Yesterday evening, about the time I went to dinner, just from reading the tea leaves following social media, I was convinced that HB 3398 – the Voucher Bill – was going to pass committee. It was either going to be a tie vote with the passing vote broken by House Speaker Hickman, or several of the Republican no votes were going to leave the committee room before the vote was called.
I came back from dinner and was pleasantly surprised. By a vote of 14-8, the bill failed. Here’s the breakdown:
|Mike Christian, Sally Kern, Mark McCullough, Jason Nelson, Tom Newell, Leslie Osborn, Sean Roberts, Colby Schwartz||Don Armes, Mike Brown, Ann Coody, Doug Cox, Lee Denney, Joe Dorman, Chuck Hoskin, Scott Martin, Jeannie McDaniel, Skye McNiel, Jerry McPeak, Richard Morrissette, Eric Proctor, Earl Sears||Lisa Billy, Mike Ritze, Mike Sanders, Weldon Watson, Paul Wesselhoft|
This shows me that the email and phone calls helped. It would be worth reaching out to the people you contacted initially and letting them know you appreciate them listening to you. It’s also why so many of us are planning a field trip to the Capitol on March 31st. As poorly planned as this bill was, it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the funding problems that schools are facing. Add A-F Report Cards, RSA, and Common Core to the frustration being felt in homes and schools, and there will be plenty to discuss.
Let’s also not kid ourselves into thinking that the idea of vouchers is dead. Jason Nelson still believes in sending public funding to private schools and not adding accountability. He has also stated that the only reason he wouldn’t push for all-out vouchers (rather than just based on family income) is because he knows it has no chance of passing. He’s surely not the only one who feels this way, and he’s surely not the only one who has read the ALEC and FEE playbooks.
For now at least, logic prevailed and the majority of our representatives listened to their constituents. For that, we should feel thankful.
The Oklahoman made a splash again this morning with the editorial, Conspiracies, anecdotes no substitute for analysis. The title itself is the deepest part of the piece, but let me quote from it anyway:
Consider a recent Owasso forum focused on education. At that event, some attendees complained about a new law requiring retention of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level or lower, based on state tests. The fact that children should be taught to read should be obvious, yet the law still has detractors.
Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, has filed legislation to allow parents, teachers and local school board members to socially promote students even when tests show a child is far behind classmates. Nollan’s argument for her bill rested, in part, on an anecdote. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test,” Nollan said. “This is an 8-year-old.”
Think about that: The justification given for changing a major state law is that a single child out of roughly 50,000 third-grade students in Oklahoma once vomited during testing. The law of averages suggests this scenario happens at schools every day across Oklahoma, regardless of whether testing is ongoing. That child could have simply been sick, or other factors may have induced stress. Yet that isolated instance is pointed to as justification for watering down efforts to teach children to read.
To politicians, anecdotes are the gold standard. Without them, we wouldn’t have the Merry Christmas Bill, the Pop Tart Gun Bill, or so many more of the fabulous entries into our state’s legislative record. Just think back to any presidential debate from the past 20 years. Every candidate has cherry-picked someone’s tale of woe and made it the symbol of what’s wrong with this country.
In this case, however, I’m siding with the politician. I have seen the increase in anxiety. I have seen the students crying after their benchmark tests. I have seen teachers whipped into a frenzy over the fear that in spite all their efforts, a student will have a bad test day and they won’t have the documentation to promote the child anyway.
Selective story-telling isn’t limited to politicians, by the way. The editorialists at the Oklahoman missed the big ideas from the parent meeting. Fortunately, the journalists at the Tulsa World were on hand to do something resembling reporting.
Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…
Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.
Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.
“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.
After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she has heard that as many as 4,000 third-graders could be retained this year. Robison said state officials estimate that about 12 percent of the state’s third-graders would be in danger of retention.
“Overtesting, teaching to the test, high-stakes testing all has been detrimental,” said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test. This is an 8-year-old.”
She said she has introduced a bill that allows for a team of parents, teachers and principals to decide after remediation whether a child should be promoted to the fourth grade.
