Archive for May, 2016

Two Things: Not a Flat Budget; Please Vote

1. I’ve been stumbling around, writing and scratching my thoughts on the state budget agreement for several days now. I have a draft that I’ll probably scrap centered around the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s full of fun parallels between the show’s central premise and the sources of revenue around which the budget is framed.

whose line points.gif

In this case, though, we should say that the sources of revenue are made up and the numbers don’t matter. Maybe, if the marginal well tax generates $120 million, as we have budgeted for it to do, we won’t have a revenue failure next year. Sure, it’s never generated more than $20 million, but that doesn’t mean we can’t believe. Maybe if we wish hard enough…

I just don’t want to do that right now. At the expense of my civility, I was working together quite the hilarious post. Instead, just let me be direct.

Speaking as a superintendent, here’s what I know:

  • Due to three state revenue failures (wait for it – there will be one in June), we spent considerably more money in the fiscal year that ends June 30 than we generated. Thus, we have eaten through much of our fund balance (carryover).
  • The systems that typically equalize funding differences among school districts also failed this year. In our case, this amounted to an additional loss of $1.5 million.
  • Next year’s “flat” budget starts at this year’s end point. In other words, the losses endured by districts this school year will be felt again next year. If districts don’t cut spending, they will again spend more than they receive. That can’t go on forever.
  • The budget was made flat, in part, as I referenced above, by counting on revenue sources that will never generate the funds that are in the official state budget. It was also aided by emptying the State Department of Education’s Activities Budget. This includes money for textbooks, alternative education, and the Reading Sufficiency Act, among other things. For Mid-Del, this is an additional loss of more than a million dollars.
  • I know I’m not the only superintendent who believes that the budget will hold until after elections. Then, and only then, will we face another revenue failure and more mid-year cuts.
  • Nothing about the forecast for our state’s economy tells me we’ll be dealing with anything better next year.

proops points.gif

2. The points may not matter, but your vote does. So does that of your representatives and senators. SB 1616 passed the Senate by a vote of 30-16. It passed the House by a vote of 52-45. All the Democrats voted no. Many Republicans joined them. For some, it was because the budget contained elements that resembled tax increases. For others, it failed to address the reasons our budget has collapsed in the first place.

Sen. Mike Mazzei was blunt about his disappointment:

I argued against the budget on the Senate floor and voted against it for the following reasons:

1. The budget is once again propped up by one time money sources and borrowed dollars totaling $620 million.
2. Borrowing $200 million to prop up state’s expenditures could lead to a credit rating downgrade.
3. We did not restore funding from the FY16 automatic cuts to k-12 education and education funding as a percentage of overall revenues since I have been a State Senator has now fallen from 36% to 27%.
4. In spite of numerous promises after last year’s budget, we did not give teachers a pay raise. Legislator pay ranks in the top 20 nationally while Oklahoma teacher pay has sunk to 49th.
5. Although we did pass several tax reform bills which I wrote to save $262.8 million, our finance reform efforts did not address the super expensive wind power tax credit which will cost the state nearly $100 million this next fiscal year.
6. Without a teacher pay raise, insufficient funding for k-12 schools and a whopping $90 million cut to higher education we provided no alternative to the tax payers for the November ballot question to increase the Oklahoma sales tax by 20%.
7. In spite of a lot of talk at the beginning of session, no $1 million plus state agencies were consolidated or eliminated.
8. Also discussed significantly at the beginning of session were necessary changes to the so called “off the top” money that is diverted to special projects. Much of this is state tax payer money that funnels back to the counties. We did a big $0 of this much needed reform.
9. When the budget agreement was announced on Tuesday, Senators were assured that the mega expensive wind tax credit cost would be reduced, but the Oklahoma House failed to fulfill that end of the negotiated bargain.
10. The very successful ROADS program which has grown over 200% since 2008 will still receive its automatic $60 million increase even though revenues are down approximately 12%.
11. To avoid another financial crisis next year, General Revenues will have to increase over 10% next year. There is simply not enough growth in our national or state economy at this point for even 3% revenue growth.
12. The Oklahoma House increased their expenditure amount by $1.8 million. Shocking!

An extraordinary financial mess requires extraordinary financial fixes. Half measures and borrowing money just doesn’t cut it. The Senate did not push hard enough for major financial reforms and fiscal prudence. Sadly, that which matters most, producing an ever increasing number of college and career ready graduates was short shrifted once again.

To his credit, Mazzei tried all session to get his fellow Republicans to roll back the most recent round of tax cuts. The benefit to the working class Oklahoman is negligible. The cost to state agencies is tremendous. As I keep saying, there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you.

Senator David Holt, in comments to the Oklahoman was more succinct: 

“The thing that is disappointing to me the most this session is Oklahomans were paying attention to the priorities of this legislature more than in the six years I have been here,” Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said. “But as that attention increased our focus on the budget seemed to actually get worse. We didn’t respond to that attention in the way that I think we should have.”

I can’t argue with that. We are definitely paying attention more than ever. And as a body, the Legislature failed to meet that challenge. The government as a whole did, in fact. The governor presented ideas. So did individuals in the House and the Senate. Whether it was a three-cent increase to the gas tax or a buck-fifty per pack of cigarettes, or – God forbid – accepting $900 million in federal funds to expand Medicare and stabilize one of the safety nets in place for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, we couldn’t come to any agreement. We didn’t make progress.

