative want you to believe this is the vehicle for placing the Ten Commandments statute back on the lawn of the Capitol building. The Oklahoma Policy Institute sees 790 differently.

Even if voters approve SQ 790, there is some possibility that the United States Supreme Court will rule that the Ten Commandment monument’s display on public grounds violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions have prohibited some Ten Commandment monument displays while allowing others. The Court’s reasoning has depended on the history and context of each monument.

That’s actually the best case scenario for the backers of 790. The longer they can keep alive the narrative that rogue courts hate our values, the longer they can keep their base inflamed. It’s all a distraction.

It’s a distraction. The real push is for a way to divert public school dollars to private religious schools (more than they are already doing). Truthfully, if our leaders want to abide by the Ten Commandments, they shouldn’t need a statue on the lawn to remind them.

Then there’s SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I’ve seen some bizarre ads recently that include supposed teachers who don’t trust that the money will be used for raises. I’ve seen accusations that the revenue estimates are too high. Or they’re too low. Or that it will really just create an administrative slush fund.

cannonboston779yes

I’m a superintendent, so you know why I want it to pass. I want it for the 14,500 students I serve and for the people who work daily with them. If the tax generates more than we need for $5,000 raises, we will be deliberate in showing where that money goes. I’d like to add back some of the positions we’ve cut. I’d like to increase support salaries. I’d like to get to some of that deferred maintenance our teachers keep showing me in their buildings. Wherever it goes, though, I’m going to show it to you as clearly as I can.

What I will also be able to show you is where our teachers will go if it fails. Some will leave on I-35. Some on I-40. Heck, some may even use I-44 or one of the many state and US highways that dot Oklahoma’s perimeter. SQ 779 is a referendum on the failure of our Legislature and governor to improve public school funding. One way or another, we’re turning a corner. We’re either starting to fix our problems, or we’re committing to deepening them. Just because it’s closing time, doesn’t mean we have to make bad decisions…

…which reminds me that I haven’t discussed SQ 792. Modernizing the state’s liquor laws is probably about 50 years past due. I know there will be an adjustment period for retailers, but I look at this as a potential win for teachers too. God knows they deserve it.

They came, they saw, they puked

October 30, 2016 Comments off

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, Oklahoma has faced budget shortfalls each of the last three years, and they just keep getting bigger. This has created tension at our Capitol – you know the one getting the $245 million in repairs.

That’s not what this post is about. I’m glad the Capitol is being restored. Here’s what Governor Fallin said in her state of the state address back in 2014:

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

Based on a Fox 25 story from last week, some of those same terms could be appropriate in describing the state’s budget negotiations process. As Phil Cross explains:

Documents obtained by FOX 25 shed new light on the difficulties of filling the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. They reveal the governor’s office began talking about the budget long before the session kicked off. Doerflinger said while formal negotiations did not start until 2016, the talks started shortly after the 2015 legislative session closed.

Emails from the governor’s staff showed the session began with optimism. Even when House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) told the Tulsa World there was no chance for a teacher pay raise during the session, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Denise Northrup wrote “challenge accepted…gov remember this for the meeting with Inman soon.”

Ultimately though, no teacher pay raise happened in the session. By May, a staff member for the governor’s office wrote, “Not very grateful,” in an email to Northrup containing the statement of Oklahoma State School Board Association on the end of the session saying schools would continue to struggle under the budget agreement. Northrup replied, “jerks.”

I don’t find much of this surprising. The governor’s staff didn’t like the push back they received to their budget ideas. And maybe they were upset that Inman didn’t think their ideas would produce a teacher raise, but show me where he was wrong.

Remember, the Republican party can pass any piece of legislation they wanted to without a single Democrat voting for it. If the governor vetoed it, they could override her, again, without a single Democrat supporting them. That’s called a supermajority. Governor Fallin has had that luxury for the six years she’s held the office. It’s a luxury Fallin expects to retain for her last two years as governor as well.

There’s more:

“In this budget, there are things that you don’t like,” Doerflinger said, “and in this case that was one that made my stomach church but at the end of the day the governor has to make a decision as to whether all the other things that were accomplished in this budget.”

The stomach churning was not confined to Doerflinger’s office. Upstairs, in the governor’s office Northrup looked at the final agreement which included an addition that was never part of any negotiation. She simply wrote, “puke.”

I love this kind of insight. Knowing that there would be no budget deal otherwise, the governor’s office accepted something they didn’t want. It made them want to puke.

dodge ball threw up in my mouth.gif

I couldn’t bring myself to use a Linda Blair gif.

Yet when the OSSBA feels the same way, they’re jerks, right? Right.

During the last six years, I can’t even count the number of financial decisions our state has made that have made me feel that way. Just for fun, though, here are a few:

In 2012, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 766, which now costs the state tens of millions of dollars annually in property tax collections. This impacts our cities and our schools, and it deepens the budget deficits we face in this state. It benefits large corporations, most notably AT&T. The measure passed 65% to 35%, because all we heard was “tax cut.” Never mind that it doesn’t help most of us.

In 2014, the Legislature passed an income tax cut that continued to cut into state revenue. It is likely that the legislation responsible for dropping the tax rate in Oklahoma to 5 percent this year will cause it to fall even further in 2018.

In 2015, the Legislature passed HB 2244, which threw motor vehicle tax collections into a spin that created huge imbalances in state aid to school districts. On top of that, the Oklahoma Tax Commission misinterpreted the Legislature’s intent for how those collections should be distributed. A judge’s decision against the OTC now means that some corrective action will be taken, which will impact districts’ budget planning.

In 2016, school districts throughout the state faced cut after cut after cut, but only once half the year had already passed. Then during the summer, the same people who wanted to puke because of all the jerks announced that they had accidentally cut $141 million too much from state agencies. They even tried re-branding it a surplus and attempted to talk legislators into having a special session (like the one they worked to avoid in May by holding their nose and accepting an imperfect product).

Meanwhile, the governor’s biggest cheerleaders (besides Oklahoma’s energy industry) – the editorialists at the Oklahoman and the think tank double-speakers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – spent the year alternating between trying to convince teachers that they were actually making good money and contriving strategies to use one-time funds (such as the surplus that wasn’t) to fund raises that wouldn’t be sustainable. One of the OCPA guys even suggested that we should illegally spend bond money to pay salaries. If he thinks that idea will float, then he’s probably going to buy OU’s Tuscan monastery.

Making the burn of bad decisions worse, North Dakota has managed the spoils of their energy industry and created a real budget surplus. That could have been Oklahoma.

Yeah, I still want to puke.

Puke shirt.png

We vote in nine days. Maybe you’re still on the fence about SQ 779 – the penny sales tax that would generate raises of at least $5,000 for teachers. Or maybe you’ve been reading propaganda that says more than half the money will go to higher education. That’s a lie. No matter how many times you read it on the Internet, it’s still a lie. If you want to read the legal language and get back to me, feel free.

If the people who are running things at the Capitol make you want to puke, you still have a chance to support pro-education candidates. A few changes here and there, and our collective stomachs might rest a little better.

That’s about it for things that make me want to puke – well, as long as I don’t get started on the Halloween overtime that is our presidential election.

The ballot’s majority (and the enduring Republic)

October 26, 2016 Comments off

The Republic Will Endure.

Over the weekend, I read that the public’s dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates for President may lead to low voter turnout. That’s disappointing. Even if you have a seething dislike for both Trump and Clinton – and it’s fine that you do – there is so much else to consider. I’ll let the Oklahoman’s Ben Felder sum it up:

I’m not in Oklahoma County, but that sounds about right. I went to the Oklahoma State Election Board website and searched for the actual ballot I’ll see on Election Day. Here it is:

ballot-1  ballot-2

 

I have a total of 13 human choices and seven ballot questions. That means I could, in theory, skip the presidential choice at the top, and still vote for 19 other people and things.

The people we send to Washington matter. The people we send to Oklahoma City matter. For me, the presidential ticket is five percent of the ballot. It’s also the part that’s unlikely to make a huge difference in my day-to-day life.

If you want to skip the hassle of voting, you can still get online and order an absentee ballot. Or if you’re just curious about the races in your area, you can go have Google search for you.

find my damn ballot.png

congressional.png

If you click on their names, Google will give you their campaign websites and any social media accounts associated with them. Sure, the election is 13 days away, but if you’re not informed by now, take a crash course, brought to you by the World Wide Web.

I know we’re all weary of the campaigning and the side shows that accompany it. It’ll all be over soon, and the Republic will endure.

 

 

 

 

Time to get woke (as the kids are saying)

October 16, 2016 1 comment

Here we are, 23 days away from Election Day, and two things are still true.

cub-fan-bud-man

Ok, well, not those two things. I am rooting for the Cubs in the playoffs right now, but as for the other, I prefer something that isn’t so mass produced – maybe even something made in Oklahoma.

No, the two things that are still true are (1) that we still have a massive teacher shortage, and (2) that many teachers in Oklahoma qualify for government assistance programs, such as WIC and Sooner Care.

This election will be critical, but at the top of the ballot, we have two figures whose personalities turn people off in droves. I won’t get into that. We must look past that and vote anyway. We have several state questions that are important, and dozens of competitive legislative races. Unfortunately, there are no statewide office holders on the ballot this time around.

One thing that really hit home for me this week was when a friend asked me to guest lecture in his class for pre-service teacher candidates at Oklahoma State University. I also had the chance to speak to a broader group before the class discussion.

osu-speaker-announcement

I really didn’t know what to expect when I met with America’s Brightest Orange ™. We had some great comments and conversations about the state of public schools in our state. In both talks, though, I had to answer a question, somewhere along the lines of, “After I graduate, why should I stay in Oklahoma?”

My answer, as I was mindful of the fact that this during work hours, was that if SQ 779 passed, or if the our elected leaders could find a meaningful way to give raises to teachers, that there are a bunch of reasons to stay. (I also told them that if they choose to stay in Oklahoma, they should choose Mid-Del. Don’t judge. You’d have promoted your own district as well.)

I also told them that if the state can’t find a way to raise teacher salaries before they graduate, then I can’t in good conscience market the state of Oklahoma to them. I love it here. I’m a fourth generation Oklahoman and I’ve lived here my whole life. My own children are looking elsewhere, though.

We also talked about the lack of students entering the profession in the traditional way, through the teacher prep programs at our colleges and universities.

I know some great teachers who started their careers with alternative certification. I even know some teachers with emergency certification who work out just fine. Over the years, though, it’s the teachers who went to college with the intent to become teachers who tend to work out most reliably and stay with us the longest.

I’ve written it many times, but once you sign to come to work for me, I don’t care what pathway you took into the profession. Our job is to support you and help you become a rock star teacher. With the people I have around me in Mid-Del who are geared to support just that, it’s much easier to make the case of why you should come work for us than why you should stay in Oklahoma.

