Archive for May, 2014

June Starts Now

Following the Legislature’s override of Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 (and Superintendent Barresi’s comically awful response to it), I took a little break. I’ve even had a few questions about this. Yes, there have been a few tweets or retweets, but I really have been focusing on other things. I need to recharge from time to time.

That time is over. We have 24 days until the election primaries in Oklahoma, and whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, much is at stake. There is a real possibility that the incumbent in the superintendent race loses her primary. There is also a possibility that she doesn’t. That is why we have to know enough about all the candidates to make an informed decision.

I decided a while ago that I would not make an explicit endorsement on my blog, and I’m sticking to that. Just the same, I’m with the thousands of Oklahomans who will not vote to re-elect Barresi under any circumstance (or her maiden name). Now that the legislature is not in session and school is out across Oklahoma (except in a few places), I’m going to spend the next three weeks or so reminding readers about the ways she has treated schools, educators, and students with complete and utter disrespect.

That probably means I should watch her campaign ad that I’ve heard so much about on social media.

Ok, I just did. Yowza!

In the opening, the impressive voice-over man asks, Who can we trust to defend our values? and then proceeds to use the word conservative three times in the 30 second spot (cue the lesson on loaded language now).

Which conservative values are those? Violating student privacy laws? Insulting teachers? Writing off entire regions of the state? Re-hiring CTB last year after their colossal SNAFU? Her own agency’s mishandling of the school report cards?

He says Barresi cut millions from her own budget. Actually, the legislature did most of that. Whatever she has cut, I would bet we could find quite a few school districts that have cut more – none of which was by choice.

He says she took on the liberal unions and education bureaucrats. If by took on, you mean, hired the OEA’s top lobbyist and made him her Chief of Staff, then I’m with you. In actuality, her staff would never have been able to make any headway with implementing the Common Core and teacher evaluation reforms she cherishes without the OEA and CCOSA. The SDE partnered with their staff and even used their facilities for key meetings with these initiatives. At the same time, when she has needed the appearance of stakeholder input, she has brought representatives groups of teachers and administrators together, only to disregard their advice.

Janet Barresi does not represent or protect Oklahoma values. That she is a reformer is probably the truest statement in the ad. As I’ve pointed out many times before, she’s following the playbook of Jeb Bush and his Foundation, with a little help from the Koch brothers and ALEC. She’s trying to tell us what our values are, but she shows no interest in hearing from Oklahoma parents or teachers.

We have 24 days. Know the options.

Veto Override & the Power of #oklaed

This afternoon, both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature voted to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, which amends the Reading Sufficiency Act.  The vote in the House was 79-17. In the Senate it was 45-2.

Many parents and educators lobbied for today’s action, even after Fallin waited until nearly midnight to officially notify the House of the veto she had announced hours earlier at a press conference. In the end, only a few changed their votes. Before the veto, the combined tally had been 132-7 in favor of the bill. Today, it was 124-19. Maybe the governor, the state superintendent, and their friends at the Oklahoman and OCPA can take solace in the fact that they nearly tripled their vote count from before. Even U.S. Senate candidate T.W. Shannon bothered to show up to vote today.

On the other hand, maybe those supporting the veto were feeling a little sour after the vote. In particular, Superintendent Barresi took the news badly.

Barresi has been a strong supporter of leaving the reading law unchanged. In a statement issued by her office, she said children must be able to read and that “today’s action is a pathetic and outrageous step back and returns us to a failed system of social promotion that has served the education establishment and little else.”

“I applaud Gov. Fallin for her steadfast support of our children. Her veto was absolutely the right thing to do, and the Legislature’s override of it was absolutely the wrong thing to do.”

Pathetic and outrageous. Let that sink in for a minute. This is what we’ve been dealing with since January 2011. Our public education system is being run by someone who thinks that those who oppose her are pathetic and outrageous. She thinks that all ideas that don’t align with hers (or Jeb Bush and ALEC) only serve the education establishment. If she had managed somehow to fit an excoriation of liberals in there and blamed the override on Obamacare, she would have hit for the cycle.

I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely sick of Barresi treating us this way. I am sick of being invited to serve on commissions that only convene to ratify decisions that were made in advance. I am sick of the lies she tells about special education students. I am sick of her using our students and teachers as campaign props. In short, I am just completely sick of the disrespect she continually shows us.

