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I’m sorry you’re upset.

March 15, 2017 4 comments

Caesar:
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2

Yesterday, a bunch of people who support public education went to the Capitol and met with elected officials who support public education. Pictures were taken. Ideas were shared. Good times were had by all.

I stayed home and worked on household chores. I’ve had all the conversations I need to have with my representative and senator about public school funding. We all agree it’s a problem. They’re looking into it.

Since I missed yesterday’s event, I also missed out on the lecture from a freshman representative who doesn’t like our tone. From Red Dirt Report:

Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Tulsa) spoke to the group Tuesday morning dismissing their tone and rhetoric. During his face time with the group he said, “We pass the teacher pay raise, and immediately after passing the teacher pay raise the focus shifted from we want a pay raise to those idiots passed a pay raise, but they don’t have a way to fund it.”

The first-time Republican representative went on to explain, “Teachers from my district, that I am friends with immediately started beating me up on this issue.” He told members of the group that they do not fully understand the budget process.

Talking to teachers, he proceeded to use simple numbers to explain that the legislature is not in control of much of the state revenue citing; the legislature will only appropriate $6 out of $17 billion dollars this year.

Fetgatter then gave teachers a learning moment with this example; “If I gave you $3,000 to pay your bills for the month, you would be excited about that and then all the sudden you only get to choose where $900 of that goes because the rest of that is already going to be apportioned out.”

Thank goodness he gave that example. Most teachers wouldn’t know what to do with $3,000 a month, of course, because its well over what they take home.

Using Fetgatter’s example, though, I doubt very many teachers get to decide where even $900 a month goes. Try living on a teacher’s salary, especially with kids. I’ve been there and done that.

Or try running a school district, Rep. Fetgatter. Salaries alone consume 90 percent of our budget. We get to make choices between things like textbooks or new school buses. So please, lecture me.

Don’t get me wrong, Rep. Fetgatter. I don’t blame you. You’re brand new. You had no idea what you were inheriting when you ran for public office during one of the most highly publicized eras of educator activism this state has ever seen.

what what what psych.gif

Rep. Fetgatter, I’m glad you were there. I’m glad you’re working on solving the revenue problems of this state before things get even worse. I don’t doubt your sincere frustration with getting lumped together with the members of last year’s Legislature who passed a budget built upon unrealistic funding projections.

To all the first-year Legislators at the Capitol: you are not responsible for this month’s version of State Aid Mystery Theatre, which superintendents received today:

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of March will be paid at the accumulative amount of 70.96 percent instead of the scheduled 72 percent of the current adjusted allocation.  Revenue collections for the March State Aid payment are approximately $18.9 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 72 percent payment.

The March payment, available to districts on Thursday, March 16, is based on funds collected as of March 14, 2017.  To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date equals the amount of payment.  The amount of funds collected as of March 14, 2017 is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 64.98 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801
  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 68.45 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478
  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 46.43 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000
  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 72.96 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.95
  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 77.20 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

Your Notice of Payment report can be found under Payment Notices in Single Sign On at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.  For your convenience, a report showing the 72 percent compared to the 70.96 percent is located under Important Notices on the State Aid Web page at http://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid .

We will be closely monitoring each month’s cash and make adjustments as needed.  If you have questions, please contact State Aid.

I blame the Ides of March. Actually, I should know better than to open email on this day. How many years did I teach Julius Caesar to excited high school sophomores? Nothing good can come of it!

More cuts are coming during the remaining months of this fiscal year because the people in charge of the state’s budget spent the last several years cutting taxes to the point that we can’t run our state. Since you’re new, you’ll probably hear some of your colleagues, and maybe some members of the governor’s staff, explain that the problem is entirely because of low prices in oil and gas. You might even hear a murmur about online shopping.

Maybe, if you’re fortunate, you’ve even run into someone from the Greater OKC Chamber passing out details about their better plan for funding education.

