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Archive for June, 2016

Reason #8 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: Tired of saying “only”

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine seven days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”

This article by Andrea Eger in the Tulsa World last night highlights the reversal of some cuts by the Tulsa Public Schools:

The Tulsa school board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that reduces previously proposed cuts by half and restores 42 of the 142 previously eliminated teacher positions.

In the spring, district leaders had identified $13 million in spending cuts in anticipation of a state funding loss of $13.5 million to $20 million. But officials dialed back the spending cuts to $6.75 million when asking the school board to approve a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.

“The (state funding) reduction is far less than we anticipated,” said TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams. “Still, knowing the outlook for the state economy, it wouldn’t have been prudent for us to build back everything into our budget.”

Because the state Legislature did not pass a fiscal year 2017 budget until late May, school district leaders across the state planned for their new budgets and staffing levels on estimates and guesses about how much of the $1.3 billion state budget shortfall would be passed along to local schools.

Instead of reducing the number of teaching positions by 142, TPS will only have to cut 100. They’re only cutting $6.75 million out of the budget for the 2016-17 school year. Aren’t these ridiculous statements? The truth is that this is the position most Oklahoma districts find themselves in right now.

Public education funding is still lower than it was in 2010. Teachers still haven’t had raises in 10 years. Then again, it’s only ten years, right. And the funding is flat, right? That’s another word I’m tired of saying – flat. It’s lost all meaning.

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We’ve all been cutting for months. Three percent here. Four percent here. A change in motor vehicle collections everywhere. The Doerflinger Kerfuffle. A cushion from the Rainy Day Fund, which was nice. Then the loss of textbook money – another hit. One last late revenue failure, just for good measure.

And now, the state finds 100 million that it forgot to allocate. Hmm. What to do?

 

If trends hold and Oklahoma ends the fiscal year with a $100 million budget surplus, two main scenarios have emerged for how the money would be allocated.

“If funds are available to return, Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services can return funds equally to all agencies, or the Legislature and governor can allocate funds at their discretion via a special legislative session,” OMES Director Preston Doerflinger said Monday.

Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said the general revenue fund surplus stands at $166.6 million through 11 months and that even assuming revenue declines in June, a surplus topping $100 million is likely.

State officials made across-the-board spending cuts of 3 percent in December and 4 percent in March because revenues weren’t keeping up with expenditures amid the oil industry decline. The surplus occurred because the March cut was apparently larger than needed.

Maybe they should hold it. After all, it’s only $100 million or so. Seriously, though, I don’t know which of these two choices is preferable. I also don’t know how either option would work.

In Scenario A – restoring funding by percentage to agencies that received a cut – the funds would just go back according to the level of the cuts. This would hit each state agency pretty equally. Still, I wonder if this would be FY 16 funding or if it would be an early supplemental allocation for FY 17.  It’s FY 16 state revenue, so that kind of clouds the issue.

In Scenario B – a special session to distribute those funds – our Legislature reconvenes (after the primaries, of course) to determine which state functions have the greatest needs. This is probably what they should do. Then again, the timing of the funding is a little wonky. Let’s pretend that doesn’t matter though. It’s only a month into the new fiscal year, right? Looking at percentages, higher education had much worse cuts than just about anybody else. Would they restore funding for the agencies that took the hardest hits first?

Special sessions are pricey. In 2013 – the last time the governor called for one – taxpayers spent only $30,000 per day. As then Representative Joe Dorman said then:

Because we did not do our job the first time, we’re wasting taxpayer money, and we’re back here.

I know it’s frustrating to those making the budget that we are seeing such volatility in the factors that impact state revenue. I’m not critical about the $100 million or so that suddenly needs to be disbursed. They’re throwing darts at a moving dartboard. Besides, it’s only about 1.4% of the funds available to the Legislature to appropriate.