I didn’t say it directly on Thursday, but I support  SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I tire of the argument that we’re letting the Legislature (and governor) off the hook for failing to do their jobs. The truth is that the bigger the margin of victory, the more it will be seen as a reprimand. We’re calling out our elected leaders.

They’ve spent the last six years with one party control of the government, yet per pupil state aid for schools has steadily declined. The first four of those years, they missed an opportunity to help all core state services while oil prices were at historically high levels.

historical-oil-prices

The last two years, they’ve built flimsy budgets on faulty estimates. This led to a massive revenue shortfall last year, and the state miscalculated that too. This fiscal year, the state continues to fail to meet revenue collection estimates. That means we’ll likely see another revenue failure declaration and more budget cuts – after the election, of course.

Voting for SQ 779 is important because our various branches of government can’t agree on (a) how to fund public education adequately, or (b) just how much money they’re working with in the first place. These are also reasons why we must send some different people to the Capitol.

As much as I want to, I won’t specifically endorse any candidates for November’s election. Yes, it’s my personal blog, and I’m on my own time. I have every right to do what I want, but I’m increasingly aware of the fact that I need to have good working relationships with whoever voters send to 23rd and Lincoln.

That said, if you want to educate yourself about many of the races, my friend at Blue Cereal Education has some great candidate comparison. Whenever possible, he lets candidates’ own words do the talking. In particular, I find his information on House Districts 69 and 93, and Senate Districts 33 and 37 particularly compelling.

Educating yourself about candidates is a moral imperative. According to a Sooner Poll survey cited in the Oklahoman today, teachers feel quite underappreciated.

A vast majority of public school teachers across the state have an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature — 81 percent, according to SoonerPoll — which has some teachers seeing similarities between this year and 2014.

In unrelated news, puppies are cute.

puppy

If we’re all really that frustrated, then we need to get off of our butts on Election Day and do something about it. The people who still want to wreck public education keep finding new angles.

ocpa-environment-for-the-win

I’m not making this up. Yes, the OCPA, which refutes that climate change is even a thing, now wants us all to support school choice in order to help the environment.

That reminds me, as long as you’re voting on November 8th, you should probably take a good hard look at SQ 790. Supporters claim that the intent is to allow us to move the 10 Commandments statue back to the Capitol. The fact that it currently sits in front of the OCPA building speaks volumes though. It’s really a back door for spending state money on religious education. I’ll be voting no on that one.

Again, if you’re a parent, educator, or future teacher, you need to vote. You need to vote in numbers that exceed the averages for other groups of people.

Public schools educate 90 percent of Oklahoma’s children. If we have any chance of continuing to serve them effectively, we can’t sit this one out.

Ignore the presidential election if you must. Just be informed and make smart choices.

Halfway Nowhere

October 9, 2016 3 comments

In case you missed it while following the non-stop coverage of Donald Trump’s obscenities and vitriol, our governor issued an official proclamation this week for the state’s oil and gas industry.

Oilfield Prayer Day.jpg

I get it. She finally realizes that handing the energy producers an endless stream of tax cuts and credits has not helped the state’s economy, and she has one hope left. Pray.

I’m all for prayer. Residents from our state celebrate many faiths and worship in a variety of ways. Sure, her proclamation ignores many of these people and most of the faiths, but that’s ok. We’re Oklahoma. We don’t need diversity, right?

Fine, the exclusivity of her proclamation bothers me. So does the fact that under her leadership for the last six years, our state’s economy has continually worsened. Prayer and faith are great things, but they’re no substitute for a functioning government. Without a plan for how our state can diversify the economy or properly fund core state services, no amount of prayer is going to change the direction we are going.

I’m going to assume that our state leaders – along with the majority of Oklahomans – have been praying for all sorts of prosperity prior to now. That’s not what’s we’re missing. If our governor and Legislature had been doing their jobs during the last six years, maybe we wouldn’t be in a cycle of budget holes that worsen each year.

Prayer doesn’t change the fact that our leaders are patching problems with one-time money and taxes disguised as fees. Faith in God does not excuse us from the need to understand math. If you lower taxes, you have less money to fund schools, health care, roads, bridges, foster care, and corrections.

After six years with one party leading everything in the state – you’d think they could work together to make Oklahoma great again more prosperous. They haven’t. That’s why SQ 779 – the penny sales tax – had to happen. Nothing else was. Oh, those of us who support public education have been praying aplenty – for anything that would stem the tide of teachers leaving the state and the profession.

Right now there aren’t enough monestaries in Tuscany to make some of our teachers stick around. Maybe the governor’s next proclamation will be to ask for a day of prayer for the future of our schools. I’m not holding my breath.

Instead, I’m planning. I’ll be voting in less than a month for SQ 779 and for some new faces at the Capitol. November 8 can’t come soon enough.

Vote Yes, or Else #SQ779

October 2, 2016 1 comment

I’m not sure that I’ve come out and said it, but will be voting yes on State Question 779. Right now, this is the best solution on the table to help public education. It has an upside, and it has limitations. It also has context.

As David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute wrote back in January, we have spent a decade digging this hole:

Repeated cuts to the state income tax made since the mid-2000s are one of the most significant reasons for an ongoing financial crisis that is eroding important public services and threatening Oklahoma’s economic well-being.

Acute teacher shortages, college tuition and fee hikes, critically understaffed correctional facilities, longer waiting lists for services, and lower reimbursement rates for medical and social service providers are among the harmful consequences of chronic budget shortfalls.

Prior to 2004, the top income tax rate in Oklahoma was 6.65 percent. That’s not what the average household paid. It was the top rate.

Various state revenue triggers have since lowered the rate to 5.00 percent. Additional triggers will continue lowering the rate to 4.85 percent by 2018. Again, those are the top rates. Most Oklahoma households were unaffected by these cuts. The later cuts have barely affected the majority of Oklahomans.

What’s the big deal? It will have taken 14 years to complete this slide.

Again, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Hemingway quotes:

gradually-then-suddenly

He was either describing the Oklahoma economy or exponential curves. Maybe both.

The political premise for cutting taxes is that doing so will stimulate the economy. I’m still looking for the evidence of that. Meanwhile, the median household in Oklahoma, making about $50,000, has seen a tax cut of about $230 annually. It’s something – not a game changer, but it’s something.

In addition to cutting income taxes, our state has also in recent years cut taxes on new oil and gas production. This is why Oklahoma has seen continued declines in public education funding. Prior to the industry downturn of the last few years, other energy-producing states, such as Texas and North Dakota, were increasing their investment in public education.

Not Oklahoma. Not even when oil was booming a few years ago. We missed our opportunity. Missed badly.

Last Wednesday, I attended a town hall meeting moderated by Fox 25 in Oklahoma City. The topic was SQ 779.

Panelists for the state question were Amber England of Oklahoma Stand for Children and Shawn Hime of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. Panelists against it were Steve Agee, Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University and Dave Bond with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

England and Hime reiterated the fact that our state leaders have had the chance to raise teachers’ salaries and have failed miserably. Agee made the point that the tax is regressive because it hits poor families harder than it impacts the wealthy. Bond made the point that passing the state question may falsely tell the Legislature that the job is done, sort of like establishing the lottery has. These are all good points. I don’t disagree with any of them.

I won’t repeat all talking points from the town hall, but I do want to respond to one thing said by Agee and one thing said by Bond.

What I will never understand is how Fallin has failed to make this a legacy issue for the first six years of her administration. The governor is Republican. The Senate has a Republican super majority. The House has a Republican super majority. Every single elected statewide office is held by Republicans. When I hear any of our state leaders talk, they say teachers deserve raises. Yet nothing happens.

By the way, I’m not blaming the Republican Party. Teachers were underpaid when Democrats controlled the various branches of government, however you want to enumerate them. Maybe they didn’t go 10 years without seeing raises, but they were still among the lowest-paid educators in the country.

I don’t doubt that Governor Fallin wants to raise teacher salaries. I would also agree that if she could do so, it would punctuate her time in public office. Unfortunately, that punctuation mark would be a question mark, rather than an exclamation mark.

Regardless of what she accomplishes in the next two years, our state, and more specifically, our education system, will take years to recover from the hole we’ve dug. How many teachers have quit the profession or left the state? Do you think they’ll all come storming back because of a raise? Many are settled into the next phase of their lives and won’t look back.

According to the OSSBA, school districts in Oklahoma eliminated over 1,500 teaching positions in 2016 because of the state budget collapse. In spite of this fact, 53% of the superintendents who responded to their survey said the teacher shortage is now worse than it was a year ago. Last year, the Oklahoma State Department of Education approved over 1,000 emergency teaching certificates. This year, the state is on pace to fly past that number.

Not to be overly-dramatic, but if SQ 779 fails, we’re going to see the problem get exponentially worse. I know too many people who see this as their last hope for staying in education to believe otherwise.

While I see Agee’s point and don’t entirely fault him for wanting the governor to find an alternate solution, that’s no reason for me to have hope. Going into the 2016 legislative session, we all knew that momentum for the penny sales tax was building. If Fallin and the Legislature weren’t motivated enough by this knowledge to find an answer in February or May, I have my doubts about whether they can agree to one now. Hope is a good thing. It’s not a blind thing, though.

Bond, on the other hand, kept making the case for how the state already has plenty of revenue to raise teachers’ salaries. He predictably blamed administrative bloat. He said we have too many non-classroom positions. He even threw out the fact that the University of Oklahoma owns property in Tuscany. Twice. When Hime mentioned to him that it was a gift, he went on some strange rant about a Corvette.

None of that really shocked me. This did:

Yes, he really said that. He also said that nobody is going to sue a school district for using bond money to pay teachers just because it’s unconstitutional.

Side note: this is why I never approached the moderator. I pictured myself going off on a rant rather than forming a question. Nobody was there to hear me.

My guess is that one of the OCPA’s many tentacles would be the first to sue a school district misusing money. I also can imagine the headlines in the Oklahoman. No doubt they’d be full of compassion and understanding for our plight.

Along with hosting the town hall, Fox 25 also ran a Twitter poll asking how followers planned to vote on SQ 779. Only 145 people responded, but 59% of those said yes.

Hopefully we’ll see a similar result on November 8th. Whatever Oklahoma decides will send a strong message to our leaders about what this state values. It’ll send one to our teachers too.


If you missed the town hall and would like to watch it in its entirety, Fox 25 has it online.

 

 

 

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Change the Times

September 25, 2016 2 comments

In my rare downtime, I have been rediscovering some of the music of my youth. I guess I should point out, though, that some of it is actually the music of my parents’ youth.