Just remember, state law requires the Legislature to fund education by April 1 of the preceding year. Rob Miller has a few thoughts on that:

Failure to pass an education budget by April 1st will cause the wrath of the God to fall upon your head. You’ll have to work Fridays. Your shoelaces will not stay tied. You will gain weight for no reason. The hair from your head will move to your back. You’ll develop a painful rash in a delicate area of your body. Rabid squirrels will invade your home and procreate with your Shih Tzu. You will be stuck for eight hours in an elevator with a large man with horrible body odor and severe flatulence. Food in your refrigerator will mysteriously spoil. Your bank accounts will be hacked by a Nigerian Prince. Your mother-in-law will move into the guest room permanently. Your car will start making that expensive knocking sound again and no one will talk to you at parties.

What it comes down to is that if you do your jobs, we’ll tone down the rhetoric. If you don’t, I’ll be cutting again – more than the 100 jobs we had to reduce for this school year.

That said, I have no opinion thus far on how effective the 2017 Legislature will be. I won’t until the session ends.

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

The Best of You

January 14, 2017 Comments off

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Foo Fighters, Best of You

fullsizerender

Edmond parent and fierce #oklaed activist Angela Little wrote a reminder to us this week on Facebook about the newly elected legislature.

lets-pretend-for-a-moment

In case you can’t read the image, here’s the text:

Let’s play pretend for a moment…. Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a school where they taught kids nothing and just let them sit around and watch movies all day. Parents were obviously irate and didn’t want their kids at this school. So the district decides to clean house and hire new admin and new teachers. Fresh start for this school. Now pretend you are one of the brand new teachers or admin hired. But the parents still hated this school because of how it once was. Do you feel that’s fair to you and your abilities since the issue was with the past staff not the current? I can only imagine you would like the chance to show these parents that you are going to do things differently and want them to have an open mind on this instead of preconceived notions, correct?

It’s a brand new Legislature, folks. We have like 40+ freshman and an entirely new leadership. Don’t hold them accountable for mistakes of their predecessors. This doesn’t mean we should proceed without caution but we must give them a chance to show us what they can do to help our cause.

It’s a good analogy. It really is. I’ve told parents and community members for as long as I can remember not to judge a school today by the memories they have of it from when they were growing up. New blood is a good thing.

Or are you gone and on to someone new…

Still, there are 100+ returning members of the legislature, and some of them – I’d like to think fewer than 20 – are virulently against us. They have a vouchers or death mentality. They want to starve public schools to create larger gaps in services and then point out the schools’ shortcomings so they can divert funding to private schools. For years, we’ve listened to promises from many to support funding teacher raises, and nothing of the sort has happened.

not-the-football-again-charlie-brown

In the past, those people have been in leadership roles. I won’t name them here. My perception is that those carrying the flag for such causes now have less sway among their colleagues.

I was too weak to give in, too strong to lose…

What concerns me is that we’re Oklahoma, and we have a type. Sure, we may have moved on to some new people, but on the whole, we tend to put up with the same behaviors we have said we would never again accept. It’s human nature.

Has someone taken your faith? It’s real, the pain you feel…

Rep. Michael Rogers (who authored last year’s bill revamping teacher evaluation – for the better) is proposing a $6,000 teacher raise. HB 1114 would raise the minimum teacher’s salary by $1,000 for the 2017-18 school year, another $2,000 for the 2018-19 school year, and another $3,000 for the 2019-20 school year.

I have three fairly significant questions about the bill:

  1. How will the state fund the raises?
  2. Will funding come on top of money to restore cuts that public schools have faced in recent years?
  3. Will districts paying above the state minimum have to give raises at least this large?

Let me be clear, though. I want this bill to pass. I appreciate Rep. Rogers putting it forward. I even emailed him today to tell him so.

The hope that starts, the broken hearts…

I just don’t want to get my hopes up yet. Teacher raises have been a long time coming. Even if this passes, we’ll continue losing teachers. A $1,000 raise won’t keep many people in Oklahoma. Implementation might be too slow for some, and that’s a problem.