And I’m not just speaking as a proud member of the education establishment. I’m speaking as a voter – one who is also sick of the way the governor has treated us. Meanwhile, I’m happy to say that 124 members of the legislature showed that they are listening to their constituents.

Tonight, long-time blog reader, Twitter friend, and Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Hime made an observation about the power of social media activism over these last several months.

He’s right, too. I remember those discussions, trying to decide how we would tag our conversations about education in this state. For about the first 10 months that I blogged and tweeted, I don’t think I used many hashtags, if any at all. After we decided upon the #oklaed label, I often forgot to include it in the box for how new blog posts would appear on Twitter. It took a while for it to sink in. Now, when I go to Twitter, the first thing I usually do is search #oklaed to see if I’ve missed anything.

What we’ve become is a community that gets together on Sunday night to chat – one that includes teachers, administrators, and parents. We even have SDE staff using the hashtag. Yes, the community has dissonance, but that’s what makes it whole. It’s not one unified voice. About the only thing we all agree upon is the idea that voices mustn’t be silenced.

In the last two days, Fallin and Barresi have shown who they really are. And their voices deserve to be heard too. They just should accept that there are other opinions that will sometimes prevail.

Pathetic and outrageous? I can think of at least ten more appropriate adjectives to describe the override.

  • Appreciated
  • Decisive
  • Reassuring
  • Impressive
  • Insightful
  • Thoughtful
  • Conscientious
  • Compassionate
  • Sensible
  • Clearheaded

If Barresi didn’t like today’s vote, I wonder what words she will use when she loses her party’s primary in 34 days.

Shame Squared

Yesterday, Governor Fallin announced at 3:30 p.m. that she would veto HB 2625, the measure that gives teachers and parents a voice in third-grade retention decisions.  If you’re angry about this decision, prepare to be angrier. Next she apparently took a victory lap back to her office as legislators stayed in session, waiting for the opportunity to override her. Last evening, she made it clear that she would stall as long as possible.

Emily Virgin

Fallin’s petulance only delays the inevitable. The House will vote today to override her veto. Then they will send the measure to the Senate. I don’t know what would have changed in the last 10 days that might reverse the combined 132-7 mandate from before.

Fallin is using our third-graders as political pawns. She spent yesterday morning calling teachers heroes. Now she is showing how little she trusts them. It’s one of the most two-faced acts I’ve ever seen.

Call or email your representative and senator. Then pick at least five more and contact them as well. As for the governor, last week I suggested sending her a pen. This week, we should think of something else to give her.

Oklahoma House Directory

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Shame on Governor Fallin!

Towards the end of my weekend post in which I called upon Governor Fallin to sign HB 2625 into law, I asked the following question:

What does a combined vote of 132-7 from the state legislature mean, if not that the will of the people is clear?

Those are the numbers: 89-6 in the House, and 43-1 in the Senate.

This afternoon, Mary Fallin announced that she had vetoed HB 2625. She claimed it would “gut” the Reading Sufficiency Act. The opposite is true. Everything in the RSA would remain. Added to the fold would be a committee that includes the child’s teacher and a parent. The committee would have to be unanimous in recommending promotion for a third-grade student who did not pass the test or meet one of the six “good cause” exemptions. In quite a few cases, the student would still have been retained.

She threw around the usual trite nonsense at her press conference. Remediation. Prison. Poverty. She said the law protects special education students and English Language Learners. She’s either a really good liar, or she’s spent even less time in schools than I thought.

Starting early this afternoon, those following the legislation were anticipating on Twitter what Fallin might do.


After she announced the veto, reaction was swift and fierce.


One other thing is important to remember. Fallin is the current chair of the National Governor’s Association, which actually has written about how states should approach third grade retention policies (p. 38).

In the case of Florida, the retention policy is part of a multi-pronged strategy that reformed teacher preparation and certification requirements, professional development, intervention strategies, and education funding policies. For example, over the last decade, Florida retrained elementary school teachers on evidence-based strategies to teach reading and further reinforced the training through reading coaches in low performing schools. During a five-year period, with support from federal funds, the state provided professional development workshops based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel to all 35,000 K-3 teachers. In 2005, the state legislature established a research-based reading instruction allocation as a permanent categorical aid in the state’s school funding formula. These funds are allocated to districts each year to support development and implementation of districts’ research-based reading plans and to pay for reading coaches, particularly for low performing schools.