A few weeks ago, my wife and daughter bought me a record player for my birthday. I immediately went to the garage, pulled out the crate of records so that the teenager could mock us.

It’s one red milk-style crate, and it’s packed very tightly with our vinyl. It’s also a musical catalog frozen in time at about 1990, which was the last time either of us bought a record. It has everything from Led Zeppelin to Grandmaster Flash to Rush and the Thompson Twins. It may or may not even have Urban Chipmunk.

born-in-the-usanot-val-kilmercarlinseriously-this-one-was-hers-not-mineSurprisingly, everything I’ve played out of the crate has still sounded good. Even better, most of what my 16-going-on-17 daughter has pulled out to sample, she has loved. Billy Joel. The Doors. The Beatles. Fleetwood Mac. These aren’t entirely new friends for her; she’s been subjected to my tastes in
the car for years now.

I know that she likes some of my old music. I just didn’t know how much. For example, she thought the double album soundtrack from the movie Amadeus was pretty cool. (So did my high school students back in the day when I would play it for them. Or so they told me.)rock-me-amadeus

I also didn’t know she’d like Bob Dylan. That was a happy surprise.

I found myself home alone today for a while cleaning and doing laundry while watching football. I decided that rather than listen to the announcers, I would listen to Bob Dylan. I’ve had this greatest hits album since I was in high school, but the songs are from when my parents were teenagers. I love every song on the record, and I even went to see Dylan play at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City back in college. He mostly played new stuff, which isn’t what any of us were there to hear. He closed with a 15 minute version of Like a Rolling Stone, though, and it was fabulous.

dylanI don’t know why I haven’t upgraded most of what I own on record to my iTunes library. I guess it’s just one of those things that slips your mind. Because of that, and because I haven’t had a working record player for a while, I haven’t really thought about the words to some of my favorite songs for a while, either.

The words to The Times They Are a Changin’ really stuck with me today. We’re dealing with so much pain in this country, for so many reasons. I see people posting simplistic solutions to those problems on social media or explaining away injustice. It’s something that Dylan discussed more than 50 years ago:

Come gather ’round people where ever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a’ changin’!

One thing the song made me remember is the faux documentary Bob Roberts, which also came out when I was in college. It starred Tim Robbins as a conservative folk-singing politician who was also something of a demagogue. Something about life imitating art comes to mind. He actually had a song in the movie called Times are Changin’ Back. It’s a brilliant movie, if you haven’t seen it.

bob roberts.jpg

Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen
And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a’ changin’!

The song is a warning to us. During the 60s, Dylan was mostly writing about Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. Yes, so much has changed. Still, we’ve clearly not solved all those problems.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a’ changin’!

I was born in 1970, so I missed all of the window rattling. All I have now are man-made earthquakes. My knowledge of the era is historical; surely it contains major gaps. Dylan is imploring those of us in positions of power either to lead the social changes that are coming or get out of the way.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a’ changin’!

I used to use the second line of the verse above as a writing prompt for my students. They came up with great examples of how their parents and teachers (including me) didn’t grasp how the world had changed. And no, I never asked them to write about the third line. I wasn’t trying to create rebellion at home.

What I was really going for was that students would have an understanding that teen frustration at adults is timeless and universal. Surely they got that, right?

The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a’ changin’!

It’s a great song. It’s a fascinating era, and one in which I sometimes imagine I would have been a better fit. We really have come a long way since the 60s in terms of how we deal with race and poverty as a country. We just haven’t come far enough. Nor can we stop.

Another Dylan song on the album made me stop in my tracks at one point. I won’t post the whole song here, but the second verse of Blowin’ in the Wind contains several lines we need to remember:

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

When I see #blacklivesmatter protests, I just wonder how many times some of us can turn our heads and pretend that we just don’t see. I’m a white guy who grew up in a suburban household that had two adults with advanced degrees. All four of the children who grew up there graduated from college, three with doctorate degrees.

I have a bad habit of driving with a sense of urgency. I frequently get to visit with members of the law enforcement community. I’m always treated well.

The truth is that most police officers treat all people well. Those who work in diverse communities understand that having good relationships with all people is one of the best ways to help them do their jobs effectively.

I can acknowledge that and still sympathize with those among us who don’t feel that their lives and voices are as important. I know my background. I also know my limitations. Just because it’s not my pain doesn’t mean I don’t feel the hurt. Nor am I in any position to tell any member of any group how to feel.

I just can’t turn my head and pretend I don’t see anything.

Another Education Finance Tool

September 20, 2016 Comments off

Yesterday, I wrote about a short video made by Shannon Meeks from Putnam City. Today I want to point you towards a data tool created by the Oklahoma Policy Institute:

It’s well known that state aid funding in Oklahoma has struggled in recent years — since 2008 we’ve cut per student state aid by 24.2 percent after inflation, the largest drop in the U.S. Cuts to state aid affect all school districts in the state, but not all districts are affected equally. Because state aid to local districts is based on a formula that takes into account the needs of students and the local resources of districts to fund themselves, the amount per student that’s funded by the state varies widely between districts. In the 2015-2016 school year, aid went from a low of $16 to a high of $7,740 per student.

The map below is from their website. Before discussing the nuances of school finance, I want to make a couple of generalizations first.

district-state-aid-per-student.png

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

One is that southeast Oklahoma tends to get more state aid per pupil than northwest Oklahoma. Poverty and property values are the main reasons why. The other observation is that school districts in northwest Oklahoma tend to cover more land. This part of the state is more sparsely populated, but it’s also flatter. There are some long bus routes, but they tend to be pretty straight.

I point these two things out because we must always understand that there is not one singular picture of a school district in Oklahoma. For that matter, there’s not one singular picture of a school in my district.

If you want to look at the figures more closely, or if you want to see how certain school districts compare to one another, you should visit the interactive map. You may even want to download the data file.

These are real numbers. Any discussion of issues such as vouchers, consolidation, and charter schools should include these figures.

Oh, that reminds me. Here’s the OPI caveat about charters:

[Note: The map does not include charter schools, which tend to receive higher state aid because they have no local revenues. Charter school state aid can be found in the full data set.]

Knowledge is power, people.

State Aid for Schools (ft. Charters)

September 19, 2016 1 comment

Sometimes, I get random questions from the long-time listener, first-time caller kind of person who wants to know why I’m so down on charter schools.

I’m not. I have probably written fewer than 10 posts (out of nearly 700) that even address charters. When I do, I don’t focus on their funding. I don’t call out their effectiveness. I merely point out that charter schools are no more effective, according to accountability models that I reject anyway, than traditional public schools.

My position has always been that if you teach kids, I hope you do a good job. When it comes to funding and accountability, you didn’t set up the rules, and neither did I. I have friends who work in charter schools, and I have had graduate students who teach in them.

state-aid-happy-face-big-bucksCharters can have narrow purposes. They can have parental involvement agreements that scare off some families. Still, they are public-ish schools serving public school kids.

They way they receive funding, however, has always been hard for me to explain. That’s why I’m glad I’m not the only person in this state who can explain things.

The video below, which is 11 minutes long and worth every second, provides a better, and more user friendly, explanation of state aid than I have ever seen. It also touches upon how state per pupil funding allocations give charter schools an advantage.

I’ll limit my remarks and let you watch and enjoy the video.

Not Pictured

September 14, 2016 1 comment

Being a superintendent is essentially a three-part job: supporting students and teachers; community engagement; and managing the district’s resources and people. My time isn’t spent equally among these three priorities. Neither is my interest.

I don’t spend nearly enough time in schools and at activities. I try, but I don’t make it to all of the events on my schedule. Meetings and decision-making get in the way. Still, the time I get to be around kids is what feeds my soul and informs my work.

During the first few weeks of the school year, we’ve had ball games, fun activities at schools, and countless memories made. Several of those have come this week, both in the schools, and at community events.

At one event that received a decent amount of publicity, I had the privilege of watching a group of very young children listening to celebrities read them a book. Two students, both five years old, sat at the back of the room with one of our staff members. Those with cameras knew that we couldn’t photograph these children.

They laughed and smiled. They listened intently. Well, when they weren’t clinging to the staff member’s neck, they listened intently.

not-picturedSome students come to us with with labels that say, “Handle with Care.” They may have health problems or family issues that impact their time at school. Some come to us with instructions that say, “Do not Photograph.” Some of these are students who just have protective parents, which is fine. Others, sadly, have DHS case numbers, including many in foster care.

Whether they’re tiny, as these two were, or they’re teens, as are many I’ve known through the years, the stories are often just tragic. I remember once as a principal reading the permanent record of a foster child new to our school and having to shut the door to my office and compose myself. I don’t remember how many schools this student had attended (or not attended). I just wanted to make our school the best school for her.

Back to this week: I’ve seen so many pictures from this event. The organizers even asked me to be in some of them, which was nice. Not pictured, though were these two little girls.

While the other students were asking the celebrities questions and trying to get their attention, the two girls at the back of the room just wanted anyone’s attention. One in particular was clinging to an adult who was standing towards the end of the event when I walked over to say hi.

She reached out quickly and grabbed the front of my hair, and she laughed.

“Does that feel funny to you?” I asked.

“No, it’s fancy. And haaayaandsome.”

And you know what, most days, that’s way better than what people say to me. I’ll take fancy and handsome any day.

She laughed again and moved on to the next adult. I’d show you a picture of how happy she looked, but again, I can’t.

I don’t know her back story, and I didn’t ask. Some days, I’m happy not to know that much detail about some of our kids.

I’ll also probably never know her STAR reading level. If she stays with us throughout her school-age years, I probably won’t know her grade point average.

Come to think of it, if she stays with us for 13 years, she’d be a major outlier. That’s just not what happens to the majority of students in the foster care system. To verify what I perceive to be true, I looked up some data from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

From July 1, 2015 to June 1, 2016, DHS opened 939 new foster care homes and 89 new therapeutic foster care homes. That’s a lot of child displacement.

Just under half of these were new foster care homes. I guess that doesn’t mean that the children all move around frequently. The truth is that I don’t really have a way of knowing what is typical for children in foster care. Maybe there is no typical.

All I know is what we see at school. Some are just looking for a place to feel safe and loved. Between school and home – whether it’s a temporary or permanent placement – we just hope they find two such places.

This is why, with all the budget cuts in all the agencies that serve this state, none of us who advocate for public schools have wanted to take all the available money. We want to restore the services that help our kids. We also want the other agencies that serve our kids to have the resources they need too.

During the times when my leadership team and I have to decide whether we’re going to cut A, B, and C or X, Y, and Z, these are the moments that guide us. We think about the kids who need us, the ones who cling to our necks. They’re fragile and confident and amazing and full of all the potential in the world.

I’d show you if I could.

