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Standridge and Vouchers

February 28, 2017 4 comments

State Senator Rob Standridge will say or do just about anything to pass a voucher bill at this point. This week, he has sent his colleagues an 18 page backup document that includes letters of support for SB 560. Here are some highlights. First is from his letter:

Coming from an area of the state dominated by the left and those that think school choice should not be allowed for anyone, even for the poor kids of the inner city this legislation targets, I understand that this legislation is not easy.

This is a tremendous starting point. Standridge is from Norman, which now is apparently dominated by the left. Never mind that he won re-election in November facing an independent candidate and no Democrat. Facts really have no place here.

I have heard some say that if we could just spend more money in the failing schools in Oklahoma and Tulsa county that things would just turn around. I certainly support funding public education better, and as it is a condition of this legislation, giving our teachers a raise. But certainly we are not sure what level of funding will turn around our inner city schools which are failing, and if you look to the funding of inner city schools in Washington, DC…is there really an amount that will fix inner city schools and should we continue to wait for that to happen while kids pay the real price?

So is Standridge saying ALL inner city schools in the state’s two largest counties are failing? If so, then why is he pushing so hard for Cleveland County, where his children attend private schools, to get vouchers too?

And why doesn’t he want any accountability in the private schools that will educate the voucher students they will accept? If test scores are how he knows that inner city schools are failing him, then why won’t we be giving state tests to the students who take their vouchers and go private?

Believe me, I completely understand that OEA, CCOSA, and other left leaning organizations have convinced educators that school choice is a bad thing…

Skipping over the fact that Standridge believes all education organizations (except the ones who write bills for Senator Brecheen and a few other colleagues) are left leaning, he also makes the argument that educators are incapable of thinking for themselves. The OEA and CCOSA are bad, and they have convinced these weak minded people that choice is bad. But I want to give them raises. I really do!

Similar to the Civil Rights movement many decades ago led by Republicans, championed by Republicans, but lost to the media as an effort from the left…

Stop. Just stop. You’re embarrassing yourself, Rob.

I would reiterate that the goal line for SB 560 is a thousand yards away, and possibly even years away, but please help me move this ball down the field so that, hopefully, we can provide opportunity for that young 9th grade boy or girl that without this scholarship life may pass them by.

Yes, this bill merely chips away at the edges of what Standridge and the other signers of letters in this packet really want: universal school choice.

Again, let me say that I’m not against school choice. Thousands of students in Oklahoma attend public schools in a different zip code from their residence. Some of our legislators, past and present, have enjoyed public school choice. We have charters. We have virtual school.

We. Have. School. Choice. Right. Now.

We just don’t have vouchers.

I spoke today with one superintendent who says that Standridge recently told him, They’re coming. Why not control the model? Or maybe I’m one of those gullible educators that the senator thinks will believe anything.

It’s also worth noting that Standridge has worked over the rural caucus promising them that vouchers to the state’s three most populous counties won’t hurt school funding for the rest of them. On the other hand, I’ve heard Standridge talk about the need to consolidate rural districts. That’s the same guy. Is he really looking out for your schools?

Senate Bill 560 would subsidize the private school tuition of more than 36,000 students in those three counties. Adding to the number of students currently served depletes funding for the rest of the districts. This would take money from 74 counties to subsidize the biggest three.

But it moves the ball incrementally down the field.

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That’s not all. We also have support documentation from key allies. I won’t list them all, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide a brief excerpt from David Barton and his fact-challenged Wallbuilders organization:

Nearly three-fourths of [Texas] citizens say they are not getting their money’s worth for what we are spending in education, and sixty-eight percent now want school choice, even in rural areas…I assume it is the same in Oklahoma.

…In Texas, there is a very aggressive push to increase salaries for educators, and our legislators are sympathetic to these demands. But at the same time, we cannot reward teachers or systems that underperform.

The playbook, if we are to extend the sports metaphor, is strongly anti-public education. And it’s nationwide.

