Archive for February, 2016

Children of the Civil Rights

February 29, 2016 3 comments

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone for this post. No vouchers. No education policy or funding calculations. Nothing on the teacher shortage, even. Instead, I’m going to discuss a presentation that I had the privilege to enjoy with several co-workers and several hundred freshmen from our three Mid-Del high schools this morning.

This started for me in January when I heard Julia Clifford present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast in Midwest City. She spoke about the children who orchestrated the first lunch counter sit-in at Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City in 1958. She showed the trailer for the documentary that she had produced, Children of the Civil Rights. With her were some of the children who sat at those lunch counters and participated in countless peaceful marches throughout Oklahoma City. Here’s the trailer for her film:

After seeing it, I turned to my assistant superintendent, Kathy Dunn, and said, we have to have this. Kathy and her staff coordinated with Rose State College to get us the Hudiburg Chevrolet Center and bring the film in today. Rose State kept the costs as low as possible. Our foundation picked up the bill. Other than saying we have to have this, I really did nothing, which highlights the great people I have around me.

I was born in 1970 – six years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. I grew up with, from a legal perspective, all of the basics of equality already being settled. My mom could tell me stories of watching the march from Selma to Birmingham on the news during dinner, or the March on Washington, or even of hearing about the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. King. These were current events for her. By the time I knew much of anything about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King had been gone 15 years.

I’ve always been saddened and fascinated by this piece of our nation’s history. How could people treat each other this way? It just seems unnatural. My step-father was a psychology professor at the University of Oklahoma. His main body of research was on this very thing. We all have biases. We learned them as we developed. The trick is unlearning them. I don’t know what his key research findings were, but growing up I knew I wanted to know as much about the history of the fight for equality as I could.


For me, seeing this film is part of my own ongoing education. For our participating students – most of whom are at least 30 years younger than I am – this might have been an introduction to the movement. For all of us, it was an opportunity to see our larger community in a different light.

The hour-long film includes archival footage of Clara Luper and interviews with several of the participants from the sit-in. It also includes interviews with local and national journalists from the time, and former Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King to Birmingham. At the conclusion of the film, we had another hour for questions with four people on the stage.

On the left (in the picture below) is Bill Clifford, the filmmaker’s father. He was one of the first white people to participate in the Oklahoma City protests. In between him and his daughter were Joyce Jackson and Joyce Henderson – two of the original 13 protesters from Katz.


There was no shortage of student questions. I know their teachers prepped them before they came over, but most of their curiosity was of the in-the-moment variety. Were you scared? What was jail like? My favorite student question of the morning was simple, and I wish I weren’t paraphrasing. It was essentially, How did you carry on when the whole world was against you? Regardless of time, location, and prejudice, haven’t all of us had that feeling at some point? Haven’t all of us had that existential moment when we simply ask, How? Especially when we were teens?

The truth is, for most of us, we’ve only felt as if the whole world was against us. For these protestors, it really was. Maybe it wasn’t the whole world, but it was more of a critical mass than I’ve ever faced.

We all have different upbringings and experiences. We’re raised with different values. We all have different triggers for our various emotions. We all have different thresholds for losing our cool. Poise and grace are qualities that have to be practiced. For some, they seem to come naturally, but don’t we all have breaking points?

Today’s presentation and panel discussion was a great reminder that we as a nation have moved forward. To those of us in my generation and later, these stories are history. To the people on the stage today, however, it was life. In either case, these are memories we need to collectively preserve.

It was also a reminder that sometimes adults overthink things. To the 13 original protesters, what they needed to do was obvious. Their actions spoke volumes. So do their words now. As educators, when we listen to our students, we can see the world (and even ourselves) through their eyes. We don’t always like what they see, but it is what they see.

After the questions, before we sent our students back to school, I had the honor of joining our guests on stage. I looked at them and called them heroes. That’s not a word I toss around lightly, either. Sure, my three children are all named after basketball stars, but these two ladies did more to move this city forward – as children – than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ever will. (I say that firmly believing that this is the best place for them to spend their entire careers and hoping they win five championships.)

What I take away from today, more than anything else, is that we can either keep moving forward or we can go back in time. Congressman Lewis was beaten in Alabama because he wanted to register young African Americans to vote. How many of us now take our right to vote for granted? How much do we really know about the candidates we choose? How far are we willing to walk to let our voices be heard? What are our limits? How do we know what we really value?DSC_9143

I never thought I’d have the chance to stand on stage and sing We Shall Overcome with actual legends of the Civil Rights Movement. Today I did. And I thanked them – for what they did as children, and what they continue doing today.

Keep moving forward.

Two Things: The Voucher Opportunity

February 23, 2016 1 comment

In case I’ve been vague, I don’t think Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) Vouchers are good public policy for Oklahoma. My reasons have been pretty consistent:

  • It’s not school choice when the private school doesn’t have to choose you back.
  • Neither SB 609 (Jolley) nor HB 2949 (Nelson) includes meaningful fiscal or academic accountability for the students using the vouchers or the schools that would receive the money.
  • The major voucher pushers in Oklahoma have long track records of sucking money out of public education over the last decade.
  • The Oklahoma Legislature has over-regulated public schools while blaming the federal government. The feds have given states flexibility now. If these bills’ authors really care about what is best for children, they’ll follow through with sensible legislation like SB 1170, which sailed through committee yesterday. Senator Ford’s bill would eliminate the End of Instruction exams for high school courses and save the state millions of dollars. This would be a good place for our elected leaders to start showing support for public schools.

