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Cheap Budget Trick

July 31, 2016 Comments off

While the school year and legislative session were both coming to an end in May, one story of budget cuts – and not a public education story – really stuck with me. From KFOR:

The Department of Human Services is freezing a program which helps low-income Oklahoma families pay for child care.

New applications within the child care subsidy program will soon be denied in an effort to save money.

Those who are currently enrolled in the system will not be impacted.

It’s those moms who are currently pregnant or those families who will soon need the financial help who are about to have to figure out a way to do without.

Baylea Brown is a single mom in the Oklahoma City area.

She relies on the state subsidy to help pay for child care for her 9-year-old son, Gavin, who has special needs.

“Because of the subsidy, I can pay my rent. I can pay for food,” she said.

It’s a subsidy that helps low-income Oklahoma families.

But, starting June 1, 2016, the program will be frozen.

“The agency has run out of money this year,” said Sheree Powell, spokesperson for DHS.

NewsChannel 4 obtained an internal memo from DHS.

The memo was sent out earlier this week, alerting employees to the changes that are coming.

The memo states “Due to the ongoing state budget shortfall, DHS will freeze enrollment for the child care subsidy program effective June 1, 2016.”

It goes on to say “Although new applications will not be approved, applicants still have the right to apply for the program and should not be prevented from doing so. However, applicants should be informed that all new applications will be denied. Notice of denial will be mailed to all who apply after the deadline. This decision cannot be appealed. However, if a client requests a hearing on this decision the request should be accepted and forwarded to the DHS Appeals Unit. The Appeals Unit will notify the applicant that the decision cannot be appealed.”

DHS also has concerns.

“Some of the things we’re concerned about is that families won’t be able to find quality child care, or they’ll start leaving their children in unsafe situations, maybe with relatives or friends who really aren’t qualified to care for their children,” Powell said.

Brown’s glad her subsidy is safe, but she knows just how hard life will potentially be for the families who will soon be denied the help.

“That just sounds kind of impossible – to work and to pay bills and to have daycare,” she said.

This is reality for families below the poverty line. Society at-large (me included) wants parents to be able to work. Often the cost of child care is an obstacle. Freezing the subsidy will keep thousands of parents out of the workforce. Remember that the next time you stumble across a conversation in which your friends and neighbors are talking about poor people just wanting handouts. The state has just frozen a program that would help people who are trying to find a place in the workforce.

Another non-education cut from April also has stayed with me. From the Tulsa World:

A state association of health-care providers claims up to 93 percent of Oklahoma nursing homes will cease operating if a 25 percent cut in the Medicaid rate goes into effect, creating a crisis for Oklahoma families and jeopardizing 16,900 jobs.

This could place about 16,800 elderly and disabled patients at risk of being displaced from their nursing homes.

The decision by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to slash the rate came last week as the state slips into a deepening revenue failure, estimated to reach at least $1.3 billion by next fiscal year.

In the past five years, almost $500 million has been cut from the Medicaid program, mostly by reducing rates to health-care providers and restricting services available to SoonerCare members. The past decade has seen about $1 billion in cuts.

The recent rate decrease comes from agency officials anticipating cuts of $64 million in the program needed by the end of June.

This reduces federal matching funds, which will total a loss of $164 million in total state and federal funding for Oklahoma Medicaid. The reduced rate goes into effect June 1.

It may get worse. Agency officials have stated another $100 million reduction may be in store for next fiscal year’s budget.

This story alarmed me mostly because I had no idea how reliant our nursing homes were on state funding. I knew they weren’t get rich schemes for their operators, but I didn’t realize they were functioning that close to the margin between making a small profit and having to close.

I also didn’t realize that SoonerCare had scaled back services so much. My own kids were on SoonerCare when I was a classroom teacher. We also qualified for WIC. Even though this cut is not directly an educational issue, it is probably worth noting that state programs subsidize a number of public employees – education and otherwise.

I mention all of this now because of Governor Fallin’s announcement that she’s interested in having the Legislature return to the Capitol for a special session to discuss teacher raises.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said she is considering calling a special session to ask lawmakers to use excess state funds on teacher raises.

The state recently closed out the fiscal year and had $140.8 million left. The action comes after a revenue failure that resulted in two cuts to state-appropriated agencies.

The cuts were deeper than were needed, said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

“I’ve begun discussions with legislative leaders to consider calling lawmakers to return in special session to address the issue of teacher pay raises,” Fallin said. “I continue to support a pay raise for teachers, having called on lawmakers at the beginning of this year’s session to approve a teacher pay raise.”