None of that is really the point, though. The jobs that hang in the balance, the programs that face elimination, the uncertainty that shadows all of us right now – all of it is because we love our tax cuts more than we love our students, our communities, and our infrastructure. We love the companies that receive tax credits more than the people who work for them. And that’s disgraceful.

One more thing: if you think that showing up to vote next week doesn’t matter because you’re only one vote, think again. Plenty of people will be showing up to vote against public education, and they’ll be coming one at a time, just like you. We just need our ones to outnumber theirs.

Reason #9 to vote #oklaed: The Haters

Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.

This one time, at EdCamp, my friend Dallas used a word that really shocked me. No, it wasn’t one of those words. It was January 30 of this year – the first time I had ever met the person behind the social media powerhouse that is Blue Cereal Education. We had attended some breakout sessions in the morning, and as we settled in for a nice lunch among friends, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister took the microphone to speak to us.

She gave her preview of the upcoming (now completed) legislative session – her goals, priorities, and hopes. She talked about her first year in office. She was relaxed and comfortable. Then she asked if we had questions. Immediately, Dallas shot his hand into the air, and Joy – oh, Joy – called on him. “Yes, Dallas?”

“Why do they hate us?” he exclaimed, plaintively, and loudly.

I can’t say that I saw Joy’s face in that moment. I was too busy facepalming. When I finally made eye contact with Dallas, and then Scott Haselwood, and finally Joy, and after the laughter in the room had stopped, she responded. “They don’t hate us, Dallas.” At that moment, she made a teacher face. That may have been when I really believed she was one of us. It was that look with the eyes and forehead pointed down, and the mouth pursed as if to hold back certain other words. It was a look with a message. Certainly, it was amusement.

Joy went on to explain the nuances of working within the framework of our system of government and how what the legislature is sometimes willing to do doesn’t align with what the governor is willing to do and that there are these outside entities who influence policy. It was a good answer. It was a necessary answer. And I believe it was sincere.

I also believe Dallas is onto something. There are people and groups out there who hate us. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, let me take you back to 1993. I hadn’t even started teaching yet.

mr-peabody-sherman-1960sI lived in south Tulsa during the year I spent teaching in Muskogee. It meant a fairly long and scenic commute, but I really didn’t mind. I even signed on with a temp agency so I could do odd jobs before the year started and on some breaks. I had a few short stints in factories, and I worked security (all 5’ 8” of me) during the NAIA basketball tournament at Oral Roberts University. On one very random night, I also worked as a busboy at a banquet, also at ORU.

I don’t remember the name of the organization, but I can tell you their purpose. These were people gathered to talk about why public school was bad. I didn’t think much of it at first. I just thought I was among private school patrons. I’ve never really had a problem with private schools. It just wasn’t my background or experience. I felt then, as I do now, that public school dollars should not be spent in private schools. I was 22 and very naïve, but I knew with certainty was that public and private schools had very different purposes. We exist to teach all the children we get. They exist to teach the kids who apply and gain acceptance.

I’m clumsy at times. You might say I’m a spiller. Overall, I did pretty well though, moving from table to table, filling waters and iced teas. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I remember what she said, more or less. Public schools will teach your children to be gay, and they’re mired in the social experiment of multi-culturalism. The first part was absurd. I grew up in Norman, for goodness’ sake, and I don’t remember anybody teaching us to be gay. Then again, I didn’t have a lot of room in my schedule for electives. Rigor, and all.

The other part – the attack on multi-culturalism – reeked of Pat Buchannan’s failed primary challenge of President Bush the previous year. I’ve never understood this. Our country is proudly an amalgam of multiple cultures. We are not all the same.

Resistance is Futile

The speaker suggested that those who could should pull their children out of public schools and put them in private schools. The rest should choose homeschooling. And we should spread the message about all the awful things public schools were going to teach the children. Most importantly, we should become more active politically and try to pass a voucher law. This was the first time I had heard the term voucher in relationship to public schools.

