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Class of 2017: When you see a chance…

May 27, 2017 Comments off

Taking a break from politics and budgets with my message to our three senior classes graduating today:

DCHS Jumping Gif 1

Teachers, principals, family, and friends, it’s good to see all of you. Without your support it’s hard to imagine all of these graduates being here today with all they’ve accomplished.

This graduating class will cross the country to go to college. It will cross the world as members of the military. It will impact the future of our community too.

Today, graduates, we celebrate your accomplishments. We stop to remember your first days of school, your awkward phase, the moments when you were figuring out what you want to do with your life, the times you’ve changed your mind about what you want to do with your life, all the friends you’ve made, and even a few heartbreaks along the way.

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Over the last thirteen years, you’ve had some amazing experiences that you will always remember. You’ve had some you’d rather forget too, I’m sure. Let’s not focus on that. The accumulation of these moments brings you here today, to a ceremony we call Commencement.

Commencement means beginning, and that’s what this is. As trite as it is to say, this is the beginning of the rest of your life. And I hope it’s a long and successful life, filled with excellence. You’ll have ups and downs; we all do. You – and only you – get to choose which experiences and which qualities define you.

The poet, William Blake, wrote, “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.”

What does this mean?

Well, “pestilence” is a pretty tough word to unwrap. At its most literal level, it means an epidemic or widely-spreading disease. It can also be used to describe something morally corrupting. That’s what he means here.

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“He who desires…” We all have desires. We all have hopes and dreams. And while patience is certainly a virtue, you can’t wait forever for the things that you want. Sometimes in life, you have to press the start button yourself. Sometimes you have to pause and re-start. Nobody else is going to hit the button for you.

The price to pay for never acting on the things you want out of life can be heavy. You miss opportunities. You wonder what might have been. Regretting inaction can weigh on you just as heavily as regret for the things you actually have done.

Regret, by the way, is one of the prices we pay for living life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d rather live with a mistake than spend a lifetime wishing.

Just remember that where you are today, and the opportunities you have in front of you right now are the end result of your own hard work and the support you’ve had around you. Make choices that mirror your passions.

If you haven’t figured out what your passions are, here’s a hint. They’re the things that make you hear a drumming noise inside your head – so loudly that you can’t ignore it. When you’re around certain people or doing the things you truly enjoy, that’s really just your heart pounding and trying to guide you. Listen to it once in a while. I know I’m supposed to tell you to think and plan – and you should – but leave room for what feeds your soul, too.

Cherish your family and friends. Seek mentors who seem happy and figure out what makes them tick. Be that mentor for others. Most of all, seize opportunities to be kind, especially when it brings you no recognition at all.

Ahead of you is your future. Nobody else gets to dictate it for you. Nobody else can navigate it for you. Own it.

Congratulations, and good luck, Class of ’17!

 

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Xenophobia: Warrior Snowflake

I wrote last night that at the end of this legislative session, depending on the outcome of the budget, either everybody gets credit or everybody gets blame. I was wrong. Well, I was wrong-adjacent.

The first thing I read this morning was an idea by a group of 22 Oklahoma legislators calling themselves the Republican Platform Caucus. News 6 in Tulsa reported it first, but that’s not where I read it. It came from Peter Greene, who writes the blog Curmudgucation:

There’s a lot to unpack in the news from Oklahoma’s GOP legislators, but let’s just skip straight to the most awful. From this special caucus of conservatives, looking for ways to close a budget hole:

The caucus said there are 82,000 non-English speaking students in the state.

“Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate non-citizens?” [Rep. Mike] Ritze asked.

The caucus thinks that could save $60 million.

What the hell? I mean, what the absolute you-have-got-to-be-freaking-kidding-me hell??!! Let’s profile possible undocumented immigrants based strictly on what their primary language is??!!

The rest of their proposal only seems less stupid because the target-non-English-speakers sets the stupid bar so very high. But there’s still a lot of stupid here.