We rolled back tax credits for the poor, but we didn’t touch the hundreds of millions that we give to corporations that pay back nothing:

Some state lawmakers justified their decision to curtail a tax credit for the working poor by declaring that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing people who owe no income taxes in the first place.

But the state has several tax breaks on the books that do essentially the same thing for businesses. Through a combination of direct refunds, rebates and tax credit “transfers,” companies with no income tax liability are receiving cash subsidies.

In some cases, the state pays the money to them directly. In some cases, they get the cash by selling credits they can’t use to taxpayers who can use them.

You should read the entire Oklahoma Watch article. It’s infuriating.

Meanwhile, our schools, our prisons, our roads, our nursing homes, and our hospitals are in serious trouble. Our governor may be the co-chair of the Republican National Party’s platform committee, but our government is broken. Argue that point with me. I’m waiting.

All of this is a direct result of the people we elect. Register to vote (by June 3rd). Know your representatives and senators. Many of them face viable primary opponents, as well as November challengers.

Call them. Email them. They still want to hear from you. Let them know that no matter their intentions, the results are unacceptable.

Cut after cut, year after year, our children pay the price. Our whole state does.

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Everything is made up, and the numbers do matter. The budget numbers matter. The voter registration numbers matter. The votes in four weeks matter…but only if you do something about it.

Two messages: one on testing, one on purpose

1. Yesterday, HB 3218 passed the House by a vote of 95-1:

Oklahoma students currently are required to pass four of seven tests in specific subject areas in order to graduate.

The bill would remove the requirement for the end-of-instruction tests, which would no longer be required for high school graduation.

The state Board of Education would be authorized to create new graduation requirements. The board, in cooperation with other entities, also would be asked to develop a statewide system of student assessment, which would be subject to approval from the Oklahoma Legislature.

The bill would make the 2016-17 school year a transition year and would require students to take the new assessment or assessments beginning in school year 2017-18.

If the Senate passes this bill and the governor signs it, we would have a slow transition away from End-of-Instruction exams, and the ACE graduation requirements would be a thing of the past. Graduation should not be linked to testing, and for that alone, I am grateful. With four days to go in the legislative session, I hope this bill keeps moving forward and becomes law.

As Rob Miller wrote last night:

With today’s action in Oklahoma, along with similar movements across our nation, I hope we are starting to recognize that education and success in life is more than doing well on a bubble test. And how a young child performs on any standardized assessment given on any one day of their life will NEVER be an accurate measure of their potential value to our world.

Human beings are not standardized and no set of standards, no curriculum, and no assessment will ever capture the true essence of what it means to be an educated person, or a person of efficacy.

The message HB 3218 sends is that our Legislature is beginning to understand this. They’re listening to educators, parents, and students more than ever before.

2. I’ll avoid discussing the budget today. By the end of the week there will be one. Of that I’m certain. Whether it will protect education, trample on the state’s poorest citizens, or resemble something Lewis Carroll would have written – that all remains to be seen.

Instead, I’ll stay positive. Below is a video from one of our middle school students to our teachers.

This is one of the videos we took of students at the end of the school year. After seeing her speak, I wanted to meet her, so I did. Sometimes it’s good to be the superintendent.


I don’t know how many thank you messages we recorded in all from our students to their teachers, but I know the whole video made the end of the year even more special.

Even if your year has already ended, think about the students we serve and what they mean to us. If you’re fortunate, they’ve shared their gratitude with you too.




Your life is not a gif

I’ve had a couple of days away from budgets and politics. In case you too need the respite, here is my commencement address to our three graduating classes of 2016:

Graduates, congratulations! Parents, congratulations! Teachers and principals, congratulations! Today we’re celebrating hundreds of individual accomplishments, but we’re also celebrating the collective contribution of each of you here. These students enter the world from high school – whether it be college, work, or anything else – on the heels of the caring adults who have taught them. They enter the world with the friendships They’ve  developed during this time as well.


Students, you come here today with memories and hopes and dreams. You have goals and ambitions. You have certainty, and yet you face the unknown. I’ve talked with many of you. I know you have plans for the next four years, and then the 10 years after that. Well hold on for the ride. Some of what you have planned will unfold exactly as you expect it to. And then some won’t.

There’s no perfect blueprint for adulting – that’s a word I’ve learned from my own children who have entered post-high school life. Well, it’s not really a word, but a short time ago, many of the things we say now weren’t officially words either. When I was in high school, there was no Internet. One of my favorite words – blog – is only a little more than a decade old. The words photobomb and re-tweet were just added to the dictionary last year.

Another of my favorite words, though, is gif – G-I-F. You may think it’s a recent addition to the language but it actually dates all the way back to 1987, when I really was in high school. It’s an acronym that we use as a word. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Those of us who are on social media much at all think of gifs as short intervals of video that are cut to form a continuous loop. Basically, they’re the same five or ten seconds repeating again and again and again.

They’re funny. They’re sometimes effective tools for illustrating a point. And sometimes, they’re just obnoxious ways for cat owners to express continuous loop.gif

What they are not, however, is a blueprint for adulting. You don’t want to repeat the same 10 seconds of your life over and over, and you certainly don’t want to repeat someone else’s life over and over again. It’s your future out there. They’re your decisions to make – your triumphs, your mistakes, your struggles, your accomplishments.