This was great blog material, but I still hadn’t taught my first day of middle school or high school English. If I had only known then that decades into the future I would share a modicum of renown with Dallas and Rob Miller and all of my other rebel friends, I would have taken good notes. Maybe I wouldn’t even have apologized to the lady on whom I spilled the water I was pouring.

Knowing who they were – which groups and individuals – really doesn’t matter. They’re still there. They write editorials. They post maniacal rants about the books we teach and the curriculum they don’t understand. They publish tripe from the comfy confines of their think tanks. They even follow dentists into offices for which they completely lack qualification. Rarely are they a united front, but they exist, and they do hate us.

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They have a much bigger foothold with obstructionist legislators than they did in 1993. Some of them even hold those offices, for now. They want to lower taxes and starve the beast. They even engage in bizarre conversations on Twitter about lowering taxes to reduce the size of government when all they’ve really done is reduced taxes and let the size of government shrink on its own.

The ones who hold office refuse to make conscious decisions about these reductions. They just let it happen, sometimes as a percentage cut across the board, sometimes as direct hits. You might even say that some get their jollies from it.

Let me be clear, though. I don’t believe that the legislature as a whole hates public education. I just know that some do. Some feel it’s their moral obligation to oppose it. As Kevin Calvey said two years ago:

Let’s face it, public education is a big, black, empty hole and it’s not going to get any better. The rest of the world is hungry and smart and they’re capable. We are the only Western power that doesn’t allow parental choice for schools. The best thing for public education in Oklahoma is more private schools with monies allocated by the Legislature.

On the other hand, Calvey has also threatened to set himself on fire. So there’s that.

This is why we must vote. We can’t let another election cycle pass in which we let those who hate us strengthen their position. I’ve heard that public education is the strongest lobby at the Capitol – from someone who ostensibly likes us but in all honesty doesn’t. It’s time to be the strongest voting bloc in the state, too.

If that’s not enough to motivate you, I’ll give you this in closing. Representative Richard Morrissette, one of 30 Democrats in the House, claims that the state superintendent with whom we parted ways in 2014 is behind some of the dark money supporting selected candidates.

It’s at the 5:30 point of the video clip in the link above.

I can’t tell you whether or not his claim is true. You know if I had proof, I’d be throwing it in your face. I’m a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them.

It’s not a single party that hates us. It’s not even the majority of a single party. It’s a significant enough group though, that when the stars align just right, we see more bad policy and less education funding. I’m not naïve anymore. Nor am I jaded. I just have my eyes open, as we all should.

Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on this.

  1. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.

It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and friends of teachers banded together and let the world know that we were fed up. In 2014, we had been insulted too many times by the person who was supposed to be leading us. The sitting state superintendent had told us that she’d “be damned” if she’d let another generation of children be lost. She called schools failures. She sidled up to Jeb Bush and his merry band of corporate education reformers. She didn’t give teachers the time of day.

In 2014, #oklaed led the movement that fought to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 and allow parents to have a voice in the decision to promote third graders to fourth grade. The very next month we really made some noise.

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When Joy Hofmeister won the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 24, 2014, and incumbent Janet Barresi came in third, we clinked our glasses together, exchanged fist bumps, and exhaled. Rob Miller even did a little dance.

Maybe we exhaled a little too soon. Other than Aaron Stiles in House District 45, no incumbent lost a race in 2014. Even more critical was the fact that Fallin won re-election over Joe Dorman (something that would be much less likely right now). In other words, for all the things that we eventually elected Joy Hofmeister to do, she had the same governor and essentially the same set of legislators who had enacted A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurement.

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We now approach this year’s primary elections. The good news is that the power of #oklaed has grown. The problem is that instead of focusing all of that energy on one race, we are focused on many. With over 100 contested legislative races this time around (not all in the primary), the best most of us can do is cherry-pick a handful of races in which it is critical to protect the seat or flip the seat.