New House Speaker Charles McCall has said he supports the bill, and that he thinks it has a good chance of passing. On paper, they believe it would raise Oklahoma teacher salaries to the highest in the region.

regional-teaching-averages

The surrounding states are bound to raise teacher salaries too. If HB 1114 passes and salaries climb by $6,000 over the next three years, we probably won’t be at the top. Also, the variance in teacher pay among districts in Texas varies much more than it does here. It has to do with the way schools are funded in the different states.

Still, it’s something. Senator Holt’s ideas for a $10,000 raise are worth discussing too. His plan lacks details, but he needs to get a chance to promote it. Maybe I was too dismissive of it myself last year.

It’s been two months since voters rejected SQ 779, which would have funded $5,000 raises for teachers.That sting is fresh. Because of all the build up, that amount is the minimum raise many teachers are willing to settle for.

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In the halls of the Capitol Wherever there is a microphone at the Capitol, there is a representative or senator willing to give lip service to teacher raises – with strings attached.

I’ll support raises for teachers if you’ll agree to a merit pay system…

I’ll support raises for teachers if we’ll consolidate all of the school districts…

I’ll support raises for teachers if they’ll all burn their union memberships…

And where there is a legislator proposing raises with conditions, there is a chorus of usual suspects willing to add a loud Harumph!

harumph

That should be our challenge – to keep focus on the people like McCall, Rogers, and Holt. They mean well.While it’s rare a bill written in January passes as written, this should be our starting point.We should avoid the harumphing kind of people whenever possible.

If you can’t see staying in Oklahoma because of the hope of $1,000, I get it. You have to do what’s best for you and your family.

I’ve got another confession my friend, I’m no fool.
I’m getting tired of starting again, somewhere new…

I’m still here, and I’m going to support ideas that have the potential to move us forward.

And so it starts…

January 11, 2017 1 comment

A year ago at this time, we were just beginning to learn the depths of our state’s revenue failure. The state had declared a revenue failure, which began a series of cuts for school districts everywhere. It’s not just that we knew we’d have less money for the following school year; no, we had to make cuts right away.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Today, superintendents around Oklahoma had a serious sense of déjà vu.

shortfall memo.png

In case you can’t read the image, it’s a memo from Superintendent Hofmeister letting us know of a funding shortfall (which is different than a revenue failure). Here’s the key part:

Based on the December revenue collections, the 1017 Fund is approximately $11.7 million or 3.5 percent below the estimate. The total January deposits are approximately $9.7 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled payment in full.

At this time, for payment purposes, instead of reallocating State Aid Allocations statewide, we will reduce the percentage of payment based on available cash.

  • For Financial Support of Schools (State Aid formula funding), we are only able to pay 8.47 percentthis month instead of the scheduled 9 percent (a 0.53 percent payment reduction).
  • The January accumulated percentageof the latest allocation is 53.47 percent.
  • To calculate your state aid payment, multiply the accumulated percentage by the most recent allocation and then subtract the amount paid to date. The result is the amount of payment for each month.
  • The effective date for the January payment remains Thursday, January 12, 2017.
  • At this time, all other line items continue to be paid at the scheduled accumulated percentage.

We will continue to look at each month’s cash revenue and re-evaluate our course of action on a monthly basis.

School districts receive 11 monthly state aid payments. They are uneven. There is no July payment. The August payment is eight percent of the overall state aid. September and May are ten percent. The other months are nine percent.

Wait, that’s a lot of numerical verbiage. Let me try it in a table.

Month % of State Aid Received Month % of State Aid Received
July 0% January 9%
August 8% February 9%
September 10% March 9%
October 9% April 9%
November 9% May 10%
December 9% June 9%

For the first six months of this fiscal year, we received the payments we expected to receive. The memo today tells us our January payment will be short.

It will be on time, but it will be short. The shortage will be different for each district, but our payment will be about $281,000 less than we were expecting.

And that’s just January. We don’t know if this fund will be short again next month, or maybe every month for the rest of the fiscal year.