When the good things you’re bound to experience happen, treasure them. Take pictures and videos. Tweet them to friends and family. Throw them out on Instagram and Snapchat. Add captions. Relive them through the magic of Timehop, or whatever comes next in the way of social media. Getting caught up in a moment is a great thing sometimes. Just don’t be stuck in an endless, repeating loop.

skills.gifAs you exit high school, you have a certain number of choices before you. What you’ve done to this point has helped determine whether that’s a high number or low number. As you get older, you’ll still have choices to make. You can choose a career path now, and you can change your mind in a couple of years. It’s easier to do that at 20 or 22 than it is at 33 or 44 or 55. The older you get, more people will be impacted by the choices you make.

I can just think of two critical things you don’t want, though. One is to let other people determine who you should be. As hard as it is for your family to hear sometimes, you are the person who has to figure that out. Nobody else gets to choose where you live, how you make money, or even what you want to name your children. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have an endless stream of unsolicited advice. Sometimes it will even feel like pressure. Just remember, though, sometimes the best path is the one nobody saw coming.Dobler

The other thing is not to let your life unfold so that you look back on high school and say, Those really WERE the best years of my life. Don’t peak at 18 or 19. Even if you loved every minute of high school – and I know you did – make the next four years even better. Then, make the next four years even better than that. You can always climb higher than where you are right now.

And when you hit a rough patch along the way – whether it’s because you made certain choices, or it’s because sometimes, bad luck just lands on us – figure out what went wrong and change your path. Don’t spend another year, or four years, or 10 or 20 years, beating yourself up, wondering what went wrong.

Your life is not a gif. As much as you don’t want to keep a highlight reel on in the background at all times, recycling the same moments again and again, you definitely don’t want to relive the unfortunate times more than you have to.

It’s a great world out there. It’s huge. It’s great to be a (Bomber/Eagle/Titan), but you can be even more than that. Some of you are going to be Raiders, or Sooners, or Cowboys, or Bronchos, or any number of other things. You’re going to become mothers and fathers, and someday, in the very distant future, even grandparents. You’re going to go to work, and some of you will even become somebody’s boss.

using that wordAnd when you do all of this, when you’re smack-dab in the middle of adulting, I hope you’ll look back at your time in high school – really, at all ages of schooling – as something better than a gif. I hope you’ll see it as a gift – that’s with a T on the end. Wherever you go in the world, I hope you’ll see the value in educating our youth, and building this country’s future.

Leave home. Come back and visit. Email your principals, counselors, and teachers and let them know how you’re doing. Call your parents often. Never forget your roots. They’re what give you the strength to pick the path that’s ahead of you – the path you choose, whether it’s the one less-traveled, or the one with all the tread.

Congratulations, and good luck, Class of ’16!


A Teacher’s Open Letter to Legislators

I’ve written enough this week, but I still have more blogging to do. Maybe it’s time for another voice, though. For that, I’ll turn to long time blog follower and Bixby Public Schools educator, Jessica Jernegan.

From Facebook:

In light of my less than productive capitol visit on Tuesday, and today’s legislative foolery, I just can’t keep this saved on my desktop any longer. Take or leave it, just my (frustration induced) two cents.

An Open Letter to Our Oklahoma State Legislature:

First and foremost, these suggestions do not apply to all of you, so let me say, just as I do in my classroom, you know who you are.

Below you’ll find just a few humble suggestions from a disheartened teacher who’s had enough.

1. STOP WASTING TIME on legislation that is both pointless and fiscally irresponsible. When we can define bills as, “an emotional distraction,” you’re not doing your job.

2. When teachers, parents, and administrators from your districts make the drive, week after week, to the capitol to meet with you, SHOW UP. There is never, and will never, be a situation at our schools in which we tell kids/parents “she’s gone for the day.” You are, by definition, a representative, act like it.

3. It is absolutely despicable that it is currently May 19th and we don’t have a BUDGET. I can guarantee you one thing, if your jobs depended upon it, as ours do, it would be done. Do your part to retain teachers in our state. Don’t leave them in limbo, wondering about their employment, or lack there of, while you waste time on issues that are irrelevant in the face of our current crisis.

4. RESPECT us as professionals. When we talk with you about state mandated testing, student impact, teacher evaluations, school funding, and teacher salaries, LISTEN TO US. We know what we are talking about. Give us the same professional courtesy you give your doctor. We care about the health of our public schools and the future of the students they serve. Treat us as if our opinion matters and is valid, because it does, and it is!

Thank you to those to which these suggestions do not apply, keep fighting the good fight. You know who you are.

Jessica Jernegan
Proud Oklahoma Teacher

To that, I’ll just add that Oklahomans are watching. Get a budget passed. Make sure it’s grounded in reality this time. We’ll be voting accordingly.


One Shell of a Shell Game


Yesterday during lunch, I wrote about a re-emerging threat to Oklahoma teachers: the plan to cap insurance expenses and pretend to give teachers raises. So far, that hasn’t gone anywhere, but it’s one of many last ditch plans to “fix” the Oklahoma budget and its $1.3 billion hole.The problem with a lot of these plans is that they pop up at the last minute, often leaving us with dire, unintended consequences.

Speaking of unintended consequences, apparently, that wasn’t supposed to be public information yet:

Hickman said even he was confused when committee substitutes to House Bills 3213 and 3214 began appearing in representatives’ email inboxes shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, with the notation that they had been added to the agenda of a 1 p.m. Appropriations and Budget Committee meeting.

Currently, I count 12 bills in the House alone that aim to “help” with the budget in general, and in theory, with teacher pay too. I may have missed something, though. Let me quickly run through them, providing very little commentary for most.