I love it when national writers mock us – especially when we give them good reason!

It’s not just bloggers either. The Washington Post has even picked up the story.

The caucus, and speculation of its actual size, is the subject of much social media interest as well.

No official list exists, but sources tell okeducationtruths off the record that…

Wait, I still have too much self respect to refer to my own blog in the third person. It’s ridiculous.

Mike-Ritzex175I have seen lists posted in three places, and they mostly match. I really want to post all their names and shame them, but I can’t guarantee that what I have seen is 100 percent accurate. I’ve even seen one legislator disavow membership.

Maybe their caucus isn’t as big as they say.

I can say that none of the names I’ve seen surprise me. And if a decent budget deal comes to fruition, it will be in spite of time wasted on garbage such as this by people who seek to further divide us, especially when the guy leading the charge can’t even work four full days.

 

I think we are all used to one or two isolated legislators saying ridiculous things about different groups of people. This is altogether different. This is a new breakaway wing of the Republican party. They even have a list of guiding ideals:

To address this concern raised by so many voters, this caucus was formed with the following objectives:

  1. Honor God as we serve the people of Oklahoma;
  2. Represent the principles we were elected on, the Republican Platform;
  3. Educate members about how a bill relates to the platform;
  4. Provide a UNIFIED Republican voice;
  5. Hold each other accountable to the values supported by the majority of Oklahomans;
  6. Support policies reflected in the Republican Platform and oppose policies that are contrary to the platform.

“Some say the platform is too long, but really its’ depth is a reflection of decades of hard work by those at the grassroots level,” said Rep. Roberts, R-Hominy. “Truly, the values and policies in our platform represent what it means to be a Republican. Our goal is to represent the values on which we were elected.”

“When members discuss how policy or budgetary decisions relate to the platform, new members will have the opportunity to learn from more seasoned legislators,” said state Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee. “It also helps us hold each other accountable, making us better representatives of the people we serve.”

I don’t know about you, but I can think of few things that honor God less than rounding up all students whose first language isn’t English and making them prove their innocence. Besides, as Ben Felder reports in the Oklahoman, it’s unconstitutional:

According to News 9, the caucus cited 82,000 non English speaking students as its motivation to identify non citizens.

The problem with that is being classified as an English language learner is not the same as being undocumented.

We don’t have firm numbers on how many undocumented students there are in the state as school’s don’t ask citizenship status. Oklahoma City Public Schools is over half Hispanic, but best estimates show less than one third are not U.S. citizens.

In fact, just 37 percent of Hispanic resident in Oklahoma County are not U.S. citizens.

But let’s assume there was an accurate count of undocumented students and it didn’t cost more to “identify them and turn them over to ICE” than it did to educate them, could the state Legislature do this?

The answer is no as it was ruled unconstitutional in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot deny an undocumented student from a free public education.

Of all the ideas and events that have embarrassed Oklahoma so far in 2017, this is perhaps the worst. If anything like this were to become law, it would lead to a culture of profiling and intimidation. Simply put, it’s un-American.

Most Oklahomans I know celebrate diversity in our schools. Having students from many different backgrounds makes our lives richer, not poorer.

I’m embarrassed that my friends across the country are seeing this story and letting it paint a picture of our entire state. If you agree, voice your shame to the members of this caucus.

 

It’s getting late. Do something.

FY 17 budget cuts.jpg

Used by permission from OSSBA

What you see above is real. In 77 days, public schools in Oklahoma have lost over $93 million in state funding. Oklahoma City Public Schools has lost the most, just over $5.3 million. Tulsa Public is next – just under $4.9 million.

In Mid-Del, we’re dealing with over $1.9 million in losses. As I’ve mentioned before, this is money that all districts planned on having based on the state budget passed by the Legislature (and signed by the governor) last May. Here’s the notice we received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education today:

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of May will be paid at the accumulative amount of 88.62 percent instead of the scheduled 91 percent of the current adjusted allocation. Revenue collections for the May State Aid payment are approximately $43.1 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 91 percent payment. The accumulative percentage of 88.62 percent includes the total amount short for this fiscal year updated for cash received through May. The cash flow shortage of $43.1 million for the May payment supersedes the $36.3 million for the March and April payments.