Also, we can’t exactly sneak up on anyone this time around. We’re loud and proud. The Oklahoman has attacked us. So has one of the tentacles associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. We’re kind of a big deal. People know who we are.

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Superintendent Hofmeister continues to support us. She helped promote an end to End-of-Instruction testing and the failure of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). She worked with legislatures to take value added measurements (VAM) out of teacher evaluation. We’re in for a clumsy transition, partly because of federal requirements still, but you have to acknowledge that we are seeing the early stages of the dismantling of high-stakes testing.

Hofmeister campaigned on these principals. Honestly, all six of Barresi’s challengers did. The Legislature has begun to reverse bad policy, but only to a point. Whatever you see the next point being – mine would be ending the third-grade retention law – we need to get the state superintendent and her department some help.

And for the record, I’m not saying that #oklaed activism was the sole reason that Barresi was sent home after one term. It took a rock star candidate to beat her in the primary. We supported the candidate, and it seems to have helped. We have many now who need our support. They need us making calls and knocking on doors for them. Give a day. Give half a day.

This is how we fix #oklaed – by supporting candidates who will support us. The time is now.

What the $250,000!?!

I struggle to understand some of life’s bigger mysteries. Is Area 51 real? Where do crop circles come from? Why does anyone care what the Kardashians (or any other of the pseudo-celebrities on television do?

Yesterday, the Oklahoman presented us with another:

A state agency that manages tobacco settlement money has created a $250,000-a-year job and offered it to someone whose name was not disclosed.

By comparison, the governor of Oklahoma makes $147,000 per year.

Some have questioned the high salary for the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s new chief executive officer, a position created at a time when many state departments are facing severe budget cuts.

Tracey Strader, 57, who now leads the trust as executive director, earns $120,000 a year and will stay on with the agency, which has 22 employees.

David Blatt, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said it’s unusual to create a $250,000 position for an agency with so few employees, while other, much larger parts of state government, affecting millions of Oklahomans, are run by executives earning much less.

The trust has more than $1 billion in its endowment, funded by settlement money from big tobacco companies. Interest from the settlement is spent by the trust to discourage smoking and boost public health.

“Certainly by the standards of state government a salary this big is almost unprecedented,” Blatt said. “It seems hard to know why they would be willing to double the salary of the existing director and why the name hasn’t been revealed.”

Hey, it’s good work, if you can get it! Please understand that this position will not cost the state anything. As TSET is self-funding at this point, none of this money could have been used to offset other deficits in our budget. Its purposes are very specific. According to their website, they can do five things:

Oklahoma’s Constitution was amended by a vote of the people, to place a portion of each year’s tobacco settlement payments into an endowment trust fund, to create a five-member Board of Investors to oversee the investment of the trust funds, and to create a seven-member Board of Directors to direct the earnings from the trust to fund programs in the following five areas:

1. Clinical and basic research and treatment efforts in Oklahoma for the purpose of enhancing efforts to prevent and combat cancer and other tobacco-related diseases,

2.Cost-effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs,

3.Programs designed to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans or to enhance the provision of health care services to Oklahomans, with particular emphasis on such programs for children,

4. Programs and services for the benefit of the children of Oklahoma, with particular emphasis on common and higher education, before- and after-school programs, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs and services designed to improve the health and quality of life of children,

5. Programs designed to enhance the health and well-being of senior adults.

Yes, the salary is high and unprecedented. Yes, selecting someone for the post and not announcing the name is intriguing. On its face, this is just the kind of government waste and overreach that the right-wing watchdogs at a particular organization would find outrageous. However, as the Oklahoman article continues, we see this isn’t the case:

Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said his organization has been encouraging the trust to use some of its resources directly to help people access health care.

“We believe they should be more proactive in shoring up rural primary care needs, critical access needs, as opposed to advertising and funding grants,” he said.

Small said that if the new chief executive officer is successful in steering the agency in the direction of helping the state pay for public health care, he or she could be worth a big salary.