“We’re really hoping to put it back into your hands to make the decisions,” Nollan said. “The people on the front lines are the best people to make the decision as to whether a child should be retained or promoted.”
The story, when told in full, is much more interesting. The key word here is parents. It’s not just teachers and administrators who hate the mandatory retention law; it’s parents too. Even ones who should have no concerns about how this will impact their children are unnerved. The Oklahoman believes parents should hold the schools accountable for wasting the time of all students by doing the portfolios (which of course are one of the good cause exemptions – and something REAC3H coaches are training districts to complete under the watch of the SDE). On a greater level, what parents should really demand is that we quit wasting such an insane amount of time on high-stakes testing. And by time, I also mean tens of millions of dollars a year.
During a Q&A with KFOR in Oklahoma City yesterday (questions = softballs & answers = blame teachers), Superintendent Barresi did everything the Oklahoman editorial decries. She discussed her sons’ struggles with reading (anecdotal evidence). And she blamed all of the adults for creating the anxiety being felt by Oklahoma’s students.
To that end, I’d agree with her. I just think she’s blaming the wrong adults.
Fortunately, some of the grown ups in Oklahoma City have been listening to parents. Yesterday, the House Education Committee advanced two bills that would provide more options to parents of third graders in lieu of retention. The only two who voted no on each bill were Sally Kern and Jason Nelson. I’ll let that fact speak for itself.
You may have heard that HB 3398 – the voucher bill – was laid over yesterday. That means the House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear it today (on the schedule for 11:30). Yesterday, I posted three questions I hope committee members will ask the bill’s sponsors. Today, I pose two more.
- Will this bill really help children in poverty change schools? The numbers don’t lie. Private school education isn’t cheap. A voucher won’t be the tipping point for low-income families. It might help some middle-income families, but not very many. Also, for many of the families in urban areas, additional barriers such as transportation will come into play.
- What can we do to make public schools more attractive to the public? That’s the real issue here. It’s easy to talk about giving parents choices, but law after law limits what parents can choose for their children within public schools. I wrote a post over a year ago titled The School I Choose, which outlines the qualities that I believe most parents want in a school. Generally, I believe public schools provide more of these qualities than private schools do. There are exceptions both on the public and private end, however. I acknowledge that. Some of the missing elements are due to ever-increasing unfunded mandates. That is within the legislature’s control to change.
The House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear HB 3398, creating Oklahoma Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) today. Here are three questions I hope they ask.
- How many Oklahoma students currently attend public school on a transfer outside of the school district in which they reside? One of the big talking points of the bill’s sponsors is that children should not be limited by their zip code. I’ve even heard Jeb Bush say this on multiple occasions. The committee should do a little fact-finding. To what extent are transfers allowed, and to what extent are they denied? Ask the bill’s sponsors what their personal experience is with transferring children to a district other than the one in which they pay property taxes.
- Why does the bill preclude the state from extending assessment and accountability to any private schools receiving students on a voucher? Our state superintendent loves to say that measuring is caring – or something like that. The bill’s sponsors vote for every test and accountability system that comes before them, no matter what experiences other states have tried with them. Why can’t the state – if it’s going to spend money in private schools – determine the quality of the investment?
- If this measure is about parental choice, why not just listen to parents who are furious over the reforms the state is handing down to public schools? Whether it’s the Common Core, Reading Sufficiency, A-F Report Cards, or increasing the time, cost, and importance of testing, parents’ opinions have not been heard. Overall, people tend to like the schools their children attend. This would probably be more true if the policy makers would listen to parents and educators.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no fan of vouchers. Call them Education Savings Accounts, or anything else; all they do is take money from public schools and put them into private schools – with no accountability. Since you’ve already heard from me on this subject, here’s today’s notice from CCOSA:
EDUCATION ACTION ALERT – VOUCHERS (HB3398)
HB 3398 by Representative Jason Nelson (R-OKC) and Representative Tom Newell (R-Seminole) creates the Oklahoma Education Savings Account (ESA) Act. If passed, Oklahoma would become the second state in the nation, behind Arizona, to have Education Savings Accounts. ESA’s are accounts for eligible students to pay education expenses incurred through enrollment in a non-public school settings. To be eligible, a student must commit to withdraw from enrollment in a public school in Oklahoma AND meet certain income requirements as set forth in the bill.