On the other hand, we still have those two voucher bills. Today, here are a couple of things to remember about that:

1. Last night, Rob Miller effectively connected the dots with the dark money influencing legislative races and education policy in Oklahoma. For these out-of-state interests, vouchers are the top priority. I can’t tell you why they care. I also can’t tell you why rural representatives and senators in Oklahoma want this to pass. I can tell you that I agree with Rob’s overarching assessment of the issue, though:

Maybe it’s just me, but I find this whole process rather unseemly. There is little doubt that a group of wealthy Americans is seeking to profit from the establishment of for-profit schools with selective enrollment policies and limited accountability in Oklahoma. And, they are using their money and connections to influence Oklahoma elections and, by extension, the making of laws.

Please read Rob’s post from last night if you want to know about the money and influence infiltrating the Oklahoma Legislature.

2. As everyone knows, I love an opportunity as much as the next person. Within the next month or so, every member of the House and every member of the Senate will have the opportunity to go on record as either favoring or opposing vouchers. This will give their constituents the opportunity, well in advance of the mid-April filing period, of deciding if they need new representation in the Legislature.

I won’t usually say that a single issue, much less a single bill, should decide an election. However, anyone who supports either of these voucher bills will have shown a clear lack of support for public education in this state.

With the filing packet for candidates conveniently located online, we may get a real life lesson in representative governance this year.Then maybe we can show the ruling elite what grass roots movements really look like and tell them what they can do with their dark money.


Haiku You Doin?

February 21, 2016 3 comments

I really haven’t had a lot of time to write this week. I attended a conference in Tulsa. We’re budgeting for a massive shortfall next year. And, well, my personal life gets in the way sometime.

Still, some crazy things have happened in the last few days. To acknowledge them, I’m simply going to address each with a single haiku.

House Committee Passes Voucher Bill

Two votes short, no prob –

Bring in Denney and Hickman.

Just so convenient!

Thank the Eight who Voted No

You made the right choice.

No accountability?

Vouchers are a sham.

Blue Cereal Education: End #oklaed

Why fight anymore,

Especially this rigged game?

Like Elsa, let it go.

Rob Miller Opts in to Testing?

Tongue firmly in cheek,

Rob finally wants to test!

It was just a joke.

Senate Education Committee will not hear Consolidation Bills

Senator Ford listens;

His constituents are clear.

Even his bill dies.

A Church Speaks out against Vouchers

Clear and forward thought:

Vouchers threaten liberty.

Thankful they get it.

So we didn’t lose $43 million?

What a huge SNAFU!

Forgot to update spreadsheet!



Oklahoma Education Coalition Releases Verified Figures

school admin figures.png

Enough false narrative!

Trying to distract, divide?

This page gives the facts.

Apparently, Rob, Dallas, and I are still Offending People.

Middle Ground News whines.

Do I intimidate you?

Seriously, dude.

Rob Miller Drops the Mic

He just doesn’t care

What Jay Chilton thinks of him.

We keep striking nerves.

That’s all for tonight. Have a great week, #oklaed!


Two things: remember the base

February 16, 2016 7 comments

Still fuming over yesterday’s rigged committee vote to move Representative Jason Nelson’s voucher bill to the house floor, I didn’t get my Two Things for Tuesday posted this morning. That’s probably a good thing. The delay gave me time to read from the top education news source in Oklahoma, the Tulsa World.

House Bill 2949, by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, advanced on a 9-8 vote. Votes from Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney, R-Cushing, were necessary to get the measure through the committee, where a similar bill had failed on a 9-9 tie a year ago.

The speaker and speaker pro tem can vote on any bill in committee but generally do so only when needed for a majority.

The difference from a year ago was that Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, a former educator who voted against the measure in 2015, has been removed from the committee and not replaced. All other votes were exactly the same as a year ago.

This merely continues a pattern that frustrates me. With every other issue that is important to our state leaders, they ask the experts. When it comes to education, they want us on the sidelines. Actually, they don’t even want us that close. See thing one and thing two below.

thing one thing two.jpg

1. State Senate President Brian Bingman told the Oklahoman editorial board last week that the state needs to proceed with caution when it comes to rolling back any tax credits to try to fix the state’s budget problems.

Tax incentives are being reviewed as well. Yet many companies’ financial plans are based in part on promised tax breaks. Abrupt elimination of incentives could have serious, negative impact in the private sector.

Bingman said business leaders will be heavily consulted, and predicted most changes to tax incentive programs will not take effect until future years. Yet within a few days, Bingman appeared to send a different message after Gov. Mary Fallin urged caution over changing incentives. Fallin said The Boeing Company bowed out of two Oklahoma projects after a moratorium on some tax incentives passed out of committee.

Bingman has also proposed school consolidation (as has the governor). Were any school leaders heavily consulted? What about students or parents? It’s this double standard that infuriates all of us who work in public education. It’s not the only example, though.

2. A year ago at this time, the governor imposed a hiring freeze and a moratorium on raises. To say that exceptions have been granted is sort of like saying there are currently a few sharks off the coast of Florida.


Not only were there more than 13,000 exceptions, but the reasoning is another slap in the face to teachers. State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger didn’t want to lose good people to the private sector.

“I’m never going to be shortsighted in potentially losing a high-quality employee over not a lot of money to the private sector,” Doerflinger said.