I did some research. Small typically doesn’t like seeing big government salaries. Nor does he generally think the government is effective at providing education. As he wrote last week in the Journal Record:

Well, the data suggests some Oklahoma public schools are not very efficiently operated. The sheer number of individual school districts, more than 500, means that we’re spending a lot on superintendents who in some cases preside over districts with fewer than 100 students.

That’s not surpising. The OCPA and their strongest adherents in the legislature often complain about the cost of school administration. This is just what we expect.

What Small wrote about cigarette use back in March, however, seems to really contradict his new-found hope:

Government at its core is force, often by burdensome taxation. Our failed criminal justice policy demonstrates that using the force of government to change non-violent moral behavior leads to hurting Oklahomans. Over and over states have demonstrated that cigarette tax increases marginally affect smoking, but significantly decrease the purchasing power for other necessities, including for the most vulnerable smokers and their families.

Our economy is struggling. We can’t afford tax policy that artificially deters Oklahoma consumers from Oklahoma businesses.

If we truly care about Oklahomans who smoke and their families, particularly the most vulnerable, we will help them make wise choices, not use the force of government to hammer them and their families for non-violent moral behavior.

His points are about proposals to increase the cigarette tax. The last sentence, though, shows his true feelings on the force of government. Do you know who else has this force? TSET. And now we know who will be leading them forward:

The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust announced Tuesday Patrice Douglas has accepted a newly created $250,000-a-year job heading up the state agency.

Douglas is a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, a former Edmond mayor and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. House.

The announcement came a week after the trust stirred public concern with word that it was starting a lucrative new position and had offered it to an undisclosed person at a time when most state agencies are facing severe budget cutbacks.

lloyd bridges

I don’t know enough about Douglas to say whether she was a good choice or not. Let’s say she is. And let’s say that under a couple of years of her leadership, smoking decreases significantly and the state saves money in direct and indirect health-care costs.

That still doesn’t justify the salary. Saving money is the expectation for leaders of public agencies. It doesn’t merit this high of a salary for this small of an agency. It’s a slap in the face to everybody else who is dealing with brutal budget cuts in Oklahoma. And yes, I know I’m a superintendent and part of what some would consider to be the problem. That’s an altogether separate conversation.

Oklahoma keeps demoralizing its citizens. This won’t help.

 

Sixteen Days to Something Different

I’ve been working off and on for a few days on a post on the education budget, especially the activities budget. I’m not going to finish it.

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If you want to try to understand the process by which these decisions were made, you should go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website and find the board documentation they provided. Some projects weren’t cut. Some were cut more heavily than others. You can also watch State Superintendent explain in the video below.

If you want to see more written about the Activities Budget, you can do one of two things. You can read the Oklahoman and Tulsa World coverage, or you can get your own blog. It’s really easy.

What’s done is done. We can dwell on it, as we plan for another school year with less money and more students. Instead, maybe we should do something about it. We can’t keep sending the same people to the Oklahoma Capitol and expect them to do different things. The government is broken, but we keep sending delegates from the same set of archetypes to represent us.

We have tax policy purists, who will never stray from their pledges to national groups that make adherents swear never to raise taxes. I like low taxes too, but I also like a state government that funds core services at something above famine level. More importantly, I like for our elected leaders to forego signing pledges to special interest groups. And yes, that includes public education. Make pledges to your voters.

We have people who can’t wait to throw their piety in your face. They want you to know and adhere to their moral code. They also want you to vilify anybody who believes differently.

We have people whose ambition seems to be their defining trait. They barely mask it. They migrate from interest to interest, always throwing their own name on top of whatever hot topic seizes the public’s attention. They love the issues that prey on the electorate’s emotions, even though they know that there is no way the legislation they propose or pass will ever be enacted.

I could go on and on, but what we don’t have is a critical mass of legislators who get it. Yes, I know that’s incredibly vague criticism, but I can be more specific.