To be clear, though, a voucher won’t provide a student with a meal or transportation. It won’t guarantee access to school choice. And it won’t have any fiscal or academic accountability.

With that said, I’m headed to Kamp’s for tonight’s school choice discussion. I hope I make the cut this time!

Please contact your senators and ask for a no vote on SB 560 tomorrow.

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Doerflinger says…

February 25, 2017 Comments off

As you probably know by now, the state of Oklahoma declared a revenue failure again this week.

For the second time in two fiscal years, the state of Oklahoma has declared a revenue failure, meaning tax collections are below the estimates used to pass the state budget last session.

“Our revenues are difficult at best, and maybe they fall into the category of pathetic,” Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger told a packed room of elected officials, bureaucrats and media this morning. “Our situation is dire. I beg you to have an appreciation for the situation we have before us.”

What this means is that state agencies will receive a reduction in funding from what was budgeted at the beginning of the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. For public education, that’s over $46 million in mid-year cuts.

Doerflinger could not emphasize enough how critical this situation is.

Doerflinger also alerted the board to an even larger budget hole for Fiscal Year 2018 than had been anticipated: $878 million, up from $868 million. He more than subtly urged the board — and legislators — to consider Fallin’s bold revenue ideas.

“I don’t know how much more I can emphasize that the time for action is now,” Doerflinger said. “It’s not a game. We need new revenues.”

Doerflinger spoke at a podium directly in front of Fallin and Lamb, who stepped down from Fallin’s cabinet last week because he said he could not support the governor’s proposal for sales tax to be implemented on a variety of services.

“The governor is a pragmatic person, a reasonable person,” Doerflinger said to a silent, crowded room. “She has put forward a bold proposal. I know she and I look forward to specific plans to be revealed by other people involved in this process.”

Fallin’s bold proposal includes eliminating the grocery sales tax and corporate income tax. She would replace them with a menu of taxes on services, such as tattoos, oil changes, and haircuts.They also want to increase the cigarette tax.

The governor’s estimates (which are Doerflinger’s estimates) are huge. I question whether they’re reliable. These are the same people who have worked with legislative leaders to “balance” the state budget each of the last three years, leading to massive shortfalls every time.

According to Fallin’s estimates, applying sales tax to services would bring in $1,703,879,742 (that’s 1.7 Billion dollars with a B) to government coffers. Of that, the state government would receive $934,247,035, county governments would get $648,274,017, and cities would collect $121,358,690.

This is essentially a 10% tax hike on small businesses and consumers across the state, as the cost of doing business and obtaining services will go up about 10%.

Fallin lists 164 different categories she wants taxed. This includes all manner of construction-related contracting services, cable TV, pet grooming, carpet cleaning, business and legal services, utilities for residential use, funeral services, medical services… the list is very long, and you can view it here.

Fallin FY2018 sales tax hike.png

It’s not a very good plan, but at least it’s a plan.

I’ve been pretty quiet the last few weeks. I’ve seen lots of revenue plans (such as nearly tripling the beer tax) and teacher pay raise bills. What I haven’t seen is any momentum behind a solid idea to fix the fundamental problems in this state.

For three years, we’ve listened to state leaders blame the budget hole on low oil and gas prices. In her State of the State address this year, Fallin even blamed online shopping for contributing to lower state revenues.

These things contribute, but not as much as the tax cuts our state has passed during the last ten years. And yes, I know that dates back into Brad Henry’s second term as governor.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute estimates the annual cost of these tax cuts at more than $1 billion. You and I have barely felt those cuts. Most are large cuts for the wealthy and cuts for oil and gas. Other states that rely on fossil fuels for revenue haven’t been hit this hard. They also haven’t decimated their own tax base to intentionally starve the beast of core state services.