Does anybody we’ve elected care that schools are losing high-quality employees to the private sector (or to other states)? Do you people not hear the irony?


I know that politicians have to constantly work their base. That’s why they call the groups like the State Chamber, OCPA, and OCPA Impact “grassroots” organizations. These are the base supporters for the voucher wolves and elected leaders who are determined to take even more money away from schools. The nine representatives who voted for HB 2949 yesterday listen to these groups – not to public school parents, educators, or the majority of their voters.

grass roots my ass

Well, I’m no politician, but I know my base. It starts with students and parents. It extends to teachers and principals. It includes strong support for public schools from the business community. All of us who serve the education community would do well to remember this.

Somebody has to.

HB 2949 Passes* Committee 9-8

February 15, 2016 14 comments

This afternoon, Representative Jason Nelson’s voucher bill passed the House Education Committee with a vote of 9-8. If you just count the 15 committee members, it lost by a vote of 8-7, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney came in to tip the scales. This is all fair within the rules of the House.

voucher committee vote.jpg

When I posted last night that we need to call and email and visit and tweet to the committee members, thousands made the effort. It wasn’t in vain. I’m glad it took the leadership sweeping in to make the final vote. That puts more people on record.

Before I get much farther, I want us to remember to reach out to the eight committee members who voted to support public schools:

Representative Phone Email Address
Cannaday, Ed 405.557.7375
Condit, Donnie 405.557.7376
Thomsen, Todd 405.557.7336
Coody, Ann 405.557.7398
Nollan, Jadine 405.557.7390
Henke, Katie 405.557.7361
McDaniel, Jeannie 405.557.7334
Stone, Shane 405.557.7397

Prior to the vote, Nelson faced the usual questions and had the usual responses. Two things in particular fascinated me, though.

First, he said that parents receiving vouchers would actually have more fiscal accountability because they’ll be making their purchases in real time and that someone would be monitoring those – someone at the SDE, he said. I’m sorry, but that’s nowhere close to the fiscal accountability public schools face. Saying otherwise shows just how little he knows.

Second, he said that private schools taking voucher students wouldn’t be required to face the same academic accountability measures because they go through a rigorous private school accreditation process. Besides, he said, the state will have an agreement with the parents, not the schools. It’s a convenient side-step of accountability, and a slap in the face of the public school educators he wants to micromanage.

The best part of the meeting, to me, was when Dan Vincent spoke. Dan, you’ll remember, is a UCO professor and the parent who authored my most popular blog post of all time. Dan was kind enough to share his prepared remarks with me.

Good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me speak to you as a parent with 2 kids in public schools; one in 5th grade and one in 3rd. I value the work you do and hope this session will be productive in supporting the myriad of issues facing our public schools and teachers.

Over the past several years, I feel I have had a good pulse on schools in our state; I keep up with legislation and volunteer regularly in schools around the metro. For the life of me, I cannot figure out WHY this bill and WHY NOW. About 2 weeks ago, I emailed most of you about my opposition to ESAs, or Vouchers. From my view, most parents and citizens OPPOSE this.

Since that email, I have read over this bill again and have become even more convinced that this might be the most harmful bill to impact education this year. To be clear, I am not opposed to home school or to private schools. Two of my best friends have chosen those options. What I am opposed to, however, is using taxpayer money…my money…to support those who make that choice.

I have many reasons, but for time sake, let me explain the 5 biggest reasons. And for the record, I am not using the talking points from the OSSBA or the CCOSA; these are my own thoughts:

  1. Over the past several years our state has been feverishly mandating more accountability on public schools. Yet ESAs or Vouchers, as this bill currently outlines, contains little to no accountability for HOW our tax dollars are used. The RSA, ACE, A-F and others have hit schools hard and have hit kids hard but will not apply to ESA schools. If these are vital for schools receiving tax-payer money, how can we not mandate these on private schools? If you say they are not important for private schools, then the same should be said for my kids in public schools.
  2. We have passed then repealed Common Core; we are currently awaiting your vote on the new standards for Math and Language Arts. You are the gatekeeper for the content we teach kids in publicly funded schools; with ESAs, there is NO public oversight on WHAT is taught to kids. As a taxpayer, I cannot imagine WHY we would not want oversight and input into what kids are learning in schools at taxpayer expense. Again, I am not opposed to religious education or home schooling. I am, however, greatly opposed to using tax money to fund it. There is a reason you vote on standards for schools; what we teach matters to society. ESAs would completely neglect this responsibility.
  3. Although it is not a blank check to private schools or parents, when compared to the transparency and oversight required of public schools, it might as well be a blank check. The bill includes ‘audits’ but the amount of reporting, disaggregating and categorizing of funds is non-existent. This is not how I want my tax dollars used, and I think most of you can see these reasons.
  4. The details in this bill describing the responsibilities of those accepting ESA money is highly suspect. Private schools can accept, reject or kick-out kids seemingly at will. Public schools cannot. One can see the type of system this potentially creates. Let’s not kid ourselves; it is not the families who have the choice; it is the ESA school.
  5. Currently, there is legislation, actually several bills, that would consolidate smaller districts into larger ones, to supposedly save on administrative overhead; with ESAs you are de facto creating MORE small schools…again without public oversight and transparency. In addition, the bill actually mandates the creation of two NEW “Administrative Funds.” If you feel administrative costs are the problem, ESAs are not a solution.