On Ditch Diggers and Dreamers

September 5, 2016 2 comments

As I prepare the feast of meats (featuring some vegetables) for today’s over-indulgence in grilling, I briefly ponder the significance of today’s holiday. It’s Labor Day – a day for celebrating…yeah, a lot of people don’t really get that either.

All the Meats All the Veggies

Truthfully, most American holidays – especially the ones that give us the bounty of a three-day weekend – are occasions that barely resemble the reason they exist. We grill. We swim. We boat. We work around the house. We take short trips with the family.

I still see patriotism surrounding Memorial Day. There are flags set out by the American Legion and other civic groups. There are parades. Independence Day is another great holiday (albeit a noisy one) for celebrating all that we love about our country. Still, with each of these, most of our planning centers around food, family, and recreation.

According to the US Department of Labor, today’s holiday is one we began celebrating as a nation over 120 years ago.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Our country and our way of life were built on hard work. Our founders were a combination of farmers, tradesmen, and intellectuals. Even the college boys of the group got their hands dirty, though – something that we all need to do from time to time.

As a society, and even within the education community, we perpetuate this strange dichotomy that places intellect at one end and labor at the other. I ask every group of graduate students I teach to explain what the phrase college and career ready means to them. Invariably, the conversation drifts to someone saying that not all kids need to go to college.

This is true, but then I remind them that all of us in the room did go to college. Someone then reminds me that plumbers make more than teachers. Then I remind them that some do and some don’t, eventually admitting that it’s an important point to understand.

I don’t know which students should and shouldn’t go to college. You would think the kid with a high grade point average and high ACT score would want to go, and usually, you’d be right. You also might not expect much of the student who barely made it through high school, underachieving all the way. I always conclude with the reminder that it’s not our job to choose our students’ path after high school. Our job is to prepare them for the path they choose.

Some students decide on a career early. By ninth grade, they know they want to be doctors, architects, or teachers engineers. If these are their goals, then our job is to prepare them for college. On the other hand, some students decide late that they want to pursue a career that will require a college degree. That doesn’t excuse us from preparing them to be successful there.

Along the way, most students in Oklahoma will have the option of taking classes at a career tech center. If this is what our students choose to do, we should encourage them. Nothing there will keep them from also going to college if they decide to do both. Again, our job as educators is to give them every opportunity to make all the choices they can – and then to change directions if they want or need to.

One thing on which Governor Fallin and I agree is that the end goal of our labor is to produce an educated workforce. I sometimes see those on the tin foil fringe call this the very definition of communism. It’s not. It’s the very definition of investing in the future. We want our children to grow up and be productive adults. Students entering college, completing a career tech certification, or joining the military right out of high school meet this definition. We don’t want students waking up the day after high school graduation wondering what’s next?

All of us who work perform labor. Some of it is manual labor. Two of my favorite comedies – Caddyshack and Real Genius have quotes by the villains of the film that show contempt for people who labor in the traditional sense. In Caddyshack, a caddy tries to curry favor for a scholarship with the president of the country club:

[Danny Noonan] I planned to go to college after I graduated, but it looks like my folks won’t have enough money to put me through college.

[Judge Elihu Smails] Well, the world needs ditch diggers too!

In Real Genius, a snooty professor scoffs at construction workers after being threatened by a defense contractor:

[Professor Jerry Hathaway] What are you looking at? You’re laborers. You’re supposed to be laboring. That’s what you get for not having an education.

Again, we have the false dichotomy. Get an education or you’ll be working with your hands out in the heat of the sun all your life. Never mind the level of technical skill required to perform these tasks. The mindset is, I have a college degree so I must be superior. And that’s simply not true. Having a college degree means you finished college. It doesn’t make you smarter than those without, and it certainly doesn’t make you superior.

In the end, we all (well, most of us) go to work. Some get paid to type for a living, and then they offer up thoughts on public policy regarding worker’s compensation laws. Still, technically, it’s labor.labor omnia vincit

Our state motto, Labor omnia vincit, translates to Labor conquers all things. In other words, if you work hard, then I guess you’ll conquer all things.

It’s a nice thought, but some people work and work and work and never get ahead. Education is what keeps you from simply running in place on a hamster wheel.

Not only are we all laborers, we are almost all employees too. Nearly everyone who works, works for somebody. Occasionally, that means that even though you know a better way to do your job, you have someone telling you to do it differently.

This takes me to another one of my favorite comedies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this scene, a lost King Arthur approaches a peasant (Dennis).

[Dennis] What I object to is you automatically treating me like an inferior.

[Arthur] Well I am king.

[Dennis] Oh, king, ay, very nice. How’d you get that, ay? By exploiting the workers, by hanging onto outdated emperiest dogma, we perpetuate the economic and social differences in our society.

[Wife] Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here. [surprised] Oh, how do you do?

[Arthur] How do you do, good lady? I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?

[Wife] King of the who?

[Arthur] The Britons.

[Wife] Who are the Britons?

[Arthur] Well, we all are. We are all Britons. And I am your king.

[Wife] I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

[Dennis] You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship – a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working class is –

[Wife] Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.”

[Dennis] That’s what it’s all about. If only people would –

[Arthur] Please, please, good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

[Wife] No one lives there.

[Arthur] Then who is your lord?

[Wife] We don’t have a lord.

[Arthur] What?

[Dennis] I told you. We are an anarcho-syndicalist commune.

[Arthur] I order you to be quiet.

[Wife] Order, eh? Who does he think he is?

[Arthur] I am your king!

[Wife] Well, I didn’t vote for you!

[Arthur] You don’t vote for kings.

[Wife] Well how’d you become king then?

Hold on. I just got distracted and now want to watch all the Monty Python clips on YouTube.

Unless you too are in an anarcho-syndicalist commune, you probably work for somebody – probably not a king, although some bosses do prance around as if they were. If you’re fortunate, when you labor, you love your work. Even then, you probably look forward to being away from work sometimes.

My thoughts today – my Labor Day-specific thoughts – are for all who work. You drive the nation’s (and state’s) economy. You build a better future. You support your families. You innovate. You do the fun jobs and the thankless ones. Yes, the world truly needs ditch diggers and laborers. It also needs dreamers.

[Veruca Salt] Snozzberries? Who ever heard of snozzberries?

[Willy Wonka] We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams.

Working and dreaming are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Our nation was not built by those who are content with the world they saw around them. Innovation has never been left to the conformists.

We work so we can play. And so we can dream. But first, we work.

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A Short Note from Okeducationmom

August 24, 2016 Comments off

Those of you who know me well understand that there has been one person who has been there for me my whole life – my mom. She was a teacher, for 29 years, in Chickasha and Norman. I can’t think of anyone who has influenced me more. She’s probably the biggest reason I chose to be an educator. Tonight, she has authored a guest post that I hope you’ll enjoy.


 

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Mother’s Day 2012

Hi, Friends,

My name is Ellen Kanak.  I’d like to offer my two cents about public education.  I am a product of public common and higher education.  I am a mom and a grandmother of children who have been well-served by public education.  I am a retired teacher who is old enough to have seen education policy change in many ways.  I am closely following legislation, legislators, and policy decisions that have the potential to help or harm public education.   I am an unapologetic, fierce advocate for public education.  I know that other retired educators are as well.  The time is now to act to elect Oklahoma legislators who will advance legislation that supports all of our children, their parents, teachers, and staff.

I began teaching in the dark ages.  In 1971, there was no free and appropriate education for all.  Students with special needs and their families had to really scramble to find ways to have a quality education.  This was when I was first introduced to advocacy.  Later, I became a building representative for my school district’s teachers’ organization before I even knew what a building rep does.  I learned pretty quickly though, and in time I learned just how important that advocacy is.  I helped storm the Capitol in 1990 and the result was HB 1017.  This bill helped public education in really significant ways.  It was a bipartisan effort that helped better fund our schools and put in place appropriate policies that addressed class size and other issues that impact our students in positive ways.  I’ve also seen setbacks—many have occurred over the last ten years or so.  Some occurred soon after HB 1017 was enacted, because we didn’t stay focused on maintaining the progress and work to further advance education policy.  It was thrilling to see a new Superintendent of Public Instruction elected a couple of years ago, but again we quit paying attention and ended up with some legislators who are not friendly to our purpose.

The primaries are settled.  As we prepare for the November general election, candidates have been clearly identified as pro-public education—or not!  We have choices in both parties; we have independent candidates as well.  Individuals and groups have worked tirelessly to give us good choices.  Two of my favorite sources are Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education and Okeducationtruths.  For the purpose of full disclosure, I am Rick Cobb’s mother, so he is my “most favorite.”  Other favorite advocates are Claudia Swisher, Rob Miller, Dallas Koehn, and Angela Clark Little.  It is especially gratifying to me to see parents, students, teachers, support staff, school boards, superintendents, and many other community members working together for the common good.

Will you join me in a willingness to cross party lines to elect the best candidate for each legislative position?  Those of us who are retired have seen political parties evolve and sometimes devolve.  Social issues are mostly sorted out at the federal level while issues of public education and other core services are developed more at the state level.  We have great candidates in both parties and in no party, and we need to support them with financial contributions as well as giving time to get them elected.  They have been clearly identified–as have the candidates who will work against the greater good in order to divert public money to private schools (vouchers, ESAs and such).

Our children need and deserve our support.  Their futures depend on quality public education.  Many of our children also desperately need other core services that have been drastically cut.  Let’s send a message to our leaders and candidates.  We don’t want excuses.  We want you to care about all of our citizens.  We expect you to do your job for all of us.

Let’s do this, friends!  Let’s reboot and move forward for a great outcome this November.  Be sure to register to vote if you haven’t already.  Know where your precinct is.  Mark your calendar.  Show up November 8 and help send the right people to the legislature!

Just Vote

August 22, 2016 1 comment

Joseph de Maistre.jpg

Oklahoma is in desperate need of some people who know the difference between good public policy and a kick in the head. That’s why we have so many active races for the Legislature, including 13 run-off elections in which many of you can vote tomorrow.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen different friends go back and forth about a person’s civic obligation to vote. I feel strongly that everybody should be as well-informed as possible and show up on election day. That means, of course, that many of you are going to show up and cancel out my selections. That’s fine too. I can live with not getting my way all the time.

It’s also fair to say that I’m more passionate about some races than others. In 2014, I put a lot of effort into writing about why we needed a new State Superintendent. I didn’t pay attention to the Legislature that much. I didn’t even chime in on the governor’s race until late, not that I think my thoughts there made much difference.

I believe one reason many people stay away from the polls is because there are just so many races. In how many have you really researched the history and positions of the candidates? You can look at party registration, but if you’re like me, sometimes it doesn’t matter. I regularly vote for Democrats and Republicans, and I often wish for more choices than that. Few people I know are straight-party voters, or so they say.