If you look at the state’s budget overall, you can see that some agencies and services took harder hits than K-12 education did. Maybe it’s fair to say that our state leaders are angrier with OU president David Boren than they are with us. If that’s the case, maybe I should stop writing.

I tease. Of course spite would never factor into the budget writing process, right?

Our governor and legislators keep pointing to the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is really low. That’s not their fault, of course, but the policies of the last 10 years that have depleted state revenues are their fault. Again, I want low taxes. I also want fully funded schools. I want roads and bridges that don’t collapse under the weight of traffic. I want prisons that aren’t a danger to those who work there due to overcrowding. I want the state services for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, and drug-addicted to remain viable options for their families.

In short, I want state leaders who don’t kick the financial can down the road and balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. So do many Oklahomans, and that is why we have so many primary races coming up that feature viable challengers to incumbent representatives and senators.

Associated Press writer Sean Murphy wrote about this yesterday:

Mid-year cuts to public schools and other state services, along with a looming budget crisis, helped draw a record number of political newcomers to races for state House and Senate offices in Oklahoma this year.

Legislators will soon learn if the same general discontent exists among voters, who head to the polls June 28 for Oklahoma’s statewide primary election. Every Oklahoma senator up for re-election drew at least one opponent this year, while only 14 current House members went unopposed as a record number of candidates filed for office.

Rep. John Paul Jordan, a first-term Republican who represents the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, drew a slate of opponents including two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.

“There’s frustration with the Legislature, and I think we’re looking at an election cycle where a lot of people are just frustrated with the status quo,” Jordan said.

We’re very frustrated. Incumbents know it. That’s why they’re doing anything they can to turn back their challengers. Murphy continues:

On the Senate side, two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa also was a popular target, drawing two Republican challengers, three Democrats and an independent. Among his Democratic opponents is a retired superintendent from Sand Springs, and Newberry acknowledges some pro-education groups would like to knock him out of office.

“I think it’s a concerted effort by a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work that’s being done in the Capitol building, and they want to take a shot at people running for re-election,” Newberry said.

I’ll admit to being a part of a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work being done at the Capitol. That’s why I’ve been flying the state flag upside down as a sign of distress on Facebook and Twitter for weeks. They aren’t serving their constituents. They’re serving their donors. Or their parties.

dear lord brian jackson is friends with a democrat we are all going to die

Typically, once either party can verify that you are a bonafide registered voter in that party, they let you look around in the pantry for any ingredients that will help you in the kitchen. In this case, however, the Oklahoma Republican Party has told Newberry’s primary challenger, Brian Jackson, that he can take his knives and go. Jackson and retiring Sand Springs superintendent Lloyd Snow – who is running for the same seat as a Democrat – are friends. They both know that Newberry’s record on public education is lousy, and they’ve said so, jointly. Neither is waging a partisan campaign. Much like the main characters in the Frog and Toad books, Brian and Lloyd are friends.when lloyd met brian

For those of us who choose people and issues over parties, the denial of resources to a bonafide candidate stinks to high heaven. If you look at just education issues, I’m probably going to agree with both Jackson and Snow a lot more than I would agree with Newberry. Beyond that, I’d be likely to agree with Snow on some issues and Jackson on another. I’m not beholden to either party. I don’t check all the boxes on either list.

I am a voter who supports public education, though, and I’m one who thinks that we are at a crossroads. We can make some serious change, and  we can do it soon.

Still, some don’t believe. They think we’re doomed to fail. As the Tulsa World reported yesterday:

The strife during the recent legislative session and the proliferation of candidates it produced are unlikely to lead to a major challenge to Republican control of state government, political observers speaking at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa said Friday.

“I’ll be shocked if there’s a net change of two seats either way,” Republican political consultant Pat McFerron said.

I’m not looking to change the Republican to Democrat ratio in the House or Senate nearly as much as I’m looking to change the degree to which the chambers as a whole support public education. I’d love to see Jackson take Newberry out in the primary. If Jackson wins and comes up against Snow, I really don’t have a preference.