Repeating the gravity of the situation, Doerflinger spoke Friday to a Republican group in Tulsa. You can watch clips of his remarks at the Tulsa World website. I’ve transcribed a few sections:

0:25 At some point, we have to determine what type of state we want. Do we want to invest in things like common education or not, and if not, and if we’re not, then we should just tell teachers – and I have friends that are teachers, I have friends that are corrections workers, I have friends that are child welfare workers – at some point we just need to tell those people that we don’t care, or we need to decide that we need to invest in those areas. And I’m telling you, that there are still areas and places we can improve from an efficiency standpoint.

Based on the last few years, I’m reluctant to say what kind of state his audience envisions. Fallin is still governor. We keep digging deeper holes in our budget. An actual plan to raise teacher salaries by $5,000 was defeated at the polls in November. Like it or not, this is the Oklahoma standard right now.

1:50 And agencies have peddled doubt and fear for so long that it’s hard for you to believe me whenever I stand up in front of you and try to make an argument for the fact that these agencies have taken serious cuts over many years and if we’re going to hit them this year with the Draconian-style cuts that I think some people would have us hit them with, then we’re at risk at this point of doing real harm. Some of these people that we’re talking about, if they sustain these type of cuts – and I’m not a dramatic person – people die. We’re putting our corrections workers at risk. We’re putting child welfare workers at risk. And then again, if you care about teachers and the teacher pay raise, I don’t know how you fund that without looking at some types of new revenue.

 

If stating directly what ongoing cuts mean to those we serve means we have peddled doubt and fear, then I don’t know what to tell you. Then again, he’s not a dramatic person, and he thinks people are going to die if we don’t do something different.

2:40 If the agency known as the State Department of Education and if the Education Establishment in general would start coming with more solutions to the problem versus just the answer being solely we need more money, because there are opportunities to realize efficiencies within the common education universe. The problem is that the Education Establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it doesn’t benefit the children in this state, so enough of that already.

That’s some weird phrasing: the agency known as the State Department of Education. How else would they be known? And of course, there’s the red meat for his base: the Education Establishment.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m fixated on improving the education my district provides our 14,300 students. Cutting $5,000,000 from our budget last year and over 100 support, teaching, and administrative positions doesn’t make that easy. Losing almost $1.3 million in the second half of this fiscal year doesn’t either. School funding is being held hostage by someone who shows no evidence that he can reverse trend behavior.

And that is really disgusting.

3:20 What we are doing is not sustainable. It’s not, and we need to figure out – the collective we – how we want to approach that. I – again, if anybody things the budget that I pushed out this year is the budget that I wanted to push out – it’s just not true, but it was the reality that we faced in order to try to invest in our state and try to avoid doing real harm in areas where – I can tell you, it was a guiding principle. The governor has told me, the last two years for sure, please try to protect areas, Preston, where people die, or real harm occurs, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.

This entire scenario reminds me of a scene in The Hunt for Red October. A Russian admiral, played by Sean Connery, wants to defect to America and bring his big, bad new submarine with him. He’s being chased by another Russian submarine, which fires a torpedo. Connery’s sub outmaneuvers the other one, and the torpedo tracks towards the one that fired it.

One of the Russians turns to the ship’s captain and says, “You arrogant ass; you’ve killed us!”

As with the torpedo movie, we’ve taken the safety features off our budget. We’ve all but eliminated taxes on horizontal drilling. We give money away by the bucket to corporations that fail to invest it back into our state. We keep cutting taxes and then desperately trying to steer out of the way of disaster.

And every time we do this, someone in the Education Establishment will say how grateful we are that we were held flat, as opposed to facing more cuts.

I’m over that.

And if you want a list of some of the suggestions we’ve made over the years, check out Rob Miller’s blog post from today. He’s not thrilled with Mr. Doerflinger either.

During a speech to the Tulsa Republican Club Friday, State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger remarked that the Oklahoma state government cannot continue to function at anything close to current levels without new revenue, calling the state’s current budgeting path “not sustainable.”

Duh, ya think!

Thank you, Preston Obvious.