In general, I’m looking for people who support public schools. I want to know that the candidates I choose understand that there’s nothing conservative about gutting state services to the point that roads and bridges crumble and schools have to lay off thousands of teachers.

And to be clear, there’s a good chance that if you say things like this…

For years now we have been taught wrong. Our schools teach atheism and call it science. We are taught a revisionist view of American history, erasing our rich Christian heritage. We’re told that Christians don’t belong in the culture.

SD 41 candidate Paul Blair

…then I won’t vote for you. Come to think of it, I hope most Oklahomans – especially public school teachers – wouldn’t vote for somebody with that mindset. It shows ignorance and  a complete disrespect for what we do in our schools.

Other than the Blair race, the one that really interests me is one in Tulsa County, SD 25, featuring Lisa Kramer and Joe Newhouse. I can’t find anything damning about Newhouse, and Kramer as said she’d be willing to listen to a voucher proposal if public schools were fully funded (and the vouchers included some real accountability). It’s become one of the nastiest contests in the state, though.

In the end, it’s a sitting school board member who also happens to be an accountant and who hasn’t taken dark money from shady pro-voucher groups. As my friend at Blue Cereal Education put it:

Consider the value of having at least one person in state government who knows how math works, or who may just be old-school enough to think her job is to fix problems and serve constituents rather than cater to entrenched power – even if that power currently resides in the darkest recesses of her own party.

Her party, by the way, controls the House, the Senate, and all statewide elected positions in Oklahoma. In spite of what they insist, they can’t put their heads together and raise teacher salaries. No, the best they can do is pass a bill that makes all of us get lovely new license plates based on a drawing that somebody left on the butcher paper at a mall Garfield’s back in the mid 1990s.

oklahoam-license-plate.jpg

This was a way for the state to raise revenue without raising taxes, since – and again, in spite of one party controlling every major office of the government – they don’t have the votes to do it any other way.

This is what I’m talking about. We get the government we deserve because we don’t get more involved when these people are running.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a reporter from Education Week who came to Oklahoma to talk about the teachers running for the legislature. He met with a few candidates, as well as some of my fellow activists. What I noticed is how our little movement here is not the only one nationally. The reporter summed up our collective influence, though:

When legislators earlier this year tried to pass through a bill that would expand the use of taxpayer funded vouchers, the group flooded their inboxes and lobbied them on Twitter under the hashtag #oklaed. Despite a robo call from Gov. Fallin to voters in support of the bill, it failed.

“What we’ve seen is a strong bipartisan movement in favor in public education. And the voices have been heard by legislators,” said David Blatt, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based bipartisan think tank.

No matter what happens tomorrow and in November, #oklaed has made a difference already this year. The magnitude of our impact is still to be determined. The number of educators and concerned parents who get to the polls will determine how strong it is.

 

Mock Outrage and Real Impact

August 16, 2016 Comments off

Facts matter. So do details. So does context – well, to most of us at least.

By now, many of you have probably seen the blog post by Steve Anderson at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs expressing mock outrage at school districts and the funds we’re allegedly hoarding. If you haven’t, it’s worth your time to read. Here’s his opening:

Oklahomans who have been told repeatedly that Oklahoma’s schools are underfunded may be very surprised to learn that the schools in fact have “savings accounts” that are full of cash sitting idle.

Idle is a pretty strong word. We do end each fiscal year with funds in various accounts. That much is true. Most of those funds are in accounts that have limited purposes. I’ll get to that in a minute.

What really caught my attention is that of all the districts in the state, Anderson chose to highlight 11 in a table on his blog.

2015 School Year Revenues

School District

Cash Forward

Largest Balance Item?

Bartlesville $20,577,066 Yes
Bixby $25,774,424 Yes
Clinton $4,562,120 No
Jenks $57,381,683 Yes
Midwest City-Del City $45,491,461 Yes
Moore $33,185,915 No
Norman $42,912,359 No
Sand Springs $21,590,762 Yes
Stillwater $14,005,455 No
Tahlequah $8,611,547 No
Tulsa Union $87,812,848 Yes

It’s strange for a number of reasons. Many of these districts have outspoken leaders who have pushed back against OCPA’s propaganda. Mid-Del, which is mine, is an obvious target. Still, if the point was to shock their readers, why did Anderson not highlight the two districts with more than $100,000,000 in cash forward balances

Last week, KFOR in Oklahoma City asked us for a statement about the OCPA post. We sent one, which they didn’t use in their report (and that was perfectly fine with me):

The OCPA blog post showing that Mid-Del Public Schools carried forward a balance in excess of $45 million is misleading. Among funds included in their calculation are several that cannot be used for every day operational costs. Examples include:

  • $12.4 million in the Sinking Fund
  • $11.4 million in the Building Fund
  • $2.4 million in the Child Nutrition Fund
  • $1.2 million in various Activity Accounts
  • $939 thousand in the Workers Comp Fund

Mid-Del Public Schools began Fiscal Year 2015 (14-15 school year) with about $7.6 million in the General Fund. Mid-Del received $89.6 million in General Fund revenues for that school year. The cash forward amount represented about 8.5% of that figure. As a district, we strive to achieve a cash forward (or carryover) balance in the General Fund of 6% to 8%, so that we can continue operating fluidly before receiving our first state aid payment of the school year in late August.

As a point of reference, Mid-Del ended FY16 with a 5.9% cash forward balance. Even with the mid-year reductions in spending we were able to make after last year’s statewide budget collapse, we were not able to achieve our target fund balance.

The danger with blog posts such as this is that they only serve to confuse the public. On the other hand, they also open a door for conversations to educate the public at-large about the intricacies of public school finance.

Mid-Del Public Schools remains committed and prepared  to providing a quality public school education to the more than 14,000 students who will arrive to meet their teachers in 11 short days. No level of budget cuts will change that.

Yes, I wrote that over a week ago. It’s just taken me a while to finish this post.

And for the record, I was happy with the comments KFOR used in their report. First was Steve Lindley from Putnam City. Well, actually, OCPA President Jonathan Small spoke first:

I do think, when you look at the way our funding is spent in K-12 education in Oklahoma, that it’s clear that the priority is not first the most important person, which is the teacher in the classroom.

It’s clear? Really? We spend money on salary and benefits. We spend money on facilities and utilities. We spend money on instructional materials and technology. Unfortunately, as the districts have had to count on the state less for funding, most of the costs after salary and benefits have been left to districts’ bond projects and building funds.

As data from the Office of Educational Quality and Assurance (OEQA) show, for the 2014-15 school year, state funding generated 47.7% of what school districts had available to spend. (This doesn’t include bond costs, which vary widely among the school districts.) For the 1999-2000 school year, state funding accounted for 57.3% of what school districts had available to spend. State support for public schools has been on a steady decline for a long time now.

Some districts are growing. They need to add to the size of their facilities. Other districts are aging. They need to replace or upgrade their facilities. There just aren’t funds available through the funding formula to meet these needs, so the districts pass bonds through local elections.Many districts also use bond funds to buy buses, which also have an optimal span of usage. As we drive more and more operational costs into our bond projects, meeting these needs becomes more challenging.

Back to the KFOR piece:

Putnam City Spokesman Steve Lindley showed NewsChannel 4 the district’s finances and the “$83 million surplus” the OCPA reported.

About $14 million (which has since shrunk to about $10 million) is available for use in the general fund, he said, though much of it is being saved to pay bills that will be due before property taxes are collected at the end of the year.

Other money is saved in reserves to deal with emergency situations.

“In the financial situation we’re in now, we don’t know what’s coming or when it’s coming,” Lindley said. “We manage our resources very carefully and make the best use of them that we can. And, why would we do anything else?”

Another $11 million was raised with a specific purpose like MAPS or child nutrition or by a specific group like an activity fund or a gift.

That money can not be used for general operations.

And, the lions share of the Putnam City “surplus,” $57 million, are dedicated to paying off voter-approved bond issues.

In other words, just as the Mid-Del figures I provided at the top show, school districts have multiple funds that have very specific purposes. We’re not hiding money from our teachers, and they know it. Either that, or they just don’t understand how school funding works. This statement by Small further illustrates this:

“A lot of our money ends up going more toward bonds and buildings than it does toward teacher salaries,” he said. “Often, school districts are going to voters asking for increased property tax levies for the purpose of bonding instead of for the purpose of teacher salaries.”

The guy in charge at the OCPA should know better. Maybe he does, and this is just his way of sowing the seeds of discord. That seems to be their specialty anyway. If they truly are a public policy research organization, as their website proclaims, I expect better from their research. Maybe that’s why, when a friend sent me the link to Anderson’s post, my browser was reluctant to let me visit the site.

OCPA Not Safe.png

I’m not the only one who has written about this post. My friend Gary Watts, the recently retired chief financial officer for Sand Springs Public Schools, has started a blog that targets the OCPA for misleading the public.

He also dismisses the real concern districts have with managing cash flow in their general funds:  “They don’t seem to understand that the accrual of those expenses incurred but not paid should already have been made.”  I managed a $40+ million budget for an Oklahoma school district for ten years and I don’t know what he means, probably because he doesn’t.  I think his “accrual of those expenses” is referring to encumbrances under Oklahoma law–and yes those expenses, like salaries, are encumbered fully before they are paid.  The problem that Mr. Anderson chooses not to understand is that revenues are also “accrued”, in our language budgeted, before they are received.

Gary, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I can only wonder why Sand Springs was one of the districts in the spreadsheet at the top!

Even The Lost Ogle called out the OCPA. And they did it more beautifully than any of my blogger friends and I could have:

Before we continue, I should probably inform you that the guy who published the article for OCPA is Koch brothers shill Steve Anderson. From 2011 to 2013, he served as a key advisor and state budget director for Kansas governor Sam Brownback…. Under Brownback and Anderson’s regime, the state slashed income taxes for the rich in an attempt to spur economic growth. Sound familiar? As you probably know, the plan backfired. Kansas faced a revenue shortage, made drastic budget cuts to education and transportation, and eventually landed in a recession. Once again, sound familiar?

Same game plan, different latitude.

In reality, the OCPA has one job: to feed the public a narrative that all government spending is bad. They are a non-profit funded by donors, who can write off the donations the same as they would write off donations to St. Jude’s. They exploit any piece of data, no matter how far they have to reach, just to make public education look bad. Their agenda is one in the same with the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

What we see now is just a trickle. It’s that nuisance of a drip leaking from your bathroom faucet. You don’t think much about it, because it really doesn’t cost you much. We just have to get ready for the fire hose now. As state elections approach(run-off elections for now), they will only seek to strengthen their base’s loathing of all things public – especially education. By November, when the penny sales tax is on the ballot, their effort will be relentless.