State leaders considering a retention policy should use caution in selecting assessment instruments to ensure they are valid and reliable for the purpose of such decisions. Policymakers should also weigh the costs and benefits: While retention may reduce the costs of remediation later on, the policy incurs the immediate cost of an extra year of schooling for retained students. Finally, looking down the road, both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are developing K-12 assessments that are aligned to the CCSS and have higher cut scores for reading proficiency. The implementation of these assessments, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014, is likely to dramatically increase the number of third-graders deemed reading below grade level, and state policymakers should consider – and prepare for – the ramifications of a retention policy under these new assessments.

Did we tie substantial funding to the retention law? No. Did we make professional development available? More of late, but the coverage is sparse. Did we use caution in selecting reliable and valid instruments. No. Did we consider the impact of the impending switch to next generation assessments? Not at all.

Fallin simply followed the ALEC-approved, Jeb Bush-certified playbook. She provided political coverage for Janet Barresi. She refused to listen to the parents and teachers who know the impact of this decision to a far greater extent than she. Rob Miller aptly identifies what’s happening here as hubris.

There is one hope left. The legislature has to override the veto. Call your representative and senator. Hell, call them all. Email them. Do whatever you can. There are 7,970 children depending on you.

Oklahoma House Directory

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Budget Deal Changes Nothing

The governor and legislative leaders were proud to announce on Friday that they had reached a tentative budget deal for the 2014-15 fiscal year (FY15). Rob Miller had a good summary earlier on his blog.

On Friday, we learned that legislative leaders had reached a tentative budget agreement with the Governor’s office. Based on the figures released, total appropriations for FY2015 will be about $7.121 billion.

This includes an increase of about $80 million for common education—$40 million of which will go to the funding formula and the rest used to offset increases in employee Flexible Benefits Allowances (FBA). Additional appropriations of about $35 million are also in place for Ad Valorem (property tax) reimbursements.

For historical perspective, remember that appropriations for common education in the FY2010 budget totaled $2.572 billion, or 36.4% of the $7.063 billion state budget. With the new budget deal, common education will get approximately $2.48 billion from a budget pie of $7.121 billion, or about 34.8%. Note that even with the increased appropriations, state funding for common education in FY2015 will continue to lag about $100 million behind FY2010 figures, with at least 35,000 additional students.

It seems that I have to write something similar every year, but the added funding is a pittance compared to what we’ve lost. Here’s what I wrote last year at about this time.

From FY09 to FY14, the funding formula specifically has lost over $198 million. Restoring this amount would fund roughly 3,366 teaching positions. Unfortunately, even if all $74 million in new common education funding went into the formula, it would barely make a dent. That’s why everybody from administrators to teachers to school board members to parents is frustrated that the allocation includes a mere $21 million for the formula.

We’re pretty much in the same place now. Adding $80 million back to the common education budget helps, even if only half will go back into the formula.  I haven’t seen a spreadsheet showing exact figures yet, but based on what the SDE released last May, and adding $40 million into the formula, the seven year trend looks like this.

Fiscal Year Funding through the Formula Students
FY08 $1,992,584,507 641,721
FY09 $2,035,970,233 644,777
FY10 $1,882,300,431 654,542
FY11 $1,754,757,581 659,615
FY12 $1,816,091,355 666,150
FY13 $1,816,091,355 673,190
FY14 $1,837,579,777 681,578
FY15 $1,877,579,777* 688,221*


The second column above shows that we schools have still not recovered from pre-recession levels. While formula funding will be at a five-year high, student enrollment will be higher (using average yearly growth for the sake of a projection) too, to the count of an additional 46,500 students.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator for Consumer Price Index, we can see that the funding situation is even more severe than what these numbers show. A dollar in 2014 has about 91 cents buying power, in 2008 dollars. Here’s another way to look at where these cuts have left us.