Rob discusses several funding and policy solutions we have proposed for years. We’re not beholden to the status quo. I would love to change many things about how we pay for education and how we provide it.

What the Education Establishment can’t do is fix the state budget. Hopefully someone can.

We’re cutting again; Now it’s #yourturn

February 23, 2017 15 comments

GR Failure 2.23.17.png

This afternoon, I received the following email from the State Superintendent about finances:

Dear Superintendent,

The General Revenue (GR) failure that was announced on February 21, 2017, has affected the FY2017 Midyear State Aid Allocation. Based on the FY2017 adjusted budget approved by the State Board of Education, we have reduced the funding formula’s GR portion by $7,270,161.

The adjusted funding formula allocation has also been reduced by the projected shortfall in the Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017 Fund) by $39,151,255, for a total cut to the formula allocation of $46,421,416. The adjusted allocation has been posted on the State Department of Education’s Single Sign On (SSO) application under Allocation Notices at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.

Additionally, there will likely be a shortfall in the Common Education Technology Fund before the end of the fiscal year. We are closely monitoring the fund and will make necessary adjustments to the allocation in the coming months.

The new adjusted midyear allocation (02/23/17) has a factor of $3,008.60, which decreased by $42.00 from the FY2017 Midyear Allocation of $3,050.60 on January 4, 2017. A comparison report and all of the documentation (reports) will be posted on the State Aid web page athttp://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid by Friday, February 24, 2017. Your allocation may be modified as other conditions change.

The Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA) funding has also been cut by the GR failure in the amount of $3,094,213, but we are able to maintain the allocation without any cuts to the Jan. 1 count adjustment (02/24/17) at this time.

Thank you for the work you do each day to serve your students and communities.  These are difficult times which will require strong leadership at every level within districts and at the OSDE. Please let me know how we might offer greater support or assistance to you in the coming weeks and months.

Where should I start? How about by telling you what these cuts mean to one district with 14,300 students.

General Fund Loss $961,431
Anticipated Tech Fund Loss $336,501
Total FY 17 Loss $1,297,932

That’s about 25 teaching positions (once you factor in benefits and employer taxes). That’s a reading or math textbook adoption for the entire district. Or 14school buses. Or a safe room. Or hundreds of new computers. Or a new roof on a wing of an old building.

That’s money the state told us we’d have available to serve our students this year. We don’t. That’s why we’re planning a bond issue that will take care of some of those costs.

Through the first three weeks of the legislative session, we’ve seen the Senate Education Committee look for ways to provide funding for private schools, in the form of vouchers. We’ve seen a pointless bill requiring students to pass a citizenship test before they can graduate. We’ve seen a bill that would term limit school board members (who are volunteers) and a bill to cap superintendent salaries. We’ve even seen a plethora of teacher pay raise bills, all with no funding source.

What we haven’t seen is a plan that addresses the fundamental revenue shortfalls that cause budgets to fail and all state agencies to reduce services.

This is the third year in a row that the state has seen a massive budget shortfall. It’s the second year in a row with a general revenue failure.

I believe the Capitol has many elected officials who mean well. There are also some who keep telling district leaders that we have to be willing to give something up, to become more efficient.

We cut over $5 million from our budget last year. Here we go again.

Your turn.

Bills about five-day weeks won’t change per pupil funding. Bills about consolidation won’t change per pupil funding. If you consolidated all the schools in Cimarron County into one district, Mid-Del wouldn’t get one more dollar. Nor would Tulsa. Or Miami. Or Chickasha. Or Woodward. Or Poteau. We still will have x dollars over y students. It’s simple math.

Don’t pass a teacher raise if you can’t fund it. Don’t neglect the operational costs we’ve been cutting for years and say you’ve “helped schools.”

Educators and parents: please take to social media and share #yourturn stories. What are you buying or raising money for that schools should be buying? What have the cuts of recent years looked like for you?

Elected leaders: Do something. #FixThisNow

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