Cheap Budget Trick

July 31, 2016 Comments off

While the school year and legislative session were both coming to an end in May, one story of budget cuts – and not a public education story – really stuck with me. From KFOR:

The Department of Human Services is freezing a program which helps low-income Oklahoma families pay for child care.

New applications within the child care subsidy program will soon be denied in an effort to save money.

Those who are currently enrolled in the system will not be impacted.

It’s those moms who are currently pregnant or those families who will soon need the financial help who are about to have to figure out a way to do without.

Baylea Brown is a single mom in the Oklahoma City area.

She relies on the state subsidy to help pay for child care for her 9-year-old son, Gavin, who has special needs.

“Because of the subsidy, I can pay my rent. I can pay for food,” she said.

It’s a subsidy that helps low-income Oklahoma families.

But, starting June 1, 2016, the program will be frozen.

“The agency has run out of money this year,” said Sheree Powell, spokesperson for DHS.

NewsChannel 4 obtained an internal memo from DHS.

The memo was sent out earlier this week, alerting employees to the changes that are coming.

The memo states “Due to the ongoing state budget shortfall, DHS will freeze enrollment for the child care subsidy program effective June 1, 2016.”

It goes on to say “Although new applications will not be approved, applicants still have the right to apply for the program and should not be prevented from doing so. However, applicants should be informed that all new applications will be denied. Notice of denial will be mailed to all who apply after the deadline. This decision cannot be appealed. However, if a client requests a hearing on this decision the request should be accepted and forwarded to the DHS Appeals Unit. The Appeals Unit will notify the applicant that the decision cannot be appealed.”

DHS also has concerns.

“Some of the things we’re concerned about is that families won’t be able to find quality child care, or they’ll start leaving their children in unsafe situations, maybe with relatives or friends who really aren’t qualified to care for their children,” Powell said.

Brown’s glad her subsidy is safe, but she knows just how hard life will potentially be for the families who will soon be denied the help.

“That just sounds kind of impossible – to work and to pay bills and to have daycare,” she said.

This is reality for families below the poverty line. Society at-large (me included) wants parents to be able to work. Often the cost of child care is an obstacle. Freezing the subsidy will keep thousands of parents out of the workforce. Remember that the next time you stumble across a conversation in which your friends and neighbors are talking about poor people just wanting handouts. The state has just frozen a program that would help people who are trying to find a place in the workforce.

Another non-education cut from April also has stayed with me. From the Tulsa World:

A state association of health-care providers claims up to 93 percent of Oklahoma nursing homes will cease operating if a 25 percent cut in the Medicaid rate goes into effect, creating a crisis for Oklahoma families and jeopardizing 16,900 jobs.

This could place about 16,800 elderly and disabled patients at risk of being displaced from their nursing homes.

The decision by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to slash the rate came last week as the state slips into a deepening revenue failure, estimated to reach at least $1.3 billion by next fiscal year.

In the past five years, almost $500 million has been cut from the Medicaid program, mostly by reducing rates to health-care providers and restricting services available to SoonerCare members. The past decade has seen about $1 billion in cuts.

The recent rate decrease comes from agency officials anticipating cuts of $64 million in the program needed by the end of June.

This reduces federal matching funds, which will total a loss of $164 million in total state and federal funding for Oklahoma Medicaid. The reduced rate goes into effect June 1.

It may get worse. Agency officials have stated another $100 million reduction may be in store for next fiscal year’s budget.

This story alarmed me mostly because I had no idea how reliant our nursing homes were on state funding. I knew they weren’t get rich schemes for their operators, but I didn’t realize they were functioning that close to the margin between making a small profit and having to close.

I also didn’t realize that SoonerCare had scaled back services so much. My own kids were on SoonerCare when I was a classroom teacher. We also qualified for WIC. Even though this cut is not directly an educational issue, it is probably worth noting that state programs subsidize a number of public employees – education and otherwise.

I mention all of this now because of Governor Fallin’s announcement that she’s interested in having the Legislature return to the Capitol for a special session to discuss teacher raises.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said she is considering calling a special session to ask lawmakers to use excess state funds on teacher raises.

The state recently closed out the fiscal year and had $140.8 million left. The action comes after a revenue failure that resulted in two cuts to state-appropriated agencies.

The cuts were deeper than were needed, said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

“I’ve begun discussions with legislative leaders to consider calling lawmakers to return in special session to address the issue of teacher pay raises,” Fallin said. “I continue to support a pay raise for teachers, having called on lawmakers at the beginning of this year’s session to approve a teacher pay raise.”

In other words, state agencies received cuts that were bigger than what they needed to be. The timing of the announcement, with run-off elections around the corner, and with momentum building for State Question 779 (penny sales tax), is one thing that concerns me. That’s just one thing, though.

The Tulsa World included a graphic with their story showing the amount that would be returned to different state agencies, if the Legislature does nothing.

Agency Rebates.png

Look at that list. Yes, public education would receive $40 million back. Fallin is proposing that our legislators return to the Capitol to make that happen. She’s also asking them to give us the $23 million from health care, $20 million from higher education, $16 million from DHS, and every other penny.. I have a problem with that. Each of those entities serves our students too. Everything on this list is a core function of state government.

There is nothing prudent or conservative about trying to give teacher raises on the backs of these other agencies. Unfortunately, some of our state leaders are pathologically committed to trying to convince us that teacher salaries can increase significantly without generating new revenue.

That brings me to a third objection: this isn’t recurring revenue. In that sense, this idea is nothing more serious than Janet Barresi’s ill-fated 2K4T scheme three years ago. I’m pretty sure we can’t guarantee that the state will more or less forget to allocate $140 million next year too, can we?

Again, this isn’t new money. It’s money that OMES cut in excess of what they had to. According to CCOSA, the cuts were in fact illegal.

“We believe the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services did not have the legal authority to reduce allotments to state agencies based on estimates that the state general revenue fund might fail,” wrote Owens, an attorney. “We respectfully request that the allocations that were unlawfully reduced from the state general revenue fund be immediately returned to the agencies from which they were cut.”

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, who oversees the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said the allegation that the cut was illegal is “as laughable as it is totally wrong.”

“These reductions were made using the same statutory authority and procedures as all other revenue failure reductions in prior years, many of which also wound up being deeper than necessary and also resulted in excess funds being allocated either administratively by this agency or at the discretion of the Legislature,” Doerflinger said. “When this year’s midyear cuts were made, OMES pursued the only lawful avenue given that revenues and oil prices were in a freefall.”

I don’t know about you, but Doerflinger’s defense seems to be that the state budget was in a freefall and they made a guess at how much to cut. I can live with that explanation. Seriously, as someone whose leadership team made a menu of misery not knowing how deeply we needed to cut, I get it.

What I don’t get is the idea that we can somehow get a teacher raise out of this. Governor Fallin has been calling for one since her State of the State address in February, but there has been no movement on any of her revenue-generating ideas (that she somehow doesn’t think are the same thing as tax increases. Her logic pretty much boils down to:

“The Legislature is still being paid and is still on the state payroll now, even those who are term limited out,” Fallin said. “I think they should come back and do their job.”

Based on the quotes I’ve seen in articles and on social media from various legislators, most aren’t thrilled at the idea of returning to the Capitol. Even if they were, they’d have to get that bus off of them first.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoman thinks Fallin’s plan is adequate, and the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs think teachers in Oklahoma are doing pretty well already. I’m not quoting either of them, but the links are there. Look if you want.

My gut tells me there won’t be a special session. The people running for re-election this fall probably don’t want to take money from all the other state agencies and give it to public schools right now. Meanwhile, this will be a small speed bump for the SQ 779 supporters. Unless a genuine and sustainable plan appears from the people who’ve had years to write one, the penny sales tax is still the best option available.

In Defense of the Advocates of the Teacher Caucus

July 30, 2016 Comments off

We’ve spent countless years and dollars in this state trying to measure educator and school effectiveness. It usually comes down to a menu of test scores. If we have more kids passing than those other guys, then we must be better at our jobs than they are.

If only it were that clean.

Unfortunately, variables such as socio-economic status, student mobility, and a district’s ability to generate funding intervene from time-to-time. The fact that our state hasn’t demonstrably shown support for public education in about 10 years doesn’t help either.

Because of these facts, and the reality that tests don’t even come close to measuring all of the things that matter in a school, Oklahoma issues horribly misleading A-F Report Cards to the public. Some who ascribe to the measure it if it matters mindset are content with this. We’re not. We see schools making an impact that their grade doesn’t showcase. We see it frequently.

Some things are easier to measure, however, like the impact of public education advocacy. We can look at the number of legislative races contested and won, bills filed and passed (or defeated), or the percentage of votes it takes for an incumbent to finish third in her own primary. Those are quantifiable.

We’re about at the point now that we can also start counting the number of editorials written by the Oklahoman attempting to discredit those of us pushing for more candidates who will promote a pro-public education agenda. (We would also count blogs opposing us, but we’ve yet to find one that is coherent.)

The Oklahoman has close ties to the former state superintendent. Their editorial board promotes candidates who favor all forms of school choice. They favor the concept of sending tax dollars to private schools and asking for no accountability in return. They favor more state testing and jeer legislative measures aimed at curbing unnecessary tests. They deride calls for adequate public school funding. They think the school report cards mean something.

To be fair, though, when I reached out to them and asked them to publish opposing thoughts on A-F Report Cards (along with another superintendent), they did.

That said, on more than one occasion, they’ve questioned the honesty and ethics of our group – A Facebook group – Oklahomans for Public Education. Yes, the Oklahoman is now writing editorials about Facebook groups.

Our group is led by a board that includes superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents. We picked candidates to support based on the information available to us. In some cases, we have disagreed. Over 2,000 people like the page, but even among the board members we have differences. Politically, we are all over the place. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all part of the group.

We are not single-issue voters, which is one reason that we’ve identified multiple candidates in several races to support. If five people run for a seat, and they all support public education, we have to count ourselves fortunate. At that point, we definitely have different preferences that probably fall back in part to our individual political leanings.

Nor do we have a singular litmus test. If you’re on social media every day pushing for vouchers and school consolidation, we probably didn’t give you an apple. If you’re currently a classroom teacher, you didn’t automatically get one. I can think of several former or retiring teachers with poor voting records on public education issues.

The term Teacher Caucus, isn’t really accurate. I prefer to think of us and the candidates who have put themselves forward as a Rebel Alliance.

crazy flier

Either way, the grouping consists of candidates we believe to hold the same view of public school students and teachers that we do. In short, we believe that the state has failed to meet its obligation to Oklahoma students, the vast majority of whom are in public schools. Funding and respect are nowhere near the levels that our students and teachers, respectively, deserve. Candidates we believe will change that get apples. Period.