At a time when our state is carefully scrutinizing the subsidies and tax breaks we give, I would suggest that we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT create Private School Tuition Subsidies…what this bill calls Educational Savings Accounts. At a time when we are placing more and more mandates on public schools, I would suggest we think rationally about how ESAs are set up to include virtually NO mandates and NO public accountability. Our tax money should support PUBLIC education, and as a parent I am 100% opposed to my tax dollars being used as ESAs.

Again, thank you for your service, and I hope your committee will do good for ALL kids.

Dan was cut off before the last point, which I think is the most critical. Our legislators keep targeting public schools. With the state continuing to face huge budget problems, pulling more and more money away from us with precious little accountability is irresponsible. There’s nothing conservative about this.

The committee had quite an audience too. There were two packed overflow rooms. There were supporters of vouchers and public school supporters as well. And yes, at this point, I’m drawing that line.

12755018_10208782893593282_1240251392_o 12443901_10208782894593307_1264671554_o

Of the seven committee members who voted for HB 2949, four are in their first terms. Only Sally Kern is in her last term. Hickman and Denney are in their last terms too.

Representative District Term Limited
Caldwell, Chad 40 2026
Jordan, John Paul 43 2026
Fisher, Dan 60 2024
Strohm, Chuck 69 2026
Kern, Sally 84 2016
Nelson, Jason 87 2020
Rogers, Michael 98 2026

These are districts in which the incumbents desperately need challengers. Put another way, voters need options. Choice matters, after all.

This is why we can’t wait until the end of the session to figure out who is trying to help public schools. We already know, and what we know now is enough. When HB 2949 goes to the floor, we’ll know even more. And then there’s the Senate, which is a whole different mess.

The legislative candidate filing period is April 13-15 this year. The filing packet is online. If you’d like to run for any of these seats – or any other seat – by all means, you should. If you have friends you’d like to encourage to run, pass the information on to them.We need people who support public education, not just people who say they do.

And keep calling. We won’t win all the battles. But we won’t lose them all either.

Time to make those voucher calls

February 14, 2016 5 comments

Last week, when a House subcommittee was set to hear a bill that would have diverted our health insurance costs to salary, the #oklaed community called. We made thousands of calls. The bill, as of right now, will not be heard. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be resurrected as a committee substitute later this session, of course, but for now, it’s off the radar.

It was an idea that really didn’t make sense. Right now, we get a flex benefit allowance, pre-tax, with which to pay our HealthChoice costs. This plan would have given us, in time, the same amount, but fixed at a point in time. As insurance rates increased, our benefit would fail to cover it. We’d have more taxable salary, but even at the beginning, it would amount to a pay cut.

I don’t think we’ll see that bill again this year, but I’ve been watching politics long enough to know you can never say never. I believe this Legislature is bound and determined to find some way to pretend they’ve given teachers raises. (How about another tax cut? The last several have worked out marvelously!)

A proposal that does have more than a snowball’s chance, however, is House Bill 2949, authored by Representative Jason Nelson. This would create Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers as they’re more commonly known, that families could use to pay private school expenses. Before you ask, they could not be used for homeschooling expenses.

One of the frustrations I’ve always had with voucher proposals is that they typically lack the fiscal and academic accountability for the recipients that we face in public schools. Nelson’s bill is no different.

HB 2949 would require that recipients report to the state how the funds are used. In most cases, the entire voucher will go for private school tuition. That’s a one-line entry. The school will not have to account for the percentage of the cost that finds its way into the classroom, as we do in public schools.

Accountability reports.png

School districts have to code all expenditure under the guidelines established by the state using the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. It’s tedious, but that’s the price of transparency. All things considered, it’s a good thing. The public deserves to know where their money goes.

We won’t see that kind of detail from voucher recipeints and the schools that serve them.

HB 2949 would also require private schools to test their voucher students – but they wouldn’t be given the same criterion-referenced tests that Oklahoma’s public school students take. Instead, they would get to choose their own tests. The following paragraph is from page nine of the 22 page bill:

A parent shall renew the account of an eligible student on an annual basis by submitting a renewal request to the Department. The renewal request shall also include documentation showing the results of the student on a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test taken during that school year.

Voucher students will have to take a test – any test – well, any test that’s not part of the battery of exams Oklahoma public school students have to take. They don’t have to perform at any certain level. They don’t have to show growth. They just have to test. I suppose they would actually be able to choose the ACT and its suite of tests, or the SAT and its suite of tests if they wanted to. That’s something many of us have been pushing for public schools for years. Something about saving money and relevance comes to mind.

Private schools shouldn’t have to change who they are and what their core mission is to serve their students. They also shouldn’t be entitled to public school funds when they don’t have to accept all students or follow the same accountability measures.

One last feature of Nelson’s bill is that family income factors into who can qualify to receive a voucher. Although there are different levels of funding, eligibility begins at two times the threshold for qualifying for free/reduced lunch. For a family of four, that would be a household income of about $89,000. For a family of six, it would be about $120,000. Although families at the top end of this scale wouldn’t be entitled to the whole per-pupil amount that public schools receive, it’s fair to say that we would be providing private school subsidies to upper-middle class families.

Again, I have nothing against private schools. It’s just important to note that they don’t have to do the things we do. They don’t have to provide special education services. They don’t have to provide transportation to students. They don’t have to keep students who fail to live up to all the school’s expecatations. They don’t have to form reading sufficiency committees and complete mountains of paperwork on students who fail a test that isn’t really a reading test. They don’t have to over-explain why the A-F report card system is horriffically flawed.