HB 3205 This measure would shorten the window for recollecting overpayment of sales tax from three to two years. The fiscal impact statement attached to it estimates the state would keep an extra $10 million per year. This bill has passed the House. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, if you’ve overpaid, you should get your money back. On the other hand, I don’t expect the OTC to keep files open indefinitely.

HB 3206 – The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) will analyze reserve funds available and compare them with cash flow needs of the state. This bill has been sent to the Governor for signature, but there is no fiscal impact statement.

HB 3207 – This bill simply orders the Grand River Dam Authority to transfer $9.5 million to the state’s General Fund. It hasn’t been heard on the floor yet.

oklaed tagHB 3208 – This is a funky one. Every Oklahoman who owns a car would be required to get a new car tag – ostensibly a shinier one – you know, for safety, and for the kids. This increases our costs, and for no good reason. Besides, I already have a tag I really like.

The bill has passed the House, even though none of the $18.5 million generated by this action would hit the General Fund.

HB 3209 – This bill would require OMES to make cuts to apportioned allocations in the case of a state revenue failure – you know, like the ones we’ve experienced this year. The interesting part is that some funds can be cut by less:

When the certification by the State Board of Equalization for the forthcoming fiscal year General Revenue Fund is less than that of the current fiscal year certification, all revenue apportionments made by the Tax Commission shall be reduced by the same percentage, except for the following:

1. Education Reform Revolving Fund;

2. Apportionments of revenue to any of the following: a. Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, b. Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, c. Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges, d. Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System, e. Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma, and f. Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System;

3. The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program;

4. Any apportionments provided for by law in order to fulfill commitments made by the State of Oklahoma pursuant to any compact with a federally recognized Indian Tribe;

5. The Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) Fund;

6. Any apportionment of revenue to a county or other political subdivision for the purpose of road, bridge or other transportationrelated funding;

7. The General Revenue Fund;

8. The Building Bonds Sinking Fund;

9. Any apportionment required for payment of incentives pursuant to the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program Act; and

10. Any apportionment required for an internal fund of the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

You know, the bill doesn’t say that any of these ten funds will be cut less. It just says they won’t necessarily receive the same percentage cuts. In theory, that means they could get cut worse. That’d never happen, right?

HB 3210 – This bill would raise cigarette taxes in hopes of generating about $190 million in new funding per year. Or it will make smokers buy their habit at a duty free shop instead of a convenience store. Or they’ll quit. That’s probably a smart decision too.

HB 3211 –  Once you’ve given up smoking, you’ll want to give up drinking low-point beer too. This bill nearly quadruples the state tax on watered-down suds. The fiscal impact statement estimates an increase of $46 million/year to the state.

HB 3212 – Again, we’re raising taxes through legislative action. Grover Norquist won’t be happy! This time, it’s a three-cent tax on each gallon of gas, and it goes away if the average price of a gallon in Oklahoma hits $3.00. Honestly, this is probably feasible. A lot of gas is bought here by people just passing through. To me, it’s similar to cities with a robust tourism industry taxing hotels. This could be another $41.5 million. That being said, the committee vote was 9-14. It’s dead. Or dead-ish.

Nothing is really ever dead at the Capitol. That’s why some of my friends and I are still watching for a phantom voucher bill.

HB 3213 – This is a really interesting one. When you click on the text of the measure, all you see is static language of a shell bill. Nothing happens. When you look at the bill summary for the committee substitute, it’s funkadelic:

Research Analysis

The committee substitute for HB3213 refers to a vote of the people numerous changes to the Oklahoma sale and use tax code. If approved, the measure would increase the state sales and use tax rate from 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent and expands the list of services and property subject to sales or use tax.

The list includes: water, sewage and refuse from a utility or public service company; computer programming, design and analysis services; repair, installation, delivery and maintenance services when provided in conjunction with the sale of tangible personal property; pet grooming services; landscaping services; storage of furs; marina services; carpet and upholstery cleaning services; laundry, diaper and dry cleaning services; swimming pool cleaning and maintenance services; exterminating and pest control services; tire recapping and retreading services; computer software that is electronically delivered; digital products; auto repair services; video programming services; leases and rental of aircraft; overnight trailer park rental; telephone answering services and welding services.

Revenue from the increased rate would be used to fund a teacher pay raise, which is authorized by a companion measure, HB3214. In the event that HB3214 is enacted into law and voters do not approve the changes proposed in HB3213, then the teacher pay raise would not be authorized.

The measure would also modify the apportionment of sales and use tax to various funds effective January 1, 2017 and each year thereafter.

Changes in Apportionment by Percentage:

-General Revenue Fund would decrease from 83.16 percent to 71.74 percent;

-Education Reform Revolving Fund would increase from 10.46 percent to 23.17 percent;

-Teachers’ Retirement System Dedicated Revenue Revolving Fund would decrease from 5.0 percent to 4.29 percent,

-Oklahoma Tourism Promotion Revolving Fund and Oklahoma Tourism Capitol Improvement Revolving Fund would decrease from .87 percent to .7475 percent.

-Oklahoma Historical Society Capital Improvement and Operations Revolving Fund wou;d decrease from .06 percent to .0525 percent.

Fiscal Analysis The measure is currently under review and impact information will be completed.