Fiscal Year Per Pupil Formula Funding Per Pupil Funding in 2008 Dollars
FY08 $3,105.06 $3,105.06
FY09 $3,157.63 $3,168.90
FY10 $2,875.75 $2,839.44
FY11 $2,660.28 $2,546.32
FY12 $2,726.25 $2,556.56
FY13 $2,697.74 $2,493.30
FY14 $2,696.07 $2,448.50
FY15 $2,728.16 $2,477.65

School districts, since 2008, have lost about 20 percent of their buying power. I would argue that the cost of textbooks, technology, and transportation has increased at an even greater rate than this. Meanwhile, mandates and class sizes keep rising. As I’ve said on many occasions, those who favor school choice seem hell-bent on creating a public school system that none of us would select. Art, music, and PE in the elementary schools continue to lose time. Computer labs are more utilized than ever, but usually for the test prep program du jour, rather than the research and code writing that our tenuous state standards require.

High school students, more than ever, have fewer electives available to them. Considering all the rhetoric claiming that we need to make students both college and career ready, we sure have made the path for students to take Career Tech classes in high school harder with all of the different graduation requirements that the state has added. At all levels, testing drives hiring, instruction, spending, and decision-making. It should be what’s best for children that drives our decisions.

If the state of Oklahoma wants schools to be test-prep factories devoid of the innovation and relationship-building skills that our best teachers have always carried into the classroom, this is the blueprint for doing so. The ALEC term for this is starving the beast. That’s what the numbers show is happening. Rob astutely placed the “new” $80 million in the context of the overall state budget.

The state government is paying a smaller percentage of the cost of public education than at any time in recent memory. Yet they’re increasingly taking local control away from schools. While the $80 million is better than nothing, all it really does is give politicians cover during an election year. I refuse to be overjoyed.

Categories: Uncategorized

Pen Drive for the Governor!

All of us who’ve been in public education for a while have been through any number of causes that materialize as drives – food drives, toy drives, book drives, fitness drives, to name a few. Today, while reading through the assorted commentary on Twitter, thanks to @JacksonGirl79 I had a wonderful idea for a new drive.

I hadn’t thought about this possibility, but maybe the reason – nearly a week after the House passed HB 2625 by a vote of 89-6 (after a 43-1 vote in the Senate) – that Governor Fallin hasn’t signed the people’s revisions into law yet is that she doesn’t have a pen. After all, we know that the Capitol is crumbling. Perhaps the executive branch supply closet is sealed off from her staff as a bio-hazard  right now.

Maybe supplies aren’t the problem at all. Perhaps she’s listening to Janet Costello Barresi (who is also now signing with all three initials) and her incessant lobbying to get the governor to veto the bill.

Since the recipient list is redacted, I suppose we should submit an Open Records Request to retrieve it. After all, snooping into the emails of your political opponents is all the rage these days. And by the way, the word you were trying to spell there is spread, not spred.

The email pictured in that tweet refers to an editorial that ran in the Journal Record this week. In the piece, OCPA “Distinguished Fellow” and OCU law professor Andrew Spiropoulos opines about why the governor should veto the bill. Spoiler alert – it’s because we’re all liars.

Lying has become a foundation of our state and national education policy, however. Our leaders lie when they say that these students are being held back because they just didn’t do well enough on one test. No, the law gives them multiple ways of demonstrating they can read, including submission of a portfolio of work or a sufficient score on another test. All that is being asked of the students is that, at the end of third grade, they show that they can read at above a first-grade reading level. A proficient third-grader, never mind fourth-grader, is reading and writing about the novels of Roald Dahl and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The students who are failing stumble through Corduroy or The Cat in the Hat. These students are not failing tests because they are nervous. They are failing tests because they can’t read the questions.

What is especially painful is that this debacle demonstrates that we have managed to elect people who have no clue about what it means to be a conservative. If forced to put it most simply, I would say the main difference between modern liberalism and conservatism is that liberals believe people are naturally good and corrupt society is responsible for their failings. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that human nature is a complex mixture of the good and bad. Most of us want to do the right thing, but are overly influenced by our passions, especially self-interest. We need the help of institutions, including faith, community and the law. If left to our own devices, we will lie to ourselves, even if it harms our children.

This law is a noble and necessary attempt to stop the lies. It tells parents and schools that, at some point, the community can’t allow you to pretend anymore.

Actually, he cites two reasons. In addition to educators (who don’t actually make education policy) being liars, modern Republicans aren’t conservative enough. Truthfully, labels don’t matter to me. You can call yourself a conservative, moderate, liberal, or whatever. If you consistently do the right thing for kids, you have my undivided attention. If you consistently do the wrong thing for kids, I notice that too.