Meanwhile, funding for public schools continues its free fall.

As Kevin Hime pointed out on Twitter today, all of the outrage we’re sharing amongst ourselves is fine. We need more than that. We need the kind of action we saw a few days ago with the health insurance bill.

The House Common Education Committee has plans to hear HB 2949 tomorrow. The committee meeting starts at 2:30. If your school district is out tomorrow for President’s Day, maybe you can make your way to Room 412 C at the Capitol. If you have time earlier in the day, maybe you can visit the committee members. You can also call them, email them, and tweet at them.

Before you start, though, please keep in mind that six of the committee members are listed as authors on the bill now. Their names are in red.

Representative Phone Email Address Twitter
Cannaday, Ed 405.557.7375
Condit, Donnie 405.557.7376 @ConditDonnie
Thomsen, Todd 405.557.7336 @ToddThomsen
Caldwell, Chad 405.557.7317 @chad4ok
Jordan, John Paul 405.557.7352
Fisher, Dan 405.557.7311 @ElectDanFisher
Coody, Ann 405.557.7398
Nollan, Jadine 405.557.7390
Strohm, Chuck 405.557.7331
Henke, Katie 405.557.7361 @KatieHenke
McDaniel, Jeannie 405.557.7334 @JeannieMcDani14
Kern, Sally 405.557.7348 @SallyKern
Nelson, Jason 405.557.7335 @jasonnelsonok
Stone, Shane 405.557.7397
Rogers, Michael 405.557.7362 @rogersmichael21

Representative Coody is the committee chair. We definitely need to call her. Representative Rogers – the author of the insurance bill – is the vice-chair. He’s clearly voting for the bill, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to hear from his constituents again.

That leaves nine other committee members. We can’t take anything for granted. As Rob Miller pointed out last year around this time, the real push for vouchers is coming from outside the state. There’s no grass roots movement to do this for the children. This bill, and its Senate counterpart, carry the language of ALEC-prepared bills.

Last year, when Nelson’s bill died in committee, one Wisconsin lobbyist nearly lost his mind over it. He called it a failure of the leadership in the House. He called for people to lose committee chair assignments over it.

Again, this is some guy from Wisconsin telling our House leadership what to do.

Speaking of leadership, House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem also have the right to show up and vote. If this turns into an 8 to 7 split, they could both enter the committee room and break the tie.

That’s why we need to know that all nine of the representatives in black (a) plan to show up for the vote, and (b) plan to vote no. When you speak to them, be respectful. Remember that it’s their job to serve their constituents, not interlopers with a cause. If you’re a parent or teacher, talk about your school. Talk about what makes the school you know and love a special place to learn. If you don’t know what to say about ESAs, you can look at this fact sheet that Moore Public Schools has put together or this one from CCOSA and its partner organizations.

You can even scroll back to the top and mention some of the things that I’ve written. I don’t want to put the words in your mouth, but I want to give you the information so that you can say it your own way.

Mainly, we need to contact the nine names not in red. I’ll also be contacting Hickman and Denney’s offices. We’ve done it before. We’ll have to do it again this session. You might as well put those numbers in your cell phone contacts.


February 13, 2016 5 comments

Yesterday, at the end of a long week, I caught wind of a post on the Middle Ground News site critical of some of the content on this blog, as well as Rob Miller’s View From the Edge and Dallas Koehn’s Blue Cereal Education. Apparently, we’re having our hands slapped for being potty mouths. To refresh your memory, it all started a week ago at this time, when the Oklahoman plaintively wailed a collective you guys at all of us for saying what we actually think.

I probably kicked it up a notch mid-week responding to a Journal Record column by OCPA fellow Andrew Spiropolous, critical of his perpetual rip of public education. Here’s part of what I wrote:

The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.

It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.

They deserve better than this.

Since you’ve probably never heard of Middle Ground News, you should probably know that they’re another tentacle in the parasitic hydra that is OCPA. So is the 1889 Institute, which is why the Oklahoman keeps giving them space on the opinion page. Even the Choice Remarks blog is really just OCPA vice-president Brandon Dutcher. And if you’ll scroll down the blog and see their content, it’s just a roll call of every negative article they can find about a public school.

Collectively, these individuals and groups will do whatever it takes to foment enmity towards public education. They are the mouthpieces of the far, far, far right. When I tell people that letting the infrastructure of your state’s core services crumble around you is not a conservative value, it’s in response to people such as this, and the key elected leaders that they control.

In all their fury, Middle Ground took particular exception to what I wrote last weekend:

Cobb often demands greater funding from the state as a matter of legislative appropriation; in this post he demands a blank check while using his position as a public School administrator to insist on political activism by private citizens.

“It can’t just be educators beating down the doors of our elected leaders. We need parents and community members saying that enough is enough! And before any smart-aleck representative asks back, ‘How much is enough?’ I’ll just let you know that we’re nowhere close. I don’t have a number.

I’m not asking for a blank check. I’m asking for adequate funding. I’m also preemptively saying that none of us really know what that number is because it’s never been approached in this state. And yes, I do call for more of the people who are frustrated to be outspoken. Why should it just be my rowdy blogger friends and me? Would I say that I insist? No. It’s neither a condition of employment nor friendship. I’ll still respect you if you keep your nose down and try to avoid the politics. We all have our path to take. Besides, not everybody likes having a bullseye on them. Of course, there was more:

“I don’t have a number. You’re lucky I have my nice words. Just keep adding, and we’ll tell you when you get there.”
Cobb continued his rant to berate the legislature and governor alluding to a highly vulgar obscenity much like fellow #OKLAed blogger Koehn as shown above.