If we change two seats this month in the primary elections, that alone would be huge. Former State Board of Education member Tim Gilpin agrees:

What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it. Cuts in our state budget started during the Great Recession. But even in the face of record energy prices and a national recovery, our state leaders continued cutting education and basic services. Our current problems are not all about low energy prices.

I have friends who have made lists. I even am a board member of a group that put out a list of pro-education candidates, though I don’t agree with all the selections. How could I? In a state as spread out as ours, I don’t have the information to know the ins and outs of all the races. After all, we have 101 representatives and 48 senators. All of the House and half of the Senate seats are up for re-election.

I’ve already chimed in on Newberry and two of his challengers. I’ll go ahead and give my two cents publicly on one more race.

Senate District 45 covers most of the Mustang school district and a considerable portion of the Moore school district. In other words, this race is about the places where I have spent the majority of my career. It even covers the far southwestern tip of Mid-Del. The incumbent, Kyle Loveless, is finishing his first term. I met him when I worked in Moore, and he came to ask us questions about the Reading Sufficiency Act. He even visited one of our elementary schools in Mid-Del last fall. I have no complaints about his availability. He is friendly and engaging when I’ve been around him.

His record on education leaves much to be desired, though. He is a staunch supporter of vouchers, and he frequently takes to social media to push the school consolidation agenda. He, along with members of groups that are openly hostile to public education, also often chastise schools for the actions of individuals. Somehow, even though Sen. Loveless has his own children in public schools, it serves him politically to paint schools as horrible places.

His opponent, on the other hand, is Mike Mason, a teacher at Mustang High School. I taught with Mike during my last six years at MHS. Teachers respected him. Parents and students appreciated him. He was teacher of the year for 2016, and the Oklahoman even ran a highly positive story on him prior to his filing for SD 45. Mike is a true educator and more than any other candidate I can name, one who would change the makeup of the Senate.

Mason is underfunded, compared to the incumbent, but money isn’t everything. Jeb Bush had more donations than any other presidential candidate. That didn’t work out too well for him, did it? If Mike is to win this seat – for that matter, if any of the challengers are to win, we simply have to overcome complacency. We have to vote.

Know which House and Senate seats represent you. Find your polling place or learn how to vote early. Donate to candidates you support who support public education and volunteer for their campaigns. And call some friends.

This election cycle matters. We may not have the unifying symbol of She Who Must Not be Named to kick around anymore. We have to do more focused and detailed work to find and support good candidates who believe in public schools.

So what are you waiting for? We have 16 days.

We mean different things by flat, right?

In case you missed the memo, our state’s legislative leaders are selling the idea that they’ve given us flat funding. I’ll try to make the case, again, that they haven’t, when I have more time over the weekend. In the meantime, enjoy this memo we all just received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education:

Elimination of textbook funds has districts scrambling, delays textbook adoption

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 8, 2016) — The state Legislature’s elimination of all funds designated for school textbooks has forced the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to recommend a one-year delay of textbook selection. Although $33 million was appropriated for textbooks in Fiscal Year 2016, legislators zeroed out the line item for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“The lack of appropriated dollars for textbooks is posing serious challenges for districts across Oklahoma,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “At a time when educators are implementing new, stronger standards for English language arts and mathematics, districts will be scrambling to raise funds to replace workbooks and other consumable materials for early reading students. In the meantime, children will continue to be saddled with outdated and tattered school books held together by duct tape.”

Hofmeister noted that school districts have little recourse but to delay the purchase of textbooks for reading and math, a restriction that can be particularly challenging for elementary school students.

“As a result of the funds being cut this year, we are seeing a number of textbook publishers pulling out of Oklahoma,” she said.

Under Oklahoma statute, the State Textbook Committee may delay by two years the textbook-adoption process. Every six years, the committee adopts textbooks for specific class subjects.