So the House is proposing a state question to compete with David Boren’s penny sales tax. How diabolical!

snidely whiplash.gif

We’re going to raise the state sales tax by four-tenths of a percent, and we’re going to tax your lawn guy and pool boy. Need new brakes? That’s a tax. Interesting move. I’m sure we’ll enjoy reading the actual bill when it appears too.

HB 3214 – As I wrote yesterday, this bill has no text online other than the static shell bill language. There are also no amendments, committee substitutes, or fiscal impact statements posted.

Supposedly, this bill will turn into the vehicle by which the House tries to fake giving us a raise by taking our Obamacare away from us. We can’t see that from here, but I trust people who know.

I also trust math. Supposedly, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has driven up the rates of teacher health insurance. Below are the monthly premium costs for HealthChoice High since 2008. The first year that premiums would’ve been affected by ACA would be 2011.

Calendar Year  Monthly Premium  (FBA)  Dollar Increase Annual Percent Increase
2008 $364.24
2009 $409.12 $44.88 12.32%
2010 $442.80 $33.68 8.23%
2011 $449.48 $6.68 1.51%
2012 $449.48   – 0.00%
2013 $463.99 $14.51 3.23%
2014 $484.87 $20.88 4.50%
2015 $499.42 $14.55 3.00%
2016 $526.88 $27.46 5.50%

The truth is that insurance costs have been rising for decades. Obamacare doesn’t seem to have stopped it, but it doesn’t seem to have accelerated it either. If you love saying it and riling people up, that’s great. It’s also a distraction. It’s completely irrelevant to a discussion about teacher pay.

HB 3215 – This one really confuses me. The posted bill is a shell. No amendments, bill summaries, or committee substitutes have been posted. Yet Monday, the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget voted it down by a 16-18 vote. I don’t even know how that works.

HB 3216 – All shell. No amendments, summaries, fiscal impacts, or votes. Anything could happen here.

In summary, it’s not fair to say our Legislature hasn’t been doing anything. They’re sliding shells around the table and courting Constitutional challenge. They’re doing anything but admitting that their policies – their tax cuts – have had anything to do with the budget shortfall our state faces. It’s not all of them, but it seems to be a lot.

Somewhere in these bills, there’s a solution. It’s probably just hiding in plain sight.

Just so you know…

The House of Representatives plans to discuss HB 3214 this afternoon. All we can find on line is a one page shell bill:


2nd Session of the 55th Legislature (2016)


By: Sears and Casey of the House

and Jolley and Treat of the Senate


An Act relating to revenue and taxation; enacting the Oklahoma Revenue and Taxation Act of 2016; providing for noncodification; and providing an effective date.


SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law not to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes reads as follows: This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Oklahoma Revenue and Taxation Act of 2016”.

SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2016.

55-2-9980 MAH 05/12/16

That’s it. That’s the whole bill. According to House Minority Leader Scott Inman, though, there’s more:

Inman 3214

This simply is not ok. Any attempt to cap teacher health benefits in the name of a raise is a farce. Please contact your representative (or four or five) and let them know you’re watching. Even though we can’t see what the bill they’ll be discussing, that doesn’t mean we have to be in the dark.

Legislator Name Phone         Email
Bennett, John R. (405)557-7315
Billy, Lisa J. (405)557-7365
Brown, Mike (405)557-7408
Casey, Dennis Ray (VC) (405)557-7344
Coody, Ann (405)557-7398
Cox, Doug (405)557-7415
Hoskin, Chuck (405)557-7319
Inman, Scott (405)557-7370
Johnson, Dennis (405)557-7327
Martin, Scott (405)557-7329
McCall, Charles (405)557-7412
McCullough, Mark (405)557-7414
McDaniel, Jeannie (405)557-7334
McDaniel, Randy (405)557-7409
McPeak, Jerry (405)557-7302
Morrissette, Richard (405)557-7404
Nelson, Jason (405)557-7335
Ortega, Charles (405)557-7369
Osborn, Leslie (405)557-7333
Ownbey, Pat (405)557-7326
Peterson, Pam (405)557-7341
Rousselot, Wade (405)557-7388
Russ, Todd (405)557-7312
Sanders, Mike (405)557-7407
Sears, Earl (C) (405)557-7358
Sherrer, Ben (405)557-7364
Wesselhoft, Paul (405)557-7343
Wright, Harold (405)557-7325

Two Things: Remember the One Thing

May 17, 2016 Comments off

Quickly this morning, I want to tell you what I told my Leadership Team this week. I know we’re crazy busy. We’re stressed over budgets. Ending the year and planning the next one amid uncertainty is driving us mad.

For my district, though, this is our last week with this group of kids. Find moments to put the stress aside. Enjoy the senior breakfasts, awards dinners, super kids days, and graduations. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we stress in the first place.

Instead of a song or a meme today, I’ll just give you two quotes:

  1. After all, life hasn’t much to offer except youth, and I suppose for older people, the love of youth in others. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. – Zora Neale Hurston

One week: remember the one thing that matters.

And fine, here’s one song:

A-F: Flawed Now and Forever

This morning’s Oklahoman had a real surprise: an article by Ben Felder linking the state’s A-F Report Cards to the poverty level of schools. The connection between the two isn’t a surprise. It’s the placement of such a story.

A-F Oklahoman.jpg

Yep, that’s the front page of the Oklahoman. When I awoke this morning, I had messages and tweets telling me all about it. One tweet in particular pointed out that I had in fact made a similar connection on this blog – in 2012.