Surely Fallin isn’t listening to OCPA – a group dedicated to the destruction of public education – over parents and teachers. What does a combined vote of 132-7 from the state legislature mean, if not that the will of the people is clear?

For a week now, we’ve been calling Fallin’s office. Her voicemail has been filled, and emptied, and filled again. We’ve been emailing. We’ve been doing everything possible to let her know that HB 2625 matters. If Barresi believes that a veto will “save reading,” as if those of us who have actually taught want to kill it. If Fallin signs the bill, third graders will still be retained – but not without a meeting with parents first. What we gain, while still emphasizing reading, is an opportunity to consider things that the flimsy good cause exemptions don’t.

I’m sticking with the pen theory. And I think we should send them to her now. And maybe some Clorox wipes for whatever that is running down the walls.

The Office of Governor Mary Fallin

Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 212
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

About the FBA Redistribution

Once again yesterday, we caught a glimpse of what happens when the state superintendent of public instruction doesn’t understand school finance…or schools for that matter.

Supt. Barresi directs OSDE to use remainder of activities funds  for teachers’ health insurance

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 14, 2014) – As the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has not yet received a supplemental appropriation for teachers’ health insurance premiums, known as the Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA), state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi has directed OSDE to use what remains in the schools’ activities funds to pay for the health insurance of Oklahoma’s fulltime district employees.

“This action effectively depletes available funds left in the schools’ activities fund for the current fiscal year, but we must take care of our teachers,” Barresi said. “On top of everything else, our school districts must cover health insurance for their fulltime employees. These increased costs, which are in part a consequence of Obamacare, needed to be addressed.”

The distribution of funds for FBA means that for the remainder of FY 2014 there will be a marginal reduction in funds for alternative education, Oklahoma Parents as Teachers (OPAT) program and professional development. Districts have the budgetary flexibility to move dollars to these programs, Barresi said.

Districts today are being notified of the situation, but the action is pending final approval by the State Board of Education at its May 22 meeting.

The FBA provides funding to districts to cover the cost of insuring eligible certified and support personnel. Based on data certified Jan. 1, districts have had an increase of more than 1,300 teachers and other fulltime employees eligible for state-funded insurance since January 2013.

FY 2014 funds for the Reading Sufficiency Act and the ACE initiative, both critical education reforms, were provided in full to school districts earlier this year.

There are multiple issues at play here, but before I get to those, I should probably explain a couple of terms:

Flex Benefit Allowance (FBA) – Part of the funding school districts receive each year is designated to cover the health insurance costs of teachers and other school employees. Most school years, the SDE asks for a supplemental appropriation to cover the cost of premium increases.

Activities Budget – On this spreadsheet explaining the SDE’s budget request for the 2014-15 school year, the third bold line is the total of the activities budget. This includes a number of programs, such as the ones mentioned in the SDE bulletin. The three specifically that she’s cutting (Alternative Education, Oklahoma Parents as Teachers, and Staff Development) account for about $19.2 million of the activities budget. For some programs, such as ACE and RSA, districts receive their entire allocation in one lump sum near the beginning of the school year (more towards the middle this year). For these three, however, districts receive four equal allocations.

This decision by Superintendent Barresi means that districts won’t get their fourth payment for these three activities. Essentially, she is saying that districts can take the money they haven’t spent and move it into the FBA line to cover unmet expenses there.

There are three fundamental problems with this.

  1. This gives the legislature a free pass on taking care of a shortfall, amounting to a last-minute budget cut to districts.
  2. Some districts may have already spent or encumbered their entire allocations for these activities.
  3. This may not be legal.

With the first concern, Barresi doesn’t see the problem. She thinks that districts can just move money around to cover any overages from these budgets. That’s just a budget cut from a different category. If District A is $250,000 short on the FBA line for the remainder of this fiscal year, and they lose $250,000 in funding from the state for other activities, they have to make it up somewhere. If the SDE doesn’t reposition the deck chairs, as Barresi has suggested, the district is still short $250,000 that they have to take from somewhere else. This is sleight of hand, nothing more.

The second shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how schools work. Alternative education and professional development run on a shoestring budget. School districts have already spent the money they’re going to use on these activities and are mostly just waiting on the reimbursement now. Those funds pay for teacher salaries, among other expenses. Districts made plans based on the amount they were allocated, not 75% of that amount.