The 13-member committee, which is appointed by the governor, is expected to consider the recommendation at a special meeting later this month.

I spoke with two textbook representatives today, and they told me they are not pulling out of the state. However, that’s just two. There are others.

This is just the beginning of the ramifications we will see from this “flat” budget.SDE - Textbook Funds.png

Time: Summary of 6/5/16 #oklaed chat

June 5, 2016 Comments off

Tonight we had a lively discussion about time.

tardis clock.gif

You might even say it was timely. There were 900 responses in all. If you want to read the full chat wrap, Michelle Waters has put that together for you. Here are some of my favorite responses to the chat questions, along with very little commentary from me…

Q1  Instructionally, what do you wish we could spend more time doing in the classroom?

There were a number of good responses here. Generally, we (and by no means do I think I speak for all who participated) want to focus on active learning, rather than memorization and test prep.

Q2  Instructionally, what do you wish we could spend less time doing in the classroom?

Again, we want to spend less time teaching kids how to test. And we want to quit teaching electives as if they’re minor league classes for math and English. Plus, busywork is a real drag.

Q3  What does it mean “to value a student’s time?”

Spend time doing what matters. Over the next several questions, we start to see a theme developing. Whether it’s adult or children, bored people speak volumes.

Q4  How important should “seat time” be for how we credit students with what they’ve learned?

I could have been more specific to what I meant. Yes, children don’t learn best when they’re forced to sit all day. Neither do adults. I should have asked about our strict adherence to the amount of time to take a class and earn a credit. Oh well, maybe next time (get it?).

Q5  How much unstructured time (recess, lunch, etc.) should students get during the school day?

We think kids of all ages need more breaks. Still, somebody has to supervise the kids. There are definitely logistics to consider, especially with all the budget cuts and staff reductions.

Q6  How much time outside of the school day should students have to spend doing schoolwork?

Every time we discuss homework on a chat, people get testy. I don’t like it for elementary, and I think it should be used sparingly for middle and high school. If you take AP classes, you should know what the workload is.

Q7  What does it mean “to value a teacher’s time?”

We don’t like meetings, in general, and we’d like a say in the professional development to which we’re subjected. Tegan is right. We need balance in our lives. At some point, we shouldn’t be accessible.

Q8  How can we reconceive professional development to better use the time of adult learners?

In general, collaboration is our preference. That’s something we should keep in mind for our own instruction. The way we prefer to learn is probably the way most of our students would prefer to learn as well.

Q8b  You pick a breakout session at a conference. It’s lousy. Your time is valuable. Do you stay or go? Why?

I try to be an optimist at conferences, but sometimes, I’ve chosen between two things that really appealed to me. If I’ve chosen poorly, and I can tell pretty quickly, I’m on the move.

Q8c  Would your students make the same decision if they could?

The key phrase here is if they could. Obviously, they can’t, but we should know if we have a captive or a willing audience.

Q9  How much time outside of the contract should teachers spend grading and planning?

I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing of teachers who roll in right at their reporting time and rolling out right behind the buses. I also don’t like hearing of schools in which a handful of teachers work 70-80 hour weeks to meet every last physical and emotional need of the students. You’re a professional. You should be willing to go above and beyond the most basic job requirements from time to time. You’re also a human being. You have limits. You need balance. Your own family should come first. If your current boss disagrees, well, we’re hiring. We don’t have as much open as we did a year ago at this time, but we have some positions.

I respect teachers who are consummately dedicated to the kids. I just hate seeing them work themselves to the point that their health suffers.

Bonus Q: How much downtime do you take during the summer? No, really?

Yeah, we live on the edge. I have a stack of Hemingway to read. I’m teaching a grad school class. Many educators are going to conferences, participating in book studies, and driving around listening to podcasts relevant to their jobs.

And because I’m me, here are two classic songs from movies with the word time in the title. Why two? Why not. My blog, my rules.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaAqze81y4Y https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkplPbd2f60

 

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