Yes, when Oklahoma issued the first A-F Report Cards in 2012 – using a formula that was even worse than the one we have now – I pointed out that the scores favored schools serving more affluent populations. Nonetheless, the Oklahoman supported the report cards on its editorial page.

Those who attribute good school grades to socio-economic factors are off the mark. Several A schools were in rural communities that aren’t concentrations of wealth and privilege. The poverty rate in Canton is higher than the statewide rate. Average household income is 14 percent lower than the statewide average. Yet Canton High School got an A.

Yes, you can always cherry pick the exceptions. Overall, though, poverty was a strong indicator of a school’s grade.


For that post, I also looked at the specific distribution by site, for the schools with the highest and lowest poverty rates.

Here is the grade distribution of the high-poverty schools:

Letter Grade Distribution of High-Poverty Schools
2 8 32 46 2

Here is the grade distribution of the low-poverty schools:

Letter Grade Distribution of Low-Poverty Schools 
46 48 3 2 2

The truth is that this was also the case for the previous accountability system, API scores, as my very first blog post pointed out. It was still true the next year when the formula changed (and when the SDE had to recalculate scores a dozen or so times). Still, there was the Oklahoman criticizing the critics.

With the release of Oklahoma school sites’ A through F grades looming, opponents of accountability are predictably ramping up attacks. School officials should think twice before embracing one such tirade issued by a small group of college academics. To discredit A-F school grades, those researchers effectively argue that there is little correlation between a public school education and actual student learning.

The year doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s preemptive. Sometimes it’s reactionary. The stance of the Oklahoman has been consistent. They don’t like it when superintendents, researchers, or anyone else points out the obvious truth that an A school isn’t necessarily better than a C school.

That’s why today’s article, along with its prominence, isso surprising. Felder is a good researcher and writer, as today’s piece illustrates:

The average poverty rate for an A school in the state is 45 percent, based on analysis of the 2015 letter grade report from the Oklahoma state Department of Education.

As you move down the grading list, the poverty rate grows bigger — B: 58 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 76 percent, and F: 84 percent.

In Oklahoma County, which is home to school districts in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Midwest City, the income gap between A and F schools is even starker. The average in Oklahoma County is A: 29 percent, B: 56 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 77 percent, and F: 83 percent.

The disparity highlights the challenges students living in poverty face when it comes to performance in school, at least performance on end of the year exams, which account for the majority of the state letter grade. It also highlights the potential challenge for low-income families to access many of the state’s highest performing schools.

Moving from a neighborhood with an F school to one with an A school could mean finding a residence where the income level is nearly three times higher.

Again, we know this pretty well. In November 2013, I made a list of factors that correlate to a school’s A-F grade:

Another reader pointed me to this spreadsheet showing all school districts in Oklahoma, their student counts, and the percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The table also has bilingual student counts, which is information I previously didn’t have. Last week, I ran correlations between school grades (and district grades) and poverty. Yet another reader suggested to me that I run correlations between the grades and poverty, this time only using districts with more than 1,000 students.

Comparison Correlation
All District Grades to Poverty -.52
Large District Grades to Poverty -.80
Large District Grades to Bilingual -.32
Large District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.76
Small District Grades to Poverty -.51
Small District Grades to Bilingual -.10
Small District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.45

Both factors – poverty and bilingual education – seem to impact large districts to a greater extent. Statistically speaking, there are a couple of factors here. One is that the data for bilingual counts include a lot of schools with none reported. Zeros in statistics skew results (as they do with student grades). Another factor is that there were 131 of the large districts (still a statistically significant sample) and 386 small ones.

My takeaway from this is that while the report cards tell the story of schools’ accomplishments only to a limited extent, and while my analysis from before built on that, there is always more to learn, if you’re willing to unpack the data and find out what is happening. Among our largest schools, we see more variance in socio-economic levels. We also know that urban poverty and rural poverty are not identical.

As always, I should point out that correlation does not equal causation. Nor does it equal forecast. Schools with high poverty rates do sometimes perform well on tests. They just don’t do it with the frequency of schools with low poverty rates. The explanations for this are myriad. Low-poverty schools get more applicants for open teaching positions. They are more likely (based on US Census data) to have parents who are college-educated. They get more parental involvement. The list of reasons goes on and on.

Nor is this simply an Oklahoma phenomenon. As Paul Thomas writes on his national blog, The Becoming Radical, today:

“Bad” and “good” contribute to our coded political and public discourse that reflects our collective unwillingness to do what is required: reform directly education so that all students have the sorts of opportunities that we do guarantee to the most fortunate children among us.

That’s all an A-F Report Card system does. It codes our schools. It labels enough of them as failures to extend the narrative that public education as a whole is failing. And I’ll go ahead and say what you’re thinking: it contributes to white flight.

Asked for his thoughts, Rep. Jason Nelson acknowledged the poverty linkage to the grades, but also advocated for more school choice:

Nelson views this income disparity as a reason to allow a student’s state appointed funding to be used for enrolling in a higher performing school.

“A lot of parents can’t really move from the inner city of Oklahoma City to Deer Creek, and even if they could afford to do it … their support system can’t all move with them to Deer Creek,” Nelson said. “The key is to give them options where they exist today so they aren’t forced to move if they can’t.”

That’s all true. People can’t just buy a house that’s 300 percent more expensive and move. What he doesn’t mention – what education reformers never mention – is that the school with a low grade may still be a good school. It’s also myopic to assume that families from the inner city even want to move to Deer Creek. Some people actually value their neighborhoods, and as an extension, their neighborhood schools. Maybe some would move, given the option. Some wouldn’t though.