CALL TO ACTION
Today’s editorial in the Oklahoman (side note – wondering how many blog posts I’ve started that way) questions HB 2642 by Representative Lee Denney which would increase earmarked funding for education by $57 million this year and $575 million annually by 2023. The paper finds multiple flaws with this plan:
Schools, by the way, already get directly apportioned money off the top. That sum has increased from about $1 billion in 2004 to $1.4 billion this year. A similar effort significantly improved transportation funding, but there are important differences. For one thing, lawmakers truly neglected transportation for decades. The 2005 state appropriation was virtually unchanged from 1985 — and the condition of Oklahoma roads proved it.
In comparison, public schools are typically a top legislative priority. The $575 million increase Denney seeks over 10 years may sound impressive, but the Legislature increased school funding by $524 million in just four years between 2005 and 2009 — even as income taxes were cut. Recent years have seen some reductions to state school funding, but that action was forced by the national recession, not legislative hostility.
Furthermore, schools aren’t solely reliant on state funds. Districts’ local tax revenues have increased substantially since 2008. The amount districts carried over at the end of each fiscal year has surged 67 percent, rising from $460 million to $771 million from 2007 to 2013. Denney’s proposal would put school spending increases on autopilot, regardless of actual need, increased local funding or whether existing funds are being used efficiently. This would likely force discretionary budget cuts elsewhere, such as public safety, even when total revenues increase.
During the last six years, it’s been hard to argue that public schools have been the top legislative priority. Taxes have been a higher priority. Social bills that spur expensive legal challenges before being overturned by the courts have been a higher priority. In fact, the last two legislative sessions, since I’ve been watching closely as a blogger, education funding hasn’t been set until nearly the last minute.
The local funding argument also doesn’t hold water. In 2008, state funding accounted for 53% of all district revenue, while local funding produced 35%. By 2012, the splits were 48% and 39%. I don’t have the 2013 and 14 numbers, but the trend has moved in this direction for more than a decade. Yes, education saw a surge of funding in the middle of the last decade. This was after another downturn in 2002-04. Meanwhile, enrollment continues its steady growth and legislative mandates continue to skyrocket. Additionally, because of SQ 766, school districts have already started feeling the loss of local tax revenue, to the tune of $60 million annually – $23 million for AT&T alone (which should be used to help their network quit dropping calls).
The most insulting part of the editorial was the use of the phrase regardless of actual need. The SDE recognizes that the teacher shortage being felt in many parts of the state right now is only going to get worse. Although Janet Barresi’s recommendations are a mix of good ideas (restoring the Teacher Residency Program) and bad ones (increasing the pipeline from non-traditional workforce pipelines, such as TFA), they show that she’s paying attention to the problem. Superficially, so does her 2K4T campaign gimmick. Yes teachers deserve a raise. Yes, some districts have large carryovers right now. Some don’t, however. Bleeding your reserves dry is not a sustainable strategy for improving teacher morale (which Marisa Dye explains extremely well).
Many legislators are starting to grasp the severity of the problem. Yesterday, two bills increasing teacher pay were passed out of committee. This would cost about $237 million annually. That’s more than the Fallin budget, which offers no specific details. That’s more than the Barresi budget, which has way too much money tabbed for programs outside of the funding formula. Pat Ownbey from Ardmore has an idea of how to pay for this.
The source of funding would be a tax break on horizontal drilling. When the tax break was granted by the state, horizontal drilling was seen as an experimental endeavor. To stimulate drilling, a 7 percent tax on production was dropped to 1 percent. Ownbey said the tax break is scheduled to expire this year. A tax of one percent gives the state $332 million.