As an example, Tulsa Public Schools projects more than $477,000 in cuts from this decision:

Tulsa Public Schools would be hit hard by a last-minute cut to the school activities fund proposed by State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced late Wednesday that Barresi has directed $6.54 million budgeted for a variety of school activities to instead be used to cover a deficit in health insurance premiums for school employees.

TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams said Thursday that TPS alone would lose more than $477,000 it was counting on to cover costs incurred during the school year that ends in two weeks.

The school district said it would lose $394,236 for alternative education programs, $21,000 for the Oklahoma Parents as Teachers parent education program and $61,896 for professional development.

It’s not just the programs named in the SDE’s bulletin, either.

Redistributing the $5.1 million in unencumbered funds means less will be available to schools for bonuses for National Board Certified Teachers; Advanced Placement teacher training; test fee assistance for students; the Oklahoma Student Information System; development of a component of the new Teacher Leader Effectiveness evaluations; the REACH literacy coaches who travel throughout the state; and third-grade reading readiness, according to Tricia Pemberton, an Education Department spokeswoman.

These are critical programs, and the impact on school districts will be significant, though varied. Once again, Barresi treats a nuanced problem with zero understanding of that nuance.

As to the legality of this decision, it is critical to remember that Barresi has tried this before – two years ago.

Early Friday, District 9 Rep. Marty Quinn stated as others were expressing frustration over the SDE’s intent to divert textbook funding that if it happened with the stopgap they were proposing, that he would vote against every education bill moving forward. District 2 Rep. John Bennett explained that a superintendent from his district had called him to explain that the SDE was keeping one-third of the textbook money. He then reminded the body that last year, the legislature trusted the SDE with a lump sum of funds and that the agency then failed to pay school employees’ flex benefits as legislated (requiring a supplemental appropriation this session). District 61 Rep. Gus Blackwell pointed out that the SDE has a history of ignoring legislative dictates. He followed up by threatening to deplete the agency’s budget if that happens again. District 64 Rep. Ann Coody mentioned that the Senate’s removal of line items in the SDE’s budget the last couple of years has led to unfunded mandates on schools.

Members of Superintendent Barresi’s own party were on the floor of the legislature saying that in a little over a year, she has already established a pattern of neglecting their will. Democrats like Joe Dorman, Ed Cannaday, Scott Inman, and Jerry McPeak were also vocal in their frustration over how she has performed. The fact that textbook funding was both restored and protected is huge. This means schools will not have their ability to pay for critical instructional materials depleted any further. It also means that the legislature will likely be more careful in the future when it tells the SDE what to do.

That’s from my post dated May 26, 2012, titled A Stern Rebuke. It seems that legislators didn’t like Barresi moving money from fund to fund and they wanted to proscribe how the SDE was to spend its allocation. They restored line items to the education budget, and that was that.

Additionally, this issue has come up before and was discussed at length in a ruling from the Attorney General’s office – in April 2003 (found using this search engine and entering the term Flexible Benefit).

You next ask whether a school district’s statutory obligation to pay a percentage of the cost of certified employees’ health care premiums is dependent upon the amount of funding the district receives from the State Board of Education. School districts receive State funds appropriated to the State Department of Education based on a State aid formula (see 70 O.S. 18-200.1 (A) (2002)), as well as State funds appropriated for specific purposes, such as the flexible benefit allowance. 2002 Okla. Sess. Laws ch. 388, sec 11. Since a school district’s obligation to pay 75% of the health care cost is reduced or offset by the amount of the legislatively-funded flexible benefit allowance, the question that arises is how the district’s obligation is calculated if a State revenue shortfall reduces the flexible benefit allowance funds that are allocated to school districts by the State Department of Education.

To refresh your memory, the 2002-03 school year was one of the worst in recent memory for the state budget. School districts laid off a lot of personnel. This is a long AG opinion (over 2,800 words), but the gist is that there is a limit to how low school districts can go in funding FBA for employees, and that they can only dip below 75 percent if there is a state revenue shortfall. What I’m not seeing is the shortfall. The state has the money, and the legislature has chosen not to allocate it to school districts. The state superintendent thinks she can just whip money from line to line in violation of legislative intent.