In other words, state agencies received cuts that were bigger than what they needed to be. The timing of the announcement, with run-off elections around the corner, and with momentum building for State Question 779 (penny sales tax), is one thing that concerns me. That’s just one thing, though.

The Tulsa World included a graphic with their story showing the amount that would be returned to different state agencies, if the Legislature does nothing.

Agency Rebates.png

Look at that list. Yes, public education would receive $40 million back. Fallin is proposing that our legislators return to the Capitol to make that happen. She’s also asking them to give us the $23 million from health care, $20 million from higher education, $16 million from DHS, and every other penny.. I have a problem with that. Each of those entities serves our students too. Everything on this list is a core function of state government.

There is nothing prudent or conservative about trying to give teacher raises on the backs of these other agencies. Unfortunately, some of our state leaders are pathologically committed to trying to convince us that teacher salaries can increase significantly without generating new revenue.

That brings me to a third objection: this isn’t recurring revenue. In that sense, this idea is nothing more serious than Janet Barresi’s ill-fated 2K4T scheme three years ago. I’m pretty sure we can’t guarantee that the state will more or less forget to allocate $140 million next year too, can we?

Again, this isn’t new money. It’s money that OMES cut in excess of what they had to. According to CCOSA, the cuts were in fact illegal.

“We believe the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services did not have the legal authority to reduce allotments to state agencies based on estimates that the state general revenue fund might fail,” wrote Owens, an attorney. “We respectfully request that the allocations that were unlawfully reduced from the state general revenue fund be immediately returned to the agencies from which they were cut.”

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, who oversees the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said the allegation that the cut was illegal is “as laughable as it is totally wrong.”

“These reductions were made using the same statutory authority and procedures as all other revenue failure reductions in prior years, many of which also wound up being deeper than necessary and also resulted in excess funds being allocated either administratively by this agency or at the discretion of the Legislature,” Doerflinger said. “When this year’s midyear cuts were made, OMES pursued the only lawful avenue given that revenues and oil prices were in a freefall.”

I don’t know about you, but Doerflinger’s defense seems to be that the state budget was in a freefall and they made a guess at how much to cut. I can live with that explanation. Seriously, as someone whose leadership team made a menu of misery not knowing how deeply we needed to cut, I get it.

What I don’t get is the idea that we can somehow get a teacher raise out of this. Governor Fallin has been calling for one since her State of the State address in February, but there has been no movement on any of her revenue-generating ideas (that she somehow doesn’t think are the same thing as tax increases. Her logic pretty much boils down to:

“The Legislature is still being paid and is still on the state payroll now, even those who are term limited out,” Fallin said. “I think they should come back and do their job.”

Based on the quotes I’ve seen in articles and on social media from various legislators, most aren’t thrilled at the idea of returning to the Capitol. Even if they were, they’d have to get that bus off of them first.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoman thinks Fallin’s plan is adequate, and the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs think teachers in Oklahoma are doing pretty well already. I’m not quoting either of them, but the links are there. Look if you want.

My gut tells me there won’t be a special session. The people running for re-election this fall probably don’t want to take money from all the other state agencies and give it to public schools right now. Meanwhile, this will be a small speed bump for the SQ 779 supporters. Unless a genuine and sustainable plan appears from the people who’ve had years to write one, the penny sales tax is still the best option available.

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In Defense of the Advocates of the Teacher Caucus

July 30, 2016 Comments off

We’ve spent countless years and dollars in this state trying to measure educator and school effectiveness. It usually comes down to a menu of test scores. If we have more kids passing than those other guys, then we must be better at our jobs than they are.

If only it were that clean.

Unfortunately, variables such as socio-economic status, student mobility, and a district’s ability to generate funding intervene from time-to-time. The fact that our state hasn’t demonstrably shown support for public education in about 10 years doesn’t help either.

Because of these facts, and the reality that tests don’t even come close to measuring all of the things that matter in a school, Oklahoma issues horribly misleading A-F Report Cards to the public. Some who ascribe to the measure it if it matters mindset are content with this. We’re not. We see schools making an impact that their grade doesn’t showcase. We see it frequently.

Some things are easier to measure, however, like the impact of public education advocacy. We can look at the number of legislative races contested and won, bills filed and passed (or defeated), or the percentage of votes it takes for an incumbent to finish third in her own primary. Those are quantifiable.

We’re about at the point now that we can also start counting the number of editorials written by the Oklahoman attempting to discredit those of us pushing for more candidates who will promote a pro-public education agenda. (We would also count blogs opposing us, but we’ve yet to find one that is coherent.)