As for me personally, I’ll throw in the kicker that if you come across as a demagogue or a bigot, I’m out. I don’t care how you voted on voucher or testing bills.

And when those candidates and their supporters desperately take to the streets to smear, in particular, parents who support their opponents, we’ll comment on the cowardice this reveals.

Our work isn’t perfect. It also isn’t finished. I guess that means the attacks will just get uglier and uglier. Nevertheless, we will continue trying to raise public awareness about the candidates who face run-off elections. We will continue communicating with and about candidates who are on the ballot in November.

Then when that’s finished, we’ll keep working, individually and in groups, with the newly seated Legislature. We’re all grown ups here. I can accept that some of the candidates I prefer will win and that some will lose.

Full Circle Conversation

Without getting into the details, I’ve seen some blog and Facebook posts questioning the group of legislative candidates loosely called the Teacher Caucus. Maybe we can have this conversation in the light of day.

Full Circle

Tomorrow, I’ll be at Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City along with State Representative David Perryman. Among the things we’ll be discussing will be the emphasis on pro-education candidates. Surely we can have a civil, constructive conversation, right?

 

What’s Going On?

When it comes to music, Berry Gordy has proven to be wrong about very few things. He personally started the careers of several of the best R&B performers of all time: Wilson Picket, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, the Commodores, and the Jackson 5, to name a few.

Whats going on

I’ve said before that Stevie Wonder probably is the most talented musician I can name, all around. That said, I also believe nobody from that era had a better voice than Marvin Gaye.

Gordy not only has an ear for music; he also has incredible business sense. The artists he kept on the Motown label had company-approved sounds and looks. Throughout the 1960s, he made sure of this. In 1971, however, Gaye recorded a protest song titled What’s Going On? It didn’t fit the Motown image, and Gordy called it “the worst thing I have ever heard in my life.”

The lyrics are simple. They are a beautiful summation of the social tumult of the late 60s.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh

The song is a plea for understanding. It is a cry for solution. It is a song of war and a song of peace, all at the same time. Marvin Gaye (and the other musicians who contributed to the song) looked at all the people they loved that they were losing to senseless violence, from Watts to Vietnam. And they asked, What’s Going On?

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on brother
Right on babe

The 70s weren’t as kind to Gaye as the 60s had been. Less success. Problems in his personal life. Then in 1982, he finally had another huge hit, Sexual Healing, which led to a Grammy win for him in 1983. It was his first. Then, in 1984, Marvin Gaye was a victim of gun violence – murdered by his own father. He had tried to separate his parents during a domestic dispute. In the wake of his death, the world had to ask the question: What’s Going On?

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
C’mon talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you what’s going on, ooh ooo ooo ooo
Right on baby
Right on baby

Now we watch, 45 years after Gordy relented and finally released What’s Going On to a surprising success. People got it. They still didn’t know what was going on, but they understood the song, and they connected with the idea that we’re not alone out there. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine named What’s Going On the fourth-greatest song of all time. It captures our confusion with its cacophonies and still brings us hope with its powerful beauty.

In 2016, the world still bewilders us. Social media helps us see that we’re not alone in that feeling, but it also helps us see that our hopes and fears are perhaps limited compared to those of others around us. I’ve seen some atrocious statements in the last few days. I’ve read eloquent posts from friends such as Emily Virgin, Dallas Koehn, Shawn Sheehan, and Meagan Bryant.

Meagan, in particular, floored me with her statement. She’s a co-worker and somebody who embodies the culture I hope our district can create. It’s there, in disconnected pieces, but it needs to be something we establish with purpose. Find your calling and pursue it fiercely or something like that.

We have strong and talented young men & women walking the halls of our schools struggling with how people will treat them based on the color of their skin. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who have a calling to go in to public service and struggling with how people will treat them based on the badge they put on. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who are battling with their own identities and struggling with how people will treat them based on their lifestyle. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who struggle with professing their faith. Scared for how they will be treated.

I hate seeing on the news or reading that another unarmed black person has been shot by police. I don’t blame all police, though. I hated what I saw last night, death and despair in Dallas, but I don’t blame peaceful protestors who had the right to assemble.

There’s something good to be said for vigils such as this. It’s a sort of fellowship among the grieving. You can do that – grieve by proxy.

What you can’t do is seek justice by proxy. I can hate those who kill innocents. I can’t seek revenge on them, though, by finding someone who looks like them and/or wears the same uniforms.

I also can’t watch, as I had to this morning in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, white men on Fox News talking amongst themselves about what black communities need. Nor can I read another diatribe by nationally syndicated columnists who type for a living and feel qualified to explain how police training needs to improve.

The police last night wanted peace. So did the protestors. One sniper, who fits into neither group, wanted something different. On the Today Show this morning, Queen Latifah summed up how most Americans feel better than I can:

I’m Queen Latifah, but I’m black wherever I go. I deal with the same experiences that other people deal with. I’m also the daughter of a cop, I’m also the sister of a cop, the cousin of a cop and the niece of cops. I don’t want the guns turned on police any more than I want the guns turned on us.

Most Americans want peace, but every day, every week, we see more violence. And we feel powerless to stop it.

What’s going on?

Who’s Still Here?

I love basketball. I don’t think I should have to prove that statement, but in case you want some evidence, let me introduce you to my children Jordan, Stockton, and Duncan.

IMG_4766

Pictured: No actual basketball players

Yes, my very tolerant wife and I named our children after professional basketball players. Two of their namesakes – Michael Jordan and John Stockton – are already in the Hall of Fame. In the mid-90s, when we chose the names, this was a foregone conclusion. When we named our youngest after Tim Duncan, he was in his third year in the league. I guess there were no guarantees he’d be a Hall of Famer, but it looked pretty certain. Besides, we threw out the name Barkley because it was the dog’s name on Sesame Street.

Not that you asked.

I say all of this today, though, because Twitter and Facebook and everything else under the power of social media have been losing their minds with the announcement that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has signed with the Golden State Warriors. Here are some of my favorite reactions:

There’s uncontrollable grief…

There’s ridding yourself of reminders…

There’s pragmatism…

There’s the bright side of life…

And then there’s the musings of a politician with a who thinks he has a mandate

There’s also this – a tweet for which I refuse to transcribe the responses in my head…

There’s also this, from a friend who has held season tickets since … well, pretty much since the franchise moved here from Seattle:

JPeezy voice of reason.png

The way I look at it is that Durant weighed all the things that matter in his life – most of which we don’t have any way of knowing – and when he placed them on a scale, leaving made more sense than staying.

KD isn’t dumb. He knows that he’s now a supervillain here. He’s also not a jerk. What he says about how much the city and state mean to him is probably true. Still, this is the path he chose. I can’t know all the reasons why (probably the state’s shriveling support for public education), and I wish he had chosen differently, but life will go on.

I still love basketball, but I only make it to a couple of games a year. That will still be true. The Thunder probably won’t be as good as they were with Durant, but things change. I’ll still root for the team. And I still wish Durant well. He brought a lot of pleasure to the city, and that memory sticks around.

Leaving is a part of life. We can say our words and  move on, but moving on means that we embrace and try to thrive with the people who are still here. The Thunder still have (for the time being) Russell Westbrook, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams – not to mention Josh Huestis.


On the other hand, if Durant had stayed, he could have spent more of his free time schmoozing with the Governor:

“If Kevin Durant thinks about leaving, which I hope he doesn’t — Oklahoma loves Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant loves Oklahoma. But if he’ll stay, I’ll make him a Cabinet person for health and fitness on my Cabinet,” Fallin said.

The announcement drew applause from the room, before Fallin noted that a place among her advisers “might not be as attractive as a couple of million dollars.”

It also might not be as attractive as a vice-presidential nomination. Even though the offer was (probably) tongue-in-cheek, the fact remains that Fallin knows she may have options in a potential Trump presidency. A couple of days after the Durant-to-Cabinet comment, she and other governors met with the presumptive Republican nominee.

Fallin’s name has been mentioned in speculation about the vice presidential selection process, but Trump has not contacted her to talk about being his running mate, said Michael McNutt, a spokesman for the governor.

McNutt said one of the other governors arranged the meeting. He didn’t have the names of the other governors in attendance. Fallin has been active in the Republican Governors Association.

If this comes to pass, should we expect the same response in tears? Rending of clothing? Outrage on Twitter?

psych group hug.gif

No, if the governor were to leave Oklahoma to go back to Washington, we would simply swear in the next guy – Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb – and expect him to handle the job with the same aplomb as his predecessor. That’s all you can do. You work with the people who stay, no matter how you feel about the people who leave.


This has been a mindset in public education in our state for a while. We have people leaving for higher-paying jobs in Texas. We also have the ones who stay in the state but move on for what they perceive as greener pastures.

One of the hardest jobs in education is “turning around” a high-poverty school that fails to live up to state and federal testing metrics. Whether it’s the lame duck A-F Report Cards, the extinct API scores, the Annual Measurable Objectives or other acronyms that we use to rank our schools, there’s no question that high-poverty schools have it tougher. Simply put, there are schools with poverty so low that they’re going to appear at the top of the scale – no matter which scale you lose.

This isn’t an excuse, and it isn’t a reason to quit trying. It’s a fact. It’s a fact that should drive us. I’ve seen principals proud of getting a B or C on the report card because of the growth it showed. I’ve seen teachers driven to help the school reach that perfect API score (prior to 2012) in order for the whole staff to get a bonus (if funds were available – which they usually weren’t).

I’ve also seen the principals who worked three, four, five years to create the climate leading to this change pulled out to open new schools, promoted to central office positions, or recruited to other districts. If they stay, they’re always playing defense to keep their best teachers from other principals who would recruit them.

miss you so much it hurts.jpg

I’ve seen bitter battles over a fifth grade math teacher that centered on the ideas of loyalty and timing. How could you leave this group of kids? They need you so much! Or, how can you wait until July to make a move like this? I’ve seen teachers lose friends among their colleagues, anger their principals, and start wars between personnel departments. Usually, these personal conflicts settle calmly, out of the eye of the public.

The critical question here, though, is why do they leave in the first place? Why would you leave a faculty that you joined when things were bad and with a new principal, when you believed in her and helped her turn the school around? Maybe your family situation changed. Maybe the principal left. Maybe you were tired because of all the extra work that went into that school’s success. Sometimes, you’re just spent.

Should we resent teachers who leave under these circumstances? I don’t think so, but then again, I can find friends who disagree. Instead, we hire the people we need to hire, and we try to give them what they need to help the kids who come to them.