“Don’t say you support education. You had a chance when times were good, from 2011-2015. You missed it. And now, when things are tough? You’re all voucher this, A-F that. Well A-F that is right!”

It is true that Superintendent Cobb, Assistant Superintendent Miller, Mr. Koehn and many others attach disclaimers and notes insisting on a separation between their blog life and their professional life. However, a simple statement proclaiming oneself to be professionally divorced from their own public actions does not make it so.

Yes, I alluded to an obscenity. It’s a joke that many of us have been making online for two years, dating back to a discussion of t-shirt designs prior to the 2014 education rally at the Capitol.

I’m sorry you’re upset.


I’m “sorry.”

Actually, I’m not. Be upset. Feign offense. I’m good with either.

Whoever wrote this piece also insinuates that we should be fired for what we’ve written, and compares our language to people who’ve used racist speech on their social media accounts. That’s absurd. We’ve voiced our opinions about bad policy and policy-makers who don’t seem to care about Oklahoma’s children. I can’t speak for my friends, but I have no intention of stopping.

One last excerpt:

Bloggers such as Koehn, Miller, Cobb and others within the #OKLAed community have derived a modicum of renown for their position in the classroom, principal’s office or administration building. Subsequently, they have converted that notoriety into a measure of online celebrity. However, that celebrity is irrevocably linked to their professional position within the school.

After I revealed my identity last year, my daughter called me a temporary, minor, local, online celebrity. That’s a nicer way of saying what Middle Ground wrote, I guess. I don’t know how many people regularly visit their compendium of websites and social media accounts, but I know my numbers. I count the Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and page views. I don’t know how OCPA defines modicum, but I do know that they tout their free-market principles.

Let me just say then, that if ideas are a free-market commodity, those of people such as Rob, Dallas, me, and the rest of our rebel alliance, are in demand. Until that’s no longer the case, we’ll continue with the supply.

And if you’re still asking yourself, hey, exactly what middle does this right-wing fringe group represent, allow Stealers Wheel to answer that in the video below:

Standards of Bloviation

February 11, 2016 1 comment

The last thing I read before I went to bed last night was Andrew Spiropolous’s column in the Journal Record criticizing the newly-written, waiting-to-be-adopted Oklahoma Academic Standards. That was a mistake. I already don’t get enough sleep. Here’s the start:

So it turns out, despite the hullabaloo, that the task force charged with writing superior English and math academic standards has submitted a proposal that, poking below the surface, isn’t that different than the Common Core version the legislators ordered it to reject.

Many of us predicted this ironic turn of events after the Legislature, running in fear from the grass-roots activists opposing Common Core, noisily disposed of the hated standards. Our suspicions were raised when education leaders issued an urgent call upon the Legislature to swiftly approve the new proposal. They were confirmed when the leaders coupled their pleas with affecting tales from local administrators and teachers lamenting how the uncertainty made doing their jobs impossible.

Actually, that task force was a group of teachers and experts in their fields. Actually, the standards are quite different than the Common Core. And actually, every day that the Legislature drags its feet on approving is an unnecessary delay for districts to start working towards implementation.

Hullabaloo or not, these are good standards.

I often like what I read in the Journal Record. Unfortunately, it is often behind a paywall. Then, when I’m thinking I might want to subscribe, I read the free content, such as this, that they release into the wild. After that, I lose interest.

It doesn’t surprise me that Spiropolous is crying Common Core. Maybe if he yells it three times, Beetlejuice (or someone resembling him) will appear to spend day after precious day roaming the Capitol, begging for people to listen.


The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.

It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.

They deserve better than this.

We’re trying to teach our students. He’s misrepresenting the job we do. Even at the end, when he tries to sound magnanimous, he continues to insult Oklahoma’s educators.

So what should we do now? I don’t think rejecting this proposal and making our education officials start over will lead to a significantly improved product. The truth is that our state’s education establishment, from the state superintendent of education on down, is not committed to writing and implementing world-class standards that will distinguish us from other states.

I’ll take their word that they want to do better than we have in the past, but there is nothing about these people that inspires one to believe they seek to engage in bold, creative reform.

We should give up on the idea that the state education establishment will force excellence on local schools. Instead, we must encourage districts, schools and families to mount their own efforts to foster excellence. There is reason to believe, for example, that the new Tulsa superintendent of education, Deborah Gist, will draw on her experience as a successful reformer to help turn around her city’s schools.

It’s one thing to attack an elected official, as he does State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and call her part of the problem. It’s another fight altogether to insult the teachers who gave countless hours for this effort. He’s merely one of the anti-public school cheerleaders still mad that his horse lost her re-election bid in 2014.

I’m part of the education establishment, and I’m damn proud of it. I’m a teacher who has become an administrator. People like Spiropolous may spit this term out with venom, but we should wear it with pride. After all, we work every day to teach nearly 700,000 students in this state. Meanwhile, there are people around us hoping we fail so they can point and laugh.