“If we negotiated somewhere in between one and seven percent, we would have enough to take care of the teachers and some of the state workers that have not received a pay increase,” Ownbey said. “The tax break was given over a period of time so they could experiment with horizontal drilling, and it worked. It has done a great job, but the period of experimentation is over. It is not like we are running up taxes.”
Ownbey said Texas charges 6 percent and South Dakota charges 11 percent. Former Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) is in favor of making the tax break permanent to encourage drilling, but Ownbey said new House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) has not closed the door on the issue.
“We have infrastructure we are not taking care of,” Ownbey said. “I talked to the speaker to see where he stood on it, and he is not closing the door on it. My thoughts, on what he told me, are that it is an issue worth looking at it.
“The companies are coming to Oklahoma because the oil is in the ground. We need to look at this revenue as revenue we can invest in our infrastructure.”
The money is there, and somebody has a plan for making it available where it’s needed. This is where the legislature needs to focus. It might not be what the Oklahoman wants, but maybe that means we’re getting somewhere.
In case you haven’t heard, the SDE’s assistant superintendent for accountability and assessments will vacate her position March 14. Although the testing program has not run all that smoothly under Maridyth McBee’s watch, the timing of this change is a concern for those in school districts who manage testing, which starts on April 10. Two pieces of news should be of tremendous comfort, however.
First is that the SDE has a seasoned veteran of testing at the ready to serve in an interim capacity. From the Tulsa World:
[SDE Director of Communications Phil] Bacharach said Wes Bruce, a nationally recognized consultant in the field who has been working with the department since before McBee’s decision, agreed to expand his role in assessments in the interim.
“We do anticipate a smooth transition,” he said. A national search is already underway for her successor. and Bacharach said there are some strong candidates in the field.
Bruce is the former chief assessment officer for the Indiana Department of Education under former Superintendent Tony Bennett, who lost the election in 2012 for another term.
Bennett then became Florida’s education commissioner. He resigned less than eight months later amid accusations that he changed the state’s A-F grading formula to raise the grade of a charter school backed by influential Republican donors. Bruce retired last fall under Bennett’s successor, Glenda Ritz.
Let’s recap the connections here. Bennett is one of Barresi’s closest political allies. What she and her supporters (to the extent that they exist apart from her own checkbook) don’t copy from Florida, they copy from Indiana. Faced with a testing debacle nearly identical to Oklahoma’s at the exact same time, Ritz – an actual educator – held the testing company accountable in a meaningful way.
What led the SDE to decide we needed Bruce on our payroll is unclear. But it’s a good thing he saw fit to pack up and leave his home and put his skills to work for another state.
Bacharach said Bruce does not live in Oklahoma. “But under terms of his agreement with SDE, he is here for a number of days each month and is in routine contact via Skype, email, etc.,” he said.
It is unclear whether that will continue under his interim leadership.
Well that’s different. This guy is phoning Skyping it in. But he has close ties to PARCC, which helps because…oh wait, it’s not. We pulled out of PARCC.
Still, this is only temporary. Bacharach also said a national search is already underway for McBee’s permanent replacement. By already underway, of course, they mean on back channels. Currently, no job posting appears on the Careers at SDE page.
Maybe they’re trying to find the right words to use in the job description. If that’s the case, allow me to help. That is what I’m known for, after all.
Assistant State Superintendent for Accountability and Assessments
Under general supervision from the State Board of Education (SBE) and with diligent collaboration with Oklahoma school district personnel, effectively lead the state testing program in accordance with all state and federal laws, always maintaining the best interest of students.
Examples of Work Performed
I looked at a posted position for the formatting, but the language definitely reflects my own preferences. This probably has more boxes that a school district would check than what a state agency under the indirect control of Chiefs for Change would check. In short, I hope the person who replaces McBee on a permanent basis is not a Jeb Bush/Tony Bennett/Janet Barresi crony. I’m hopeful we can find an Oklahoma educator with a strong testing background.
And of course, I wish Dr. McBee well in her post-SDE life.