And we don’t know about other funds.

And we don’t know if the state will declare revenue failure again this year.

What I know is that we cut over $5 million from our budget this year and elimnated about 100 jobs. Yet somehow, we’re still taking on water.

That’s why I hate the question, “How can school districts save money?” We’re already doing that. And the people who work for us are busy exploring their options.

At the semester, we had a teacher leave us to take a job in a correctional facility. That’s the most re-tweeted tweet I’ve ever tweeted. Apparently that struck a nerve with people. It did with me. That’s why I tweeted it.

It also struck a nerve when the editorial writers at the Oklahoman tried to make sense of Rep. Kevin Calvey’s press release about Superintendent Hofmeister’s budget request. Their synthesis only made things worse.

Bureaucrats seldom volunteer to embrace efficiency and often resort to doomsday rhetoric when changes to the status quo are proposed. The problems noted with the Department of Education’s budget request won’t be unique among state agencies.

Whether we volunteered for it or not, whether we’re embracing it or not, we’re becoming more efficient. As for the doomsday rhetoric, I’ll refer you to today’s memo and to the teacher leaving us for a correctional facility.

Teachers want raises. They also want to have manageable class sizes. Oh, and they want current instructional materials. Technology that works would be nice too. It’s the little things.

Today, I don’t feel like blaming anyone. I don’t feel like calling out particular politicians who I think have contributed to a climate in which all functions of state government are suffering.

I also don’t feel like being told we need to be more efficient.

A few legislators get it.

A few isn’t enough. Today, we bleed a little more. Next month? I don’t want to think about that yet. I’m just waiting on the weather to possibly give us another four-day week.

icemageddon.png

One way or another, we have to make ends meet, right?

Bring on 2017!

December 31, 2016 1 comment

Year end recaps are usually trite and self-serving, so why should mine be any different? I won’t belabor the huge loss of talent that we’ve seen this year. Sure, we’ve seen the passing of Prince, Alan Rickman, John Glenn, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Sharon Jones, David Bowie, and even the guy who played Schneider on One Day at a Time. We even had three major celebrity losses (George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds) in the last week!

That’s not the talent I mean. Besides, CNN says we need to get over ourselves because it’s not even the worst year in recent memory for celebrity deaths. They have numbers and everything.

I’m talking about the ongoing talent loss in public education. Year after year, we continue to teach more students with fewer teachers. Of the teachers we have, more and more of them have entered the profession through the emergency certification route.

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Five years ago, Oklahoma granted a grand total of 32 emergency certificates. Halfway through the current school year, we already have 1,082. Teachers are leaving the profession because they see a better pathway for supporting their families somewhere else. Worse yet, we don’t have very many college students picking the profession to begin with.

We continue to have budget problems. Our Legislature had to fix a $610 million budget hole in Fiscal Year 2016 (2015-16). They had a $1.3 BILLION shortfall in FY 17. As they set to work on the FY 18 budget, they will begin with an $870 million deficit.

Knowing that any prospect of significant teacher raises died November 8th with the defeat of SQ 779, teachers who have options will spend the spring looking elsewhere for opportunities. Some will look to other careers. Some will look to other states.

The exodus isn’t beginning because of the election. It’s continuing. It may even be accelerating. Even Texas newspapers are noticing. The Dallas Morning News piggybacked on a Tulsa World article in August about one such move: LeAnna Snyder moving from Tulsa to Grand Prairie for a $20,000 raise. She cited the fact that her own children are about to enter college and she just had to do more for them. It’s more than the money, though:

“Yes, I’m getting a raise of almost $20,000 — and that’s a big help to my family, especially with two kids about to be in college. But it’s not just salary,” said Snyder. “It’s retirement, it’s class size, it’s supplies. It’s about kindness and respect. When you walk into that building in Texas, it’s clean, it’s not old, it’s sharp-looking. It felt safe.”

It’s not just Texas, either. Snyder could have crossed the Kansas or Arkansas borders for raises as well.

tps-to-ks-and-ar

Tulsa World

In fact, all the states that border Oklahoma have higher average salaries than we do.

regional-teaching-averages

Tulsa World

We still have legislators and policy groups who dispute those figures. We even have teachers who do. Remember that when you see an average teacher’s salary figure, though, that you’re looking at salary, insurance, and retirement – not just taxable income. Also remember that those are the same numbers used for other states.

State support for public education has been trending downward for a long time. According to data from the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (OEQA), from FY 2000 to FY 2015, the state share of school funding dropped from 57.3% to 47.7%.

Fiscal Year Local Share State Share Federal Share
2015 40.8% 47.7% 11.6%
2010* 36.1% 46.5% 17.4%
2005 34.1% 52.2% 13.8%
2000 32.8% 57.3% 10.0%

*In 2010, federal stimulus funds supplemented state aid.

Another way to look at this is to place state funding for education side-by-side with public school enrollment growth, as KOSU has done. For FY 08, the Legislature appropriated $2.53 billion for common education. The amount dropped the next three years and then increased the following three years before dropping again this year.

enrollmentvsstatefunding__1__1 KOSU.png

KOSU

As it stands, funding is $100 million lower than it was eight years ago, but enrollment is nearly 50,000 students higher. It’s also worth mentioning that 2016 dollars have less buying power than 2008 dollars. Fortunately, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has calculated the extent of Oklahoma’s per pupil cuts, adjusting for inflation.

funding-cuts-2015

Per pupil state funding in Oklahoma is down nearly a quarter since 2008. That’s the worst figure in the country. Sure, we’ve seen a downturn in energy sector of our economy, but it hasn’t hit all the states that produce oil and gas as hard as it has hit us.

education-cuts-worst-in-nation-opi

North Dakota is another oil producing state, and they lead the nation in per pupil funding increases. They’re even adding to their equivalent of our Rainy Day Fund as we have all but shaken the last coin from our piggy bank. I don’t want to model everything we do after North Dakota – they’ve had a pretty rough time the last few months with DAPL, you know – I just want to live in a state with sound fiscal planning. And I don’t want to move.

Part of our state’s problem is that we give too many tax breaks without getting anything in return. The 2016 version of the Legislature fought this travesty head on – by eliminating the Oklahoma Earned Income Credit. This was, in essence, a tax increase on the state’s poorest citizens. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same politicians used that reasoning for opposing the penny sales tax.

For more than a decade, we’ve seen declining tax revenues in Oklahoma. Some of this is due to policy decisions; some is due to oil prices. Due to cuts to income taxes alone, the state has lost over $1 billion in revenue since 2008. I know, you want to keep more of what you earn. So do I. We’re not the ones benefitting from these tax cuts, however.

avg-tax-cut-opi

 

If you’re making what an average school teacher in Oklahoma makes, your cut was about $29. Actually, it was less. Your taxable income is less than the $47,500 listed in that table.

Pretty much every state agency has seen funding cuts during the current cycle of budget woes. Meanwhile, working Oklahomans haven’t seen game changing tax breaks.

Oil companies have, though. We continue giving tax breaks all over the place to them, though.

oklahoma-tax-breaks-horizontal-international-business-times

International Business Times

Similar to what we’ve done in Oklahoma, North Dakota has reduced property and income tax rates. They’ve continued to tax drilling, though.

Apparently, we’re going to dig out of this hole by taxing haircuts, tattoos, and cigarettes. Twice, in fact, since the end of the legislative session in May, I’ve met with Republican legislators who blame Democrats for not supporting a cigarette tax proposal that they think would have raised $150 million annually. I reminded both that Republicans have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, and that they also hold the governor’s mansion.

After November 8th, Republicans now hold even wider margins in both chambers of the Legislature. They have a 75-26 advantage in the House and a 42-6 gap in the Senate. Republican unity would seem to be a bigger issue than courting Democrats to their side. Hopefully, many of the newly elected legislators will be as education friendly as they’ve sounded.

Of course, we