I’m not sure what the strategy is here. Maybe it’s another attempt to prove to teachers that she’s looking out for them. Maybe she is just trying to work Obamacare into the conversation because it plays to her base. I’ll give her credit for repeatedly asking the legislature to fund the shortage, but I’ll also consider that their reticence has something to do with the miasma I discussed a few days ago. At this point, I think the legislature is ready to repudiate anything she does – or look at it skeptically.

As should we all.

June 24th can’t come soon enough.

Do you have Joy in your email?

We interrupt the post I’ve been writing about Janet Barresi’s reckless scheme to fund the FBA to make a couple of snarky comments about her persecution of Tulsa-area school districts. While I was researching legal issues and responses to her plan, I came across this in the Tulsa World:

Several Tulsa-area school districts have received Open Records requests from state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s re-election campaign for any communications between employees and Republican rival, Joy Hofmeister.

“I’m tempted to ignore it like they’ve ignored all my correspondence the last four years,” Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said. “But we’ll reply. We always do.”

Tulsa Public Schools, along with Jenks, Sand Springs, Sapulpa and Union, received a request dated May 8. The campaign asks that districts provide the records by May 23.

In fact, the request specifies any communication — written or electronic — that even contains the name “Joy Hofmeister” between March 1 and April 1, school officials say.

She has previously made similar requests of Jenks Public Schools, of course.

In late April, Barresi’s new campaign manager, Robyn Matthews, and Oklahoma City political strategist Neva Hill came to Jenks to scour the more than 7,000 pages of emails and other communications. They ultimately got copies of 692 pages and paid the district $1,410 for time and materials expended by Jenks school employees in compiling the request.

There’s something specific they’re looking for, but I’m not sure what it is. The dates of this particular witch hunt are very limited.

I think Barresi’s campaign is missing the point. It’s one thing to try to discover what the schools are saying about her opponent; I’m more interested in what they’re saying about the state superintendent. Maybe their ears are burning. Perhaps it’s best if they don’t know.

The SDE’s Miasma

No Science Standards for You!

Today’s word is miasmaan oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere that surrounds or emanates from something. As those who regularly read this blog must know, there are two things I love: science and a well-placed word.

Yesterday, the House Committee for Administrative Rules voted to reject the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science (OASS). If you’ll remember, during the winter, the Oklahoma State Department of Education posted the new standards, accepted comments, and adopted them. This committee’s approval was to be the final step before implementation.

Apparently, the committee had two key objections. First, the SDE and the teachers on the committee relied far too heavily on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – which were developed by Achieve, Inc. (which also brought us the Common Core). The problem with this objection is that SDE staff were given the direction to use NGSS as a framework. Many bloggers, in fact, pointed out the similarities.

They weren’t. They were lifted, practically verbatim, from the Next Generation Science Standards. As Jenni White and Rob Miller point out in their analyses (which are eerily similar), reading the OASS side by side with the NGSS shows very little difference. Essentially, Oklahoma has removed references to evolution and climate change. That’s it. While both White and Miller (and I for that matter) like the structure and organization of the standards, we all deserve to be told the truth.

When I wrote that in December, it was a criticism of the fact that we were more or less adopting national standards and calling them our own. Basically, we’re running into another example of politicians changing their mind about what they want and not really caring about who that impacts.

The second objection was that where the standards discuss climate, teachers could then segue into lessons indoctrination about climate change. I downloaded OASS again and did a search for the word climate. This key science term appears 47 times in the document. The only discussion of climate change, however, is in the assessment section with this limitation:

Assessment does not include climate change.

That sentence is in the document multiple times. Yes, there may be a rogue liberal here and there (or even a conservative who believes in climate change) who is willing to teach concepts that make people uncomfortable. We may even have an activist in the classroom. The standards, however, don’t enable activism. That’s a matter of principals knowing what’s going on in their building.

Another way of looking at it is that if we’re so scared that our children might learn about climate change, we should probably take the word climate out of the social studies standards as well. While the word only appears five times in that document, in one instance, on page 64, we can find this evocative gem:

Examine the ongoing issues of immigration, employment, climate change, environmental pollution, globalization, population growth, race relations, women’s issues, healthcare, civic engagement, education, and the rapid development of technology.

If that isn’t a laundry list of liberalism, I don’t know what is! Oklahoma teachers worked hard developing those standards too, but I guess 2012 was a completely different era – an epoch ago, if you will.

(And if I just single-handedly got the state social studies standards tossed out, my apologies to all affected by this.)