The Oklahoman has close ties to the former state superintendent. Their editorial board promotes candidates who favor all forms of school choice. They favor the concept of sending tax dollars to private schools and asking for no accountability in return. They favor more state testing and jeer legislative measures aimed at curbing unnecessary tests. They deride calls for adequate public school funding. They think the school report cards mean something.

To be fair, though, when I reached out to them and asked them to publish opposing thoughts on A-F Report Cards (along with another superintendent), they did.

That said, on more than one occasion, they’ve questioned the honesty and ethics of our group – A Facebook group – Oklahomans for Public Education. Yes, the Oklahoman is now writing editorials about Facebook groups.

Our group is led by a board that includes superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents. We picked candidates to support based on the information available to us. In some cases, we have disagreed. Over 2,000 people like the page, but even among the board members we have differences. Politically, we are all over the place. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all part of the group.

We are not single-issue voters, which is one reason that we’ve identified multiple candidates in several races to support. If five people run for a seat, and they all support public education, we have to count ourselves fortunate. At that point, we definitely have different preferences that probably fall back in part to our individual political leanings.

Nor do we have a singular litmus test. If you’re on social media every day pushing for vouchers and school consolidation, we probably didn’t give you an apple. If you’re currently a classroom teacher, you didn’t automatically get one. I can think of several former or retiring teachers with poor voting records on public education issues.

The term Teacher Caucus, isn’t really accurate. I prefer to think of us and the candidates who have put themselves forward as a Rebel Alliance.

crazy flier

Either way, the grouping consists of candidates we believe to hold the same view of public school students and teachers that we do. In short, we believe that the state has failed to meet its obligation to Oklahoma students, the vast majority of whom are in public schools. Funding and respect are nowhere near the levels that our students and teachers, respectively, deserve. Candidates we believe will change that get apples. Period.

As for me personally, I’ll throw in the kicker that if you come across as a demagogue or a bigot, I’m out. I don’t care how you voted on voucher or testing bills.

And when those candidates and their supporters desperately take to the streets to smear, in particular, parents who support their opponents, we’ll comment on the cowardice this reveals.

Our work isn’t perfect. It also isn’t finished. I guess that means the attacks will just get uglier and uglier. Nevertheless, we will continue trying to raise public awareness about the candidates who face run-off elections. We will continue communicating with and about candidates who are on the ballot in November.

Then when that’s finished, we’ll keep working, individually and in groups, with the newly seated Legislature. We’re all grown ups here. I can accept that some of the candidates I prefer will win and that some will lose.

Full Circle Conversation

Without getting into the details, I’ve seen some blog and Facebook posts questioning the group of legislative candidates loosely called the Teacher Caucus. Maybe we can have this conversation in the light of day.

Full Circle

Tomorrow, I’ll be at Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City along with State Representative David Perryman. Among the things we’ll be discussing will be the emphasis on pro-education candidates. Surely we can have a civil, constructive conversation, right?

 

What’s Going On?

When it comes to music, Berry Gordy has proven to be wrong about very few things. He personally started the careers of several of the best R&B performers of all time: Wilson Picket, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, the Commodores, and the Jackson 5, to name a few.

Whats going on

I’ve said before that Stevie Wonder probably is the most talented musician I can name, all around. That said, I also believe nobody from that era had a better voice than Marvin Gaye.

Gordy not only has an ear for music; he also has incredible business sense. The artists he kept on the Motown label had company-approved sounds and looks. Throughout the 1960s, he made sure of this. In 1971, however, Gaye recorded a protest song titled What’s Going On? It didn’t fit the Motown image, and Gordy called it “the worst thing I have ever heard in my life.”

The lyrics are simple. They are a beautiful summation of the social tumult of the late 60s.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh

The song is a plea for understanding. It is a cry for solution. It is a song of war and a song of peace, all at the same time. Marvin Gaye (and the other musicians who contributed to the song) looked at all the people they loved that they were losing to senseless violence, from Watts to Vietnam. And they asked, What’s Going On?

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on brother
Right on babe

The 70s weren’t as kind to Gaye as the 60s had been. Less success. Problems in his personal life. Then in 1982, he finally had another huge hit, Sexual Healing, which led to a Grammy win for him in 1983. It was his first. Then, in 1984, Marvin Gaye was a victim of gun violence – murdered by his own father. He had tried to separate his parents during a domestic dispute. In the wake of his death, the world had to ask the question: What’s Going On?