Let’s frame it another way. If your kids are in a school with a low poverty rate, something like 20 percent free/reduced lunch participation, and the school gets a B, aren’t you going to wonder why? It rarely happens. Does that mean that every school with low poverty and an A has great teachers? Absolutely not. It’s easy to be shiny when you have resources. That doesn’t mean the teachers don’t work hard, though.

That’s been another one of my great concerns during this age of accountability. We don’t want to make any assumptions based on the letter grades. Some schools with an A are great. Some aren’t. The same is true for schools with lower grades. In most of them, you’re going to find teacher working really hard to help students succeed.

The Oklahoman recognizing that poverty impacts student achievement is like Mary Fallin acknowledging that fracking causes earthquakes. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, but it was obvious to the rest of us for years.

I’m happy for Felder’s coverage, but I now wonder what will follow on the editorial page. There’s long been a disconnect between the paper’s reporters (who tend to treat public school stories fairly) and its opinion writers.

For 2016, we’re still using the A-F Report Cards that hundreds of superintendents, as well as the state superintendent, have completely disavowed. Testing is over for the spring, and report cards won’t come out until this fall. If you want a preview, however, click this link showing current percentages of students served by free and reduced lunches in our schools. This will be pretty close to the final outcome.

Two Things: More Misery

May 10, 2016 Comments off

At the beginning of this year, the intent of the Two Things series was to make a couple of quick points on Tuesday mornings before heading off to work. It’s evolved into something different. For one thing, it doesn’t always happen before work. Also, it’s often more than just two things.

Well, it’s too late to type a before-work post. I can still find two quick things to discuss, though.

1. $10 million in additional cuts for Oklahoma City Public Schools

From News OK:

Acting Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora on Tuesday announced $10 million in additional budget cuts to counter the state’s projected revenue shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

The latest cost reductions will include the elimination of funding for student testing, delaying new textbook purchases, and reducing elementary school supply budgets, adjunct coaching positions and contracts with outside vendors, the district announced in a news release.

The article goes on to describe other possible cost savings, such as school closures and the elimination of popular programs for schools. This is on top of $13 million in previously announced cuts, most of which are teaching and administrative positions.

2. Cuts in Tulsa County

From the Tulsa World:

School boards in the Broken Arrow, Union and Bixby school districts slashed a total of $14.09 million out of their budgets and nearly 150 jobs out of their employee rosters in separate meetings around the metro area on Monday evening.

Broken Arrow school board members prefaced their vote to reduce their Fiscal Year 2017 budget by $7.39 million with stinging comments for state lawmakers.

“It is maddening and saddening,” said Theresa Williamson, a board member who said she hopes legislators get news cameras trained on them so they have to answer to the public about the state of Oklahoma’s budget.

“For the specific individuals affected, I apologize. It didn’t happen overnight. They (legislators) didn’t do what needed to be done,” she said.

The three suburban districts are just the latest among local schools grappling with the consequences of the state’s budget crisis.

In recent weeks, Tulsa Public Schools eliminated 270 jobs as part of its plan to reduce its Fiscal Year 2017 budget by $8 million. The cuts included 142 teaching positions.

Again, class sizes are increasing and programs are lost. Meanwhile, Rome burns, and nothing happens.

Oklahoma Flag Out of Focus

For additional reading:

This will warm your heart.

To the first year teacher, you made it. Congratulations! I promise you that the tears you have shed have been worth it.

To the teacher that is retiring, you made it. Congratulations! Thank you for your years of service and for your dedication to your students and schools. Thank you for leaving a legacy.

To the teacher that is leaving the profession, I get it. Times are hard and being a teacher is hard. Thank you for all that you did while you taught in your classroom. And always remember that you can come back. Good luck in your future endeavors!

To the teacher lost their job because of budget cuts, I’m sorry. It isn’t fair. I don’t know what to say to make it better. Don’t lose hope and don’t lose your passion.

To the graduating college student, Oklahoma kids need good teachers. I hope that you choose to stay.

This won’t.

I admit I don’t quite understand how institutions like the House of Representatives are supposed to work, but I cannot imagine trying to lead a group of adults who lack the self-control and respect to simply be on time, sit down, close their mouth, and pay attention. This was far worse than any staff meeting I have attended .  .  .  or middle school classroom for that matter.

State in Dire Distress


Oklahoma has one of the most beautiful state flags. According to Wikipedia:

The Osage shield is covered by two symbols of peace: the Plains-style ceremonial pipe representing Native Americans, and the olive branch representing European Americans. Six golden brown crosses, Native American symbols for stars, are spaced on the shield. The blue field is inspired by the Choctaw flag adopted by the tribe in 1860 and carried though the American Civil War. The blue field also represents devotion. The shield surmounted by the calumet and olive branch represents defensive or protective warfare, showing a love of peace by a united people.

In our schools each day, after students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they recite the Oklahoma flag salute:

I salute the Flag of the State of Oklahoma: Its symbols of peace unite all people.

Well, I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think our people are terribly united right now, unless it’s when the governor is featured on the Kiss Cam at a Thunder game.


This is the sixth legislative session since Mary Fallin became governor in 2011. According to the state’s own Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity:

We know that Oklahoma experienced 907 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2015, 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2014 and 109 in 2013.