My point is that if we’re so afraid of climate change that we can’t even discuss climate, we’re in a world of hurt. Most Americans accept climate change and still don’t curb their energy consumption. It’s not going to cripple the state’s economy. Even still, if it’s not assessed, what’s the likelihood that our children will be making dioramas that depict rising sea levels as they envelop Miami?

As for the time and effort of the teachers who volunteered (and lost instructional time) to serve on the standards-writing committees…well, I really don’t have a profound way to finish that sentence. Thanks but no thanks, I guess. Or what about the textbook adoption cycle? Are we forgetting that science teachers haven’t adopted new instructional materials in 10 years? While I hope that means we are seeing more labs and less copying of definitions in our classes, there at least need to be resources available.

Maybe what’s really happening here is that the SDE is so tainted with Barresi that anything they do is at least funk-adjacent. There are still some really good people working there. Many have left the sinking ship, but not all have been able to find other suitable employment. I have to wonder if it’s because of their association with the state superintendent. I also have to wonder if that has anything to do with yesterday’s unprecedented (yes, no legislative panel has EVER rejected standards forwarded to them by the SDE) action.

Miasma – it explains so much. All the bad decisions and indecision. The inexplicable tone in communication from Barresi and her staff. If the Hodge Building collapsed into a sinkhole one night ala the ending to Poltergeist, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point.

Barresi: Still Lacking Comprehension

Today, the Oklahoma House of Representatives did the right thing, sending HB 2625 to the Governor by a vote of 89-6. The House also passed the emergency clause – which would make the changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act effective immediate upon the governor’s signature – by a vote of 83-6.

That happened at 4:25 p.m. At 4:52, the SDE responded.

Supt. Barresi comments on House passage of HB 2625

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 12, 2014) — Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi made the following remarks today following House passage of House Bill 2625:

“Today’s vote endorses a system of social promotion that has failed to reduce illiteracy and has deprived students from receiving the best education possible. Nothing is more fundamental to learning than the ability to read. The Reading Sufficiency Act can greatly improve literacy in our state, but it cannot work if it is abandoned for social promotion.

“Illiteracy in our children must be a call to action. Everything I’ve seen this school year proves that teachers all across our state have heard that call and are doing monumental things. They are persisting with struggling readers and giving children the one skill that will serve as a gateway to other personal achievements in their lives.

“The RSA ensures the greatest resources and amount of time available to intensive, customized reading instruction. Only in the most extreme cases when good-cause exemptions don’t apply is retention part of the law. The point of the RSA is to focus education for struggling readers long before they reach third-grade.

“Instead of providing an alternative to learning to read, which this pending bill does, we should instead spend our energies helping these students read. Instead of taking the easy way out, we need to make certain every effort is made by parents, teachers and our communities to help these children learn to read.”

“House Bill 2625 reinforces a status quo that has failed far too many children. It places exorbitant costs and time on school districts by mandating fourth- and fifth-grade reading remediation for students with Unsatisfactory and Limited Knowledge scores. Moreover, it requires districts to hire reading specialists to be on the committees, an expense that smaller districts will be unable to afford. It undermines a law that districts have had three years to comply with and involve parents in its implementation.

“Even a well-intentioned bill can have grievous consequences, and I am concerned that is the case with HB 2625.”

She just doesn’t get it. Parents and educators don’t want the fate of children decided by tests. She also doesn’t get that the six good cause exemptions provide very little relief – especially for special education students and English language learners. Her word choice, as always, tells the story clearly. Thankfully Teacher Appreciation Week is over. Barresi can go back to doing what she does best.

To say this vote endorses a system that has deprived students is ridiculous. Depriving schools money hurts kids.  Suppressing teacher wages so that they leave the state or the profession hurts kids. Teaching them and working with their parents on placement decisions, on the other hand, is a true illustration of doing best for children.

And this is not a one-year phenomenon. What Barresi has seen this school year is teachers and parents scrambling to prevent bad policy from hurting good people. Teachers in Oklahoma have always done monumental things and shown what persisting in struggle looks like.

Already, her one remaining ally in the legislature is calling on Governor Fallin to veto the bill. I’m not convinced her mind is made up. In any case, we can’t let that happen. She’s up for re-election too. Call today. Call tomorrow. Call every day until she signs HB 2625 into law.

That is all.

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