Now it’s my turn to make a few assumptions. I doubt Spiropolous has read the new standards. I doubt he’s read the Common Core. I doubt he’s talked to any of the Math or English/Language Arts specialists who developed the standards. I doubt he’s asked a single parent or educator what they think of the standards or the erratic behavior of our elected leaders regarding them. I doubt he knows the price of textbooks or the smell of over-crowded classrooms. I doubt he understands the collaboration and development necessary to fully implement a new subject-area framework.

If all you know about education in Oklahoma is what you can learn from OCPA, the Oklahoman’s editorial page, and certain obstructionist legislators (and maybe a few constituent activists who wear tin-foil hats and have nothing better to do), you probably should just stop talking. You’ll only look foolish and insult good people.

Legislative nonsense: midweek edition

February 9, 2016 8 comments

In case you missed it this morning, my two things for Tuesday were simple.

  1. I don’t think the governor’s plan to raise teacher salaries makes sense or is plausible.
  2. I hope I’m wrong.

When I expect the worst, I always hope I’m wrong. You can have hope and be a realist at the same time, after all.

“It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin, he thought.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

On the other hand, tomorrow, a House subcommittee plans to hear HB 3154, which would force school districts to divert health insurance costs to salary. We would call it a pay raise.

It’s not.

Several people have already heeded the alert from CCOSA and other groups to call the subcommittee members and insist they kill the bill. Here’s the short version of what the bill would do:

What it would do:

  • Require districts to use money now set aside for employee health insurance to give teacher raises.
  • Permanently cap (at FY 17 levels) the amount of money districts receive to pay for employee health benefits.
  • In effect, the state will shift its obligation to fund health insurance to local communities because districts will eventually be forced to use local money to pay increasing employee health insurance costs and to pay for teacher/support employee raises.

Teacher pay wouldn’t increase, but in future years, the burden of health insurance will, thus lowering a teacher’s effective rate of pay.

Here’s a list of the subcommittee members. Call and email them, please. Tweet at them, if you’d like. Some in this group are genuine friends of education.

Representative Phone Email Address Twitter
Cannaday, Ed 405.557.7375  
Coody, Ann 405.557.7398  
Dunnington, Jason 405.557.7396 @jdunnington
Henke, Katie (VC) 405.557.7361 @KatieHenke
Kern, Sally 405.557.7348 @SallyKern
Martin, Scott (C) 405.557.7329 @scottcmartin
Peterson, Pam 405.557.7341  
Rogers, Michael 405.557.7362 @rogersmichael21
Thomsen, Todd 405.557.7336 @ToddThomsen
Virgin, Emily 405.557.7323 @RepEmilyVirgin

Additionally, I want to share with you a correspondence between a real live Oklahoma educator and a real live Oklahoma legislator. I will edit for space:


Good afternoon Representative Rogers, My name is Jen Masterson and I am a Speech/Pathologist at Claremore Public Schools. I work in Claremore but I live in Broken Arrow so I will be emailing the Claremore representatives as well. I greatly appreciate the efforts in the House to raise teacher pay. This is a topic that has gone undiscussed for far too long in our state. However, with the current budget crisis, myself and many of my colleagues are not concerned about our salaries at this moment.

We are concerned about colleagues and support staff who have been and will be laid off due to mid-year adjustments in our district. I work at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore and, along with being a Speech/Pathologist, I serve as the Special Education Department Chair for our building. I have had to make some tough decisions about who on our support staff (paraprofessionals) will be returning next year and who will not. An increase in my salary would be appreciated; however, it comes at the expense of my colleagues and our students and I am not ok with that.

My specific concerns with HB 3154 include the following: If national teacher pay comparisons already include salaries and benefits, how will moving health insurance over to teacher salaries raise our state’s ranking for teacher pay? What will happen to the thousands of support employees currently receiving health care coverage when the money used to pay for their insurance is instead given to teachers as a pay raise? Who will pay for the health insurance of educators if the state decides to no longer cover this expense?



Thank you for email and input on my House Bill 3154. This bill has drawn some critics, and most do not understand what I am trying to accomplish. Here are the facts for you to consider when reviewing my bill. First, the current house bill 3154 is not going to be heard tomorrow. Second, it will have a committee substitute to change the language to a more clear understanding of the bill. The whole intent is to put us in a better position long term and get us away from a long-term liability that is unsustainable. The bill is also set up to give the local school district the flexibility to make the decisions on the local level that is best for their district. The misconception is this was written to give the teachers a pay raise. It was written to address the long-term liability that is draining our appropriations to common education. Here are the facts:

FBA (Flex Benefits Allowance)

1) Flex benefits in FY 16 – $416 million

2) Estimated FY 17 FBA $446 million ($30 million increase)

3) FBA has increased an average of 6.6 percent over the last 10 years.

4) Since 2002 (last 14 years) the legislature has increased appropriations for common education by 22%, during that same time Flex Benefits have risen 92.4 %.

5) Why is this a problem?

a) Currently FBA is around 20% of the appropriated dollars that goes to Common Education.

b) As FBA rises then per pupil decreases.

c) If we currently continue to do what we are doing then in 14 years FBA will be 30% of the appropriated dollars that goes to education, which will drive down even lower our per pupil funding.

d) Here is what FBA looks like for the next 15 years:

i) FY 2020 $537 Million

ii) FY 2025 $739 Million

iii) FY 2030 $1.0 Billion

6) If we do nothing and continue on this trend, the legislature would have to appropriate an additional $30 million per year to common education just to keep our per pupil from dropping from its current level. This would not allow the legislature the ability to increase per pupil funding.