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
C’mon talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you what’s going on, ooh ooo ooo ooo
Right on baby
Right on baby

Now we watch, 45 years after Gordy relented and finally released What’s Going On to a surprising success. People got it. They still didn’t know what was going on, but they understood the song, and they connected with the idea that we’re not alone out there. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine named What’s Going On the fourth-greatest song of all time. It captures our confusion with its cacophonies and still brings us hope with its powerful beauty.

In 2016, the world still bewilders us. Social media helps us see that we’re not alone in that feeling, but it also helps us see that our hopes and fears are perhaps limited compared to those of others around us. I’ve seen some atrocious statements in the last few days. I’ve read eloquent posts from friends such as Emily Virgin, Dallas Koehn, Shawn Sheehan, and Meagan Bryant.

Meagan, in particular, floored me with her statement. She’s a co-worker and somebody who embodies the culture I hope our district can create. It’s there, in disconnected pieces, but it needs to be something we establish with purpose. Find your calling and pursue it fiercely or something like that.

We have strong and talented young men & women walking the halls of our schools struggling with how people will treat them based on the color of their skin. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who have a calling to go in to public service and struggling with how people will treat them based on the badge they put on. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who are battling with their own identities and struggling with how people will treat them based on their lifestyle. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who struggle with professing their faith. Scared for how they will be treated.

I hate seeing on the news or reading that another unarmed black person has been shot by police. I don’t blame all police, though. I hated what I saw last night, death and despair in Dallas, but I don’t blame peaceful protestors who had the right to assemble.

There’s something good to be said for vigils such as this. It’s a sort of fellowship among the grieving. You can do that – grieve by proxy.

What you can’t do is seek justice by proxy. I can hate those who kill innocents. I can’t seek revenge on them, though, by finding someone who looks like them and/or wears the same uniforms.

I also can’t watch, as I had to this morning in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, white men on Fox News talking amongst themselves about what black communities need. Nor can I read another diatribe by nationally syndicated columnists who type for a living and feel qualified to explain how police training needs to improve.

The police last night wanted peace. So did the protestors. One sniper, who fits into neither group, wanted something different. On the Today Show this morning, Queen Latifah summed up how most Americans feel better than I can:

I’m Queen Latifah, but I’m black wherever I go. I deal with the same experiences that other people deal with. I’m also the daughter of a cop, I’m also the sister of a cop, the cousin of a cop and the niece of cops. I don’t want the guns turned on police any more than I want the guns turned on us.

Most Americans want peace, but every day, every week, we see more violence. And we feel powerless to stop it.

What’s going on?

Who’s Still Here?

I love basketball. I don’t think I should have to prove that statement, but in case you want some evidence, let me introduce you to my children Jordan, Stockton, and Duncan.

IMG_4766

Pictured: No actual basketball players

Yes, my very tolerant wife and I named our children after professional basketball players. Two of their namesakes – Michael Jordan and John Stockton – are already in the Hall of Fame. In the mid-90s, when we chose the names, this was a foregone conclusion. When we named our youngest after Tim Duncan, he was in his third year in the league. I guess there were no guarantees he’d be a Hall of Famer, but it looked pretty certain. Besides, we threw out the name Barkley because it was the dog’s name on Sesame Street.

Not that you asked.

I say all of this today, though, because Twitter and Facebook and everything else under the power of social media have been losing their minds with the announcement that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has signed with the Golden State Warriors. Here are some of my favorite reactions:

There’s uncontrollable grief…

There’s ridding yourself of reminders…

There’s pragmatism…

There’s the bright side of life…

And then there’s the musings of a politician with a who thinks he has a mandate

There’s also this – a tweet for which I refuse to transcribe the responses in my head…

There’s also this, from a friend who has held season tickets since … well, pretty much since the franchise moved here from Seattle:

JPeezy voice of reason.png

The way I look at it is that Durant weighed all the things that matter in his life – most of which we don’t have any way of knowing – and when he placed them on a scale, leaving made more sense than staying.

KD isn’t dumb. He knows that he’s now a supervillain here. He’s also not a jerk. What he says about how much the city and state mean to him is probably true. Still, this is the path he chose. I can’t know all the reasons why (probably the state’s shriveling support for public education), and I wish he had chosen differently, but life will go on.

I still love basketball, but I only make it to a couple of games a year. That will still be true. The Thunder probably won’t be as good as they were with Durant, but things change. I’ll still root for the team. And I still wish Durant well. He brought a lot of pleasure to the city, and that memory sticks around.

Leaving is a part of life. We can say our words and  move on, but moving on means that we embrace and try to thrive with the people who are still here. The Thunder still have (for the time being) Russell Westbrook, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams – not to mention Josh Huestis.