The May payment, available to districts on Thursday, May 11, is based on funds collected as of May 9, 2017. To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date to equal the amount of payment. The amount of funds collected as of May 9, 2017, is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 84.13 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801

  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 85.50 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478

  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 52.57 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000

  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 90.91 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.85

  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 92.96 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

More losses will come in June. Meanwhile, our Legislature continues looking for roughly $900 million to make up for a shortfall to next year’s budget.

To see what each district has lost to date, follow this link.


Several people around the state have asked me why they’re not hearing more from superintendents about what these cuts mean. Last year, after all, we went on and on and on.

I can’t answer for all superintendents. In my case, I’m too busy to spin my wheels. I need to focus on things I can impact. It’s not that the legislators who represent my district don’t hear us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They’re involved and astute.

I’ve been fighting for five years. It’s exhausting. Our day jobs don’t slow down just because we’re trying to keep our legislators informed. They’re aware of the problem. Some are even working on Sundays (which is still allowed as long as the Ten Commandments statue isn’t at the Capitol, I guess) to try to fix it.

Maybe too many people insist on getting credit. Maybe we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. And maybe our executive branch is too busy making dumb decisions like insisting on a $2.4 million test that means nothing or throwing state money down the commode by moving offices around for no reason at all.

This isn’t the time for anyone to play hero. If you’re in the leadership in the Legislature, you were there when this problem was created. It also isn’t the time for blame. Not yet, anyway.

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Fix it, and all legislators deserve praise. Fail to do anything meaningful, and none do. It’s all or nothing. I’m trying to make a budget for the upcoming school year using numbers I don’t have. I’m not really in the mood to pat anyone on the back and say thanks for trying. Reading the Tulsa World tonight, it seems I’m not alone:

Uncertainty about state appropriations, which has a host of area school districts delaying their annual budget process for the new fiscal year.

“We’re tired of chasing rumors and ghosts,” West said. “This is the dance we’ve been doing every year for three years, but this year, we’re in a wait-and-see pattern. We’re not going to hire anyone until June. What I’m worried about is somebody is going to take another job. We’re having to put them off.”

Sapulpa Public Schools is holding off on offering new contracts to its first- and second-year teachers who have been employed on a temporary basis and Owasso Public Schools leaders say they’re hoping that building up their savings will help see them through Fiscal Year 2018, but they can’t be sure.

Leaders of Union, Jenks and Broken Arrow public schools are also waiting to finalize budget plans for next year, and being cautious about communicating how programming would be affected by cuts, until they have more information from the state.

Because Collinsville is a growing district, with 165 new students the past two years and 100 more expected for 2017-18, West said he has the luxury of being able to commit to offering new employment contracts to all current teachers.

So we wait. And we’re not silent.

And I’m not alone.

Craig, I’m too tired to sigh. Plus, there’s the $1.9 million. That has me pretty bummed out.

Our state leaders persist in working on our behalf, though.

pissing contest

Good thing they’re focused!

I can’t imagine what backlash legislators would face if they fail to do their job. It’s not just public schools. It’s all state agencies. It’s all core state services. This state has consciously chosen to re-elect people who willfully made us go broke. Elections have consequences. Hopefully, at some point, failing to lead will too.

Don’t know much about history?

Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin vetoed SB 2, which would have eliminated the state test for high school US History. This test costs the state of Oklahoma $2.4 million. It means nothing to the students who take it. As with all high-stakes tests, it forces teachers to narrow instruction to what they think will be assessed. Below is her reasoning.

US History veto message

I want to break down her veto statement one sentence at a time.

Senate bill 2 moves Oklahoma backwards.