7) What would that look like? Let’s use the same years FY 20, FY 25, and FY 30.

(1) By year 2020 the legislature would have appropriated an additional $120 million to Common Education ($30 million per year for 4 years).

(2) By year 2025 the legislature would have appropriated $240 million.

(3) By year 2030 the legislature would have appropriated $420 million. And our per pupil funding would have actually decreased significantly, because as the FBA ball gets bigger the 6.6 % gets bigger so from 2029-2030 a 6.6% increase would be $66 million.

If we are serious about making tough decisions that put us in a better position in the future to give teacher pay raises, increase per pupil funding, and give the kids of Oklahoma the best education available, than this is a conversation that has to be had.

Representative Michael Rogers

Oklahoma House of Representatives

District 98

I’ve seen a few people post that response to Facebook now, so he must be sending it out to all questions he has received. This is the only exchange I’ve received showing both sides of the conversation, though. And I agree with everything Jen said above. If we’re raising teacher salaries by robbing our own insurance, or deeply hurting our support employees, then we’re extremely foolish.

I don’t know where Rep. Rogers gets his 2020, 2025, and 2030 projections, but I’m trying to keep teachers employed in 2016 and get some hired for 2017. If the state can’t afford those health insurance increases, what makes him think teachers can?

This bill does nothing to raise teacher pay or help with health costs. It does nothing to raise per pupil spending. It does nothing to address our increasing student enrollment. It does nothing to curb the teaching shortage.

In short, this bill does nothing useful.

Please call, email, and tweet. Kill this thing.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Two things: Call me a (civil) naysayer

February 9, 2016 6 comments

As you probably know, last week during her State of the State address, Governor Fallin fixed the state’s budget, provided $178 million in teacher raises (with only $105 million in additional funding for schools), eliminated wasteful tax credits, annexed all of the state’s K-8 school districts, provided vouchers for upper-middle class families to attend private schools that don’t need to be burdened by academic and fiscal accountability, and probably secured the Thunder’s first world championship. It was the best of times.

To all of our surprise, some questioned her methodology. Something about why didn’t you think any of this was important during your first five years when the state’s economy was doing so well that it was the cornerstone of your re-election campaign? Or something like that. House Minority Leader Scott Inman probably said it better (as reported in the Tulsa World):

Inman, D-Del City, said tax increases would require a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, which is unlikely to happen.

“I don’t think it (a pay raise proposal) is false hope, because I think the teachers of Oklahoma are smart enough to look right through this veiled political attempt to win votes in an election year,” Inman said during his weekly press availability at the Capitol.

The state’s budget problems are the result of a dramatic drop in energy prices, tax cuts and other factors.

When oil was selling at a much higher price and teachers were lobbying for help at Capitol rallies, the GOP-controlled Legislature did not offer a pay raise but instead cut education budgets, Inman said.

“As soon as they lose two Republican seats to Democrats in the House and Senate, they realize that people, regardless of party affiliation, are now frustrated with their fiscal mismanagement of the public schools,” Inman said.

“The election is 10 months away, and now they have all ‘come to Jesus’ on the issue, and they want to at least throw that out there as a potential so they can at least go home this election cycle and say, ‘I know the pay raise didn’t happen, but we tried.’

So, Rep. Inman, are you saying that this is just politics? What an opportunity for opportunists! You know that you’re in the minority, right?

State Senator David Holt, who was out campaigning for Marco Rubio in New Hampshire yesterday (his day job is in session, right?), didn’t like Inman’s comments at all. Over the weekend, he took to Facebook to blast the Democrat’s doubt.

The most cynical thing politicians too often do is pray for our city/state/nation to fail because they think failure would benefit their political party. It’s hard to blame Americans who are sick of these games. Yes, these challenges are hard, which is why we all need to work together to get things done for our state!

That’s the most cynical thing politicians do? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen worse.

I don’t think Inman was praying for anything to fail. I simply think he was using his skill of observation and recalling recent history.

Again, I must be wrong because the governor wasn’t happy that people don’t see the unicorns and rainbows evident in her plan. She told Fox 25 in Oklahoma City that it’ll work, pretty much just because.

“For those naysayers who say you can’t do it, show me your plan,” Fallin said. “My job as Governor is to lead and to put proposals out there. I’m always happy to receive everybody else’s plans. Sometimes people don’t have a plan, they just want to be naysayers. I put out an honest, workable plan for how we can give teacher pay raises—how we can fix structural problems in our budget.”

That’s a long lead-in, but let me go ahead and get to my two things.

  1. History tells us that the governor and the Legislature won’t find a way to give teacher raises. They haven’t even tried the last five years. Math tells us it’s not possible. We have a $900 million budget shortfall, if we trust the current calculations coming out of the Office of Management and Enterprise Service (OMES). Meanwhile, a barrel of oil is selling for around $30 and a gallon of gas for under $1.20
    strange things afoot at the circle K

    Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

    When a barrel of oil was over $100 and a gallon of gas was around $3.00, restoring state aid to schools to 2008 levels was either not a priority or not possible. Tax cuts were possible. Tax credits were possible. Funding education wasn’t. It’s not that I doubt the governor’s sincerity, or that of the 149 good men and women serving in the Legislature. It’s that I have a reasonably good short-term memory. I won’t believe you mean what you say until you prove you do.

  2. I hope I’m wrong.

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