On the other hand, if Durant had stayed, he could have spent more of his free time schmoozing with the Governor:

“If Kevin Durant thinks about leaving, which I hope he doesn’t — Oklahoma loves Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant loves Oklahoma. But if he’ll stay, I’ll make him a Cabinet person for health and fitness on my Cabinet,” Fallin said.

The announcement drew applause from the room, before Fallin noted that a place among her advisers “might not be as attractive as a couple of million dollars.”

It also might not be as attractive as a vice-presidential nomination. Even though the offer was (probably) tongue-in-cheek, the fact remains that Fallin knows she may have options in a potential Trump presidency. A couple of days after the Durant-to-Cabinet comment, she and other governors met with the presumptive Republican nominee.

Fallin’s name has been mentioned in speculation about the vice presidential selection process, but Trump has not contacted her to talk about being his running mate, said Michael McNutt, a spokesman for the governor.

McNutt said one of the other governors arranged the meeting. He didn’t have the names of the other governors in attendance. Fallin has been active in the Republican Governors Association.

If this comes to pass, should we expect the same response in tears? Rending of clothing? Outrage on Twitter?

psych group hug.gif

No, if the governor were to leave Oklahoma to go back to Washington, we would simply swear in the next guy – Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb – and expect him to handle the job with the same aplomb as his predecessor. That’s all you can do. You work with the people who stay, no matter how you feel about the people who leave.


This has been a mindset in public education in our state for a while. We have people leaving for higher-paying jobs in Texas. We also have the ones who stay in the state but move on for what they perceive as greener pastures.

One of the hardest jobs in education is “turning around” a high-poverty school that fails to live up to state and federal testing metrics. Whether it’s the lame duck A-F Report Cards, the extinct API scores, the Annual Measurable Objectives or other acronyms that we use to rank our schools, there’s no question that high-poverty schools have it tougher. Simply put, there are schools with poverty so low that they’re going to appear at the top of the scale – no matter which scale you lose.

This isn’t an excuse, and it isn’t a reason to quit trying. It’s a fact. It’s a fact that should drive us. I’ve seen principals proud of getting a B or C on the report card because of the growth it showed. I’ve seen teachers driven to help the school reach that perfect API score (prior to 2012) in order for the whole staff to get a bonus (if funds were available – which they usually weren’t).

I’ve also seen the principals who worked three, four, five years to create the climate leading to this change pulled out to open new schools, promoted to central office positions, or recruited to other districts. If they stay, they’re always playing defense to keep their best teachers from other principals who would recruit them.

miss you so much it hurts.jpg

I’ve seen bitter battles over a fifth grade math teacher that centered on the ideas of loyalty and timing. How could you leave this group of kids? They need you so much! Or, how can you wait until July to make a move like this? I’ve seen teachers lose friends among their colleagues, anger their principals, and start wars between personnel departments. Usually, these personal conflicts settle calmly, out of the eye of the public.

The critical question here, though, is why do they leave in the first place? Why would you leave a faculty that you joined when things were bad and with a new principal, when you believed in her and helped her turn the school around? Maybe your family situation changed. Maybe the principal left. Maybe you were tired because of all the extra work that went into that school’s success. Sometimes, you’re just spent.

Should we resent teachers who leave under these circumstances? I don’t think so, but then again, I can find friends who disagree. Instead, we hire the people we need to hire, and we try to give them what they need to help the kids who come to them.


Maybe Durant looked at Oklahoma City and he didn’t see a long-term contender. The Utah Jazz were great – near the top every year – when John Stockton and Karl Malone were on the roster. Then they weren’t, and the team collapsed. The San Antonio Spurs have been a playoff team for about 20 years straight now. Having Tim Duncan will do that for you. They also prove that a small-market team can be a winner. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have been irrelevant for several years.


Schools are hard places to work. Some of our teachers leave the profession altogether. Lately, we’ve been seeing this with our support people too. We conduct exit interviews, and we pay particular attention to the staff who take lateral positions in schools that seem just as challenging as the ones they’re leaving. Why? What can we do differently? Is it the leadership? Is it the kids?

By the way, if it’s the kids you’re abandoning, then good riddance. We’re proud of our kids, so good luck wherever you go next.

We look at the information we can observe. We try to make sense of it. In the end, though, we just move on. We’re trying to improve. We have kids to teach. If you’d rather be somewhere else – for whatever reason – that doesn’t change our mission. The Thunder want to win, no matter who is on their team next year. Schools want to teach, no matter who is on the faculty.

For those who choose to show up, I say thank you. If you’ve left, I don’t have time to think about you anymore. I’m just too busy.

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