While we understand that Oklahoma has historically experienced some level of seismicity, we know that the recent rise in earthquakes cannot be entirely attributed to natural causes. Seismologists have documented the relationship between wastewater disposal and triggered seismic activity. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.

While the state literally crumbles beneath us, the state’s finances have metaphorically turned to dust during the same time-span. School districts in north Texas are actively recruiting our teachers from a panel van just this side of Gainesville and a promise of candy, or a $15,000 raise – your choice. Rural nursing homes are in danger of closing. Have no fear, though. There’s cake for you on the fourth floor at the Capitol.

mmm cake

Today is May 8. Our elected leaders have three weeks to implement a budget. We have promises to fill the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. The governor has offered ideas. The House Speaker has defensively discussed the math involved with running a state. So far, though, nothing has happened. Last Thursday, the House adjourned for the weekend before noon.

House Republicans can find the time to choose a new House Speaker (for 2017), but we don’t have a budget. By the way, what happens if the Republicans elected to open seats this fall want someone else? Why don’t they get a say in this? That just seems strange to me.

Two elected statewide officials who seem to understand our predicament are State Treasurer Ken Miller and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. Last week, Miller posted the following message.

Ken Miller FTWYou can expand the image to read Miller’s screed in its entirety, but here’s one of the middle paragraphs that resonates with me:

The long and short of it is Oklahoma needs more recurring revenue. This is a common sense conclusion evidenced by years of general appropriations bills that included hundreds of millions in nonrecurring revenue, in good times and bad, that falsely propped up budgets and exacerbated the current problem.

He mentions also his doubt that state leaders have the political resolve to roll back tax cuts. That’s why we’re going nowhere fast. There’s a complete lack of will to do something. It’s my idea or nothing. As one of my colleagues keeps saying with regard to the current situation for school districts, we’re dealing with a menu of misery.

Jones, on the other hand, isn’t as kind to his fellow leaders:

While much of our funding problems have been caused by the downturn in the price of oil and natural gas, the bigger problems have been caused by politicians looking out for their own political futures and not the future of our kids and grand kids.

When you say tax cut, people’s eyes get huge. They don’t care if you’re cutting someone else’s taxes and not yours. They just love the concept. They don’t think about the fact that a cut in taxes also means a cut in services. I’ve said over and over this year that there’s nothing conservative or wise about letting core state services crumble all around us. That would be education, health care, corrections, and transportation. I don’t even care about how you rank them. They’re all in trouble.

Meanwhile, one idea to generate revenue is to end those pesky tax credits for low-income Oklahomans. After all, they’re the ones who caused this mess, right?

Oklahoma offers three modest tax credits that primarily support working families. These are the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to encourage work; the Sales Tax Relief Credit, which supports basic nutrition and helps alleviate Oklahoma’s sales tax on groceries; and the Child Tax Credit, which strengthens families caring for children. These credits help more than 400,000 households — over 40 percent of Oklahoma families. For many, they provide just enough breathing room in the family budget to meet basic needs and avoid other forms of assistance. They help reduce some of the imbalance in a state and local tax system that already calls on those who make the least to pay the biggest share of their income in taxes.

A plan being discussed by Legislative leaders would eliminate the Child Tax Credit and reduce by one-fourth the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Sales Tax Relief Credit. This would shift taxes onto those families who were largely left out of Oklahoma’s income tax cuts, and it would have the worst impact on families raising children. For example, the proposal would mean a $180 tax increase for a couple with two children making $35,000. The same family got just $9 from this year’s income tax cut. A middle-income family earning $49,800 a year with four kids would see a tax increase of $270, more than the $228 they have gotten back from every income tax cut in Oklahoma over the past 12 years.

There’s a reason Jones speaks so frankly. We’re attacking huge problems with small solutions that would have unthinkable consequences. But there’s cake.

Another way to look at the problem is the broader economic impact of job cuts in the school systems. A group of 15 Tulsa area districts met this week and looked at the potential loss of 667 jobs due to the state’s budget problems, and the impact it would have on the area. Jobs mean homes and shopping. There are secondary consequences to all of this. As Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett said:

It will take a significant amount of political courage for them to do what’s necessary. It will be our responsibility to provide them with political cover when they do undertake the responsibility of making some very, very serious decisions.

Our state is in dire distress.

One of my favorite shows is House of Cards. In the show’s opening, the American Flag is shown upside down, which is a universal symbol of distress.


By now, we should probably consider doing the same with our own flag. As Rob Miller pointed out last week, our own choices have brought us to this point:

Yet, when oil was selling for $100 a barrel a few years ago, legislators chose to spend the extra proceeds on tax breaks and incentives for billion dollar corporations and passing a gratuitous income tax reduction.

It is important to remember that the annual cost of cuts to the top personal income tax rate enacted since 2005 is $1.022 billionaccording to an analysis conducted for Oklahoma Policy Institute by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan national research organization. This amount includes the reduction of the top income tax rate to 5.0 percent from 5.25 percent that took effect in January 2016.

That extra one billion dollars would sure come in handy about now, wouldn’t it?

The clock is ticking. By law, the Legislative session has to end by 5:00 on May 27. As this clock shows, that’s about 18 days and 23 hours. Do something.

If you have to raise taxes to avoid being known as the Legislature that put senior citizens out on the streets, so be it. If you have to cut corporate incentives to avoid being the Legislature that decimated public schools, then do it. This isn’t a year to shake out the couch cushions and see what you can find. You did that last year. It hasn’t worked out too well.

Do something. Time is short.



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