Let that sentence linger in the air a minute. During the 6+ years of Fallin’s leadership, can you think of anything else that has moved our state backwards? Could it be three consecutive years of budget collapses? Other than our roads, bridges, schools, colleges, health care, prisons, law enforcement, and state parks, we’re having a fantastic decade! The 2010s will go down in history…oh, wait, they won’t. And even if they do, we won’t be able to afford the history books.

History is a vital component of a student’s academic coursework. It grounds students in our nation’s founding principles and our Constitution…

I agree that history is vital. And with US history dating back to 1607, we can’t cover it all in one year. That’s why the state breaks down the standards into three grade spans:

So the high school test covers the last 140 years. With all due respect, that doesn’t exactly include the nation’s founding.

…and teaches that American exceptionalism led the world to unite behind the concepts that liberty and freedom are fundamental human rights.

Not to be a noodge, but I don’t remember the world exactly uniting behind those principles. They’re great ideals. They’re core American values. And we’ve engaged in wars to end tyranny, which is a great thing.

This span of US History begins with Reconstruction, delves into immigration, westward expansion, and the industrial revolution before discussing WWI. It covers “social, cultural, and economic events between the World Wars,” such as the Great Depression. It moves through the Cold War all the way to our response to 9/11.

It’s more than our founding principles. It’s the narrative of how we got from that ontological perspective to where we are today. It includes our triumphs and our failings. It’s a mix of triumphs and human failings.

A test of facts, dates, and names doesn’t capture that.

In 2016, only 62 percent of students in Oklahoma scored proficient or advanced on their End of Instruction Exam on US History.

If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, you know I’m not really a fan of the single out-of-context statistic. Here are the state pass rates for the high school US History EOI since 2010, when Fallin was elected governor:

  • 2010 75%
  • 2011 80%
  • 2012 77%
  • 2013 80%
  • 2014 86%
  • 2015 79%
  • 2016 62%

If testing is so important, then why did scores go down? Where was your leadership during this time, Governor Fallin?

Or maybe it’s not about leadership. It could be that a new test and a new cut score had something to do with the 62%. Still, I wouldn’t rule out her leadership. This is her circus, after all.

If US History is not measured through a test, its importance in school will be lessened.

That’s just a slap in the face. Apparently the governor thinks our history teachers are incapable of doing their jobs. Strangely, I don’t recall her praising them in 2014 when the proficient rate was much higher.

I’m reminded of the time in 2015 that our governor put her knowledge of our founding principles on display:

You know there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, you have the legislative branch and you have the people – the people and their ability to vote.

Yes, she really said that. She actually forgot the branch of government she leads.

If only there had been a test.

The good thing is that we can fix this. Our Legislature may be struggling to find agreement on a budget right now, but they were pretty solid when they sent this bill to Fallin. The House vote was 65-23 with 10 absences. The Senate vote was 31-10 with 7 absences.

Now is the time to act. The governor’s action was predictable, just as it was two years ago when she vetoed HB 2625, giving parents a voice on third grade retention. At that time, the House voted 79-17 and the Senate voted 45-2 to override her veto.

That was one of the most critical moments we’ve had in the last few years. It showed how strong public education advocates can be when we unite. The state superintendent at that time called it pathetic and outrageous, which was a pretty strong indication we were right.

Maybe that helps us understand this veto. Rep. Katie Henke, the author of HB 2625 two years ago, is the house author for SB 2. The senate author is JJ Dossett, a former teacher who has been very outspoken on education and budget issues this year. I wouldn’t sleep on the role that spite plays in decisions such as this.

We don’t need to waste money on a meaningless test. Another $2.4 million could save about 55 teaching positions. Not that I’m counting.

Besides, if we wanted something resembling authentic assessment, it would look so much different. We can’t afford to continue insulting our teachers. Please call your state senator and representative and ask them to vote to override the veto.

They left the Capitol before 11:00 am today, but their voicemail works. Fill it up.

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