Maybe Durant looked at Oklahoma City and he didn’t see a long-term contender. The Utah Jazz were great – near the top every year – when John Stockton and Karl Malone were on the roster. Then they weren’t, and the team collapsed. The San Antonio Spurs have been a playoff team for about 20 years straight now. Having Tim Duncan will do that for you. They also prove that a small-market team can be a winner. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have been irrelevant for several years.


Schools are hard places to work. Some of our teachers leave the profession altogether. Lately, we’ve been seeing this with our support people too. We conduct exit interviews, and we pay particular attention to the staff who take lateral positions in schools that seem just as challenging as the ones they’re leaving. Why? What can we do differently? Is it the leadership? Is it the kids?

By the way, if it’s the kids you’re abandoning, then good riddance. We’re proud of our kids, so good luck wherever you go next.

We look at the information we can observe. We try to make sense of it. In the end, though, we just move on. We’re trying to improve. We have kids to teach. If you’d rather be somewhere else – for whatever reason – that doesn’t change our mission. The Thunder want to win, no matter who is on their team next year. Schools want to teach, no matter who is on the faculty.

For those who choose to show up, I say thank you. If you’ve left, I don’t have time to think about you anymore. I’m just too busy.

And now, #1: It’s for the children.

June 27, 2016 Comments off

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have one day left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.
2. We can’t have nice things.

1. It’s for the children.

Think of the children.jpeg

This has always been the number one reason. It’s why we go to work. It’s why we read books about our profession when nobody is paying or watching us. It’s why we advocate for better funding and policy.

For the children: it’s why more than 30 educators are running for seats in the Legislature this time around. It’s why so many more candidates in all the races have been vetted by pro-public education groups than ever before. It’s why we have Facebook and Twitter arguments about incumbents and challengers, and whether the ones with apples are really that good and the ones with triangles are really that bad.

For the children: It’s why we’ve emailed and called. It’s why we’ve blogged. It’s why we’ve stormed the castle, time after time.

View from Above

For the children: It’s why, no matter how tired and disrespected we feel, we just won’t go away. Some would say that kind of dependability is our fatal flaw. That it’s why things never change.

For a decade, the landscape has declined for us. Less money. More students. More mandates. Finally, something changed. Maybe it was Cyndi Munson and JJ Dossett winning seats that nobody expected them to win. Maybe that’s when so many among us looked around and asked, Why not me?

Maybe that’s when those of us watching comfortably from the sidelines looked around and asked, What can we do to help? We’ve organized and raised money – not much, but enough to help a few campaigns keep going. We’ve used social media as well as we know how. We’ve all chipped in.

Still, the candidates who have put their names forward are the ones who deserve our praise. So many are doing this for the children. Mike Mason. Brian Jackson. Lisa Kramer. Adam Pugh. And many, many more. In some races, I like multiple candidates. What a problem to have, right?

We have more contested primaries than we’ve had in 12 years, and this fall, we’ll have more contested races in the general election than we’ve had in that same span of time. This is as it should be. Races shouldn’t be decided by the fact that one person signed up to run.

The real breadth of the “education caucus” stretches more than 30 people. Those of us supporting them are well-aware that we will win some races and lose some.That’s just politics. Voting means accepting that you don’t always get your way.

To those running: you have my gratitude. For me. For my retired teacher mom. Most importantly, for the children.

 

 

 

Reason #2 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: We can’t have nice things.

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have two days left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.
2. We can’t have nice things.

I was reading Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States recently, and one section in particular really reminded me of the political issues we face in Oklahoma. In the excerpt below, she writes about how the Continental Congress refused to pay for basic supplies for Washington’s troops, leading to a miserable winter at Valley Forge:

Sarah Vowell.jpg

In 1777, the Continental Army was two years old. The officers and politicians suplying the soldiery were no more experienced at getting blankets to the troops than the troops were at standing in a line and fending off Cornwallis and his veteran regulars, fighters well clothed and well fed through an efficient supply system whose kinks had been worked out over generations.

I would like to see the calamity at Valley Forge as just the growing pains of a new nation. It has been a long time since the men and women serving in the armed forces of the world’s only superpower went naked because some crooked towines in upstate New York filched thier uniforms. But there’s still this combination of governmental ineptitute, shortsightedness, stinginess, corruption, and neglect that affected the Continentals before, during, and after Valley Forge that twenty-first-century Americans are not entirely unfamiliar with.

I’m thinking of how the noun “infrastructure” never appears in an American newspaper anymore without being preceded by the adjective “crumbling.” Or how my friend Katherine, a public high school English teacher, has had to pay out of her own pocket for her classroom’s pens, paper, paper clips, thumbtacks.

Is it just me or does this foible hark back to the root of the revolution itself? Which is to say, a hypersensitivity about taxes – and honest disagreements over how they’re levied, how they’re calculated, how that money is spent, and by whom. The fact that the Continental Congress was not empowered to levy taxes was the literal reason for the ever-empty patriot coffers.

 

In other words, we want to complain that we can’t have nice things, but we don’t want to pay to have nice things. It’s something of a sticky wicket.

In Oklahoma, this is why our roads crumble. It’s why our hospitals and nursing homes close. It’s why our schools can’t afford textbooks. We love hearing tax cut and taking our $30. We just don’t think about what that does to the state’s ability to provide for basic services.

None of us supporting those who would buck the system think that the state’s priorities will magically reverse because a few legislative seats change hands. We know that we will always face those who want to send middle class kids to private schools with voucher dollars. They’ve been around for decades. We know we will always face those who want to blame schools for society’s problems. And we know that we will always face outside influences who are funded by the business elite for the very purpose of acting as their mouthpiece.

We also know that we’re in their head. The more and more they focus on thwarting The Blob (as Rob Miller wrote about today), the more emboldened we are. In April, many in power seemed offended, frankly, that teachers would run for office. They’re teachers, after all. They should be at home sowing the patches on the elbows of their tweed and corduroy jackets.

Their opponents don’t think teachers are well-suited to make laws. At the same time, our current senators and representatives feel they are qualified to make policies for teaching and learning. As I’ve said before, I can’t think of another professional board that doesn’t require expertise in the profession for membership. Every member of the state dentistry board is a dentist, right?

They’ve launched third-party attack ads on our candidates.

Loveless really knew nothing about this.jpg

And the incumbents claim to have nothing to do with these.

Notice, by the way, that this is another piece of work by the Carter/Barresi group, Oklahoma Federation for Children.

Finally, there have been several editorials in the Oklahoman that mention the “teacher caucus,” including one this morning:

Many of the challengers have been loosely identified as “teacher caucus” candidates who want to increase state spending on schools, often via tax increases. The group Oklahomans for Public Education has released a list of such candidates. The group has endorsed Democrats and Republicans, but clearly prefers the former to the latter.

In fact, if Democrats endorsed by Oklahomans for Public Education were to consistently win, it’s mathematically conceivable Democrats could regain control of the House of Representatives.

I’m on the board for this group. Our membership mirrors the political makeup of the state: more Republicans than Democrats. Yes, we do want to see more spending for schools. Mostly, we want the cuts of the last 10 years to be restored. It’s so unreasonable.

We have no illusion about flipping the House or Senate to the control of the Democrats. I expect Republicans to have control of the Legislature for a long time. Hopefully, to borrow a phrase from the Tulsa World this morning, the leading faction of the caucus will be rational conservatives, rather than the ones who use phrases such as Republicans in Name Only. 

I still don’t really care what party you pick. I care about who you are and the positions you hold. When it comes to public schools, I want full funding. I want local control. I want teachers to have your respect. It’s pretty simple. Oh, and when state revenues are declining, quit giving away tax credits. Just because things are bad doesn’t mean you can’t make things worse. I believe in you.

Our students and our teachers deserve nice things. All Oklahomans do. They come with a price, though.

 

The School I Choose

January 29, 2013 3 comments

The mantra this week is that parents should get to choose the schools their children attend; that their zip code shouldn’t choose it for them. It’s quite the idyllic belief – that out there, somewhere is the perfect school.

As a parent, I’m still looking. Here’s what I hope to find.

  • I choose a school that values children for the unique individuals they are.
  • I choose a school with a strong, active PTA.
  • I choose a school where the parents of the other children value education as much as I do.
  • I choose a school that has well-paid faculty who are happy to come to work.
  • I choose a school where the teachers receive meaningful professional development and are treated as professionals.
  • I choose a school that teaches all students, regardless of background or ability.
  • I choose a school that has enough technology to prepare my child for the world after school.
  • I choose an elementary school with a safe and exciting playground.
  • I choose a school that can afford a resource officer, even though I live in a community that looks like it would never need one.
  • I choose a school with enough counselors to tend to every child’s social and psychological needs.
  • I choose a school not driven mad by testing.
  • I choose a middle school with teachers who work in teams to help children transition into adolescent learners.
  • I choose a school that offers art, music, PE, and computer instruction at all levels.
  • I choose a school that has a strong collaborative relationship with a Career Tech center.
  • I choose a school that fosters reading for reading’s sake and writing for writing’s sake.
  • I choose a school with every student receiving support to be on grade level in reading and math.
  • I choose a school that doesn’t arbitrarily mandate retention based on flawed tests.
  • I choose a high school that offers a variety of courses that allow students to explore their career possibilities.
  • I choose a school that encourages the study of Current Events.
  • I choose a school that teaches people not to be defined by their mistakes.
  • I choose a school where the parents support their children in sports while also respecting the boundaries between the field and the stands.
  • I choose a school with good breakfasts and lunches.
  • I choose a school that can raise money for band trips and cheerleader uniforms but doesn’t have to for teacher supplies.
  • I choose a school that operates under mandates fully funded by the state.
  • I choose a school focused on children rather than A-F Report Cards.
  • I choose a school with no bullying.
  • I choose a school with board members who listen to the professionals in their district.
  • I choose a school that is a partner with its community.
  • I choose a school where the teachers have manageable class sizes.
  • I choose a school with teachers who will laugh when students properly pull off a flash mob.
  • I choose a school with at least one nurse.
  • I choose a school with at least one librarian.
  • I choose a school with spirit.
  • I choose a school that takes field trips and has class parties.
  • I choose a school with fully-equipped science labs.
  • I choose a school that teaches social studies and civic engagement to all students.
  • I choose a school that values service-learning.
  • I choose a school that has well-maintained buses with comfortable seats.
  • I choose a school with a safe room, a roof that doesn’t leak, and functioning heat and air.
  • I choose a school that encourages participation in Math Counts, Geography Bee, Science Fair, Competitive Speech and Debate, and Robotics.

Maybe I haven’t found the perfect school yet. I haven’t even created the perfect list, I’m sure. I came up with these 40 things in about 15 minutes. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful for the schools my children attend(ed). I know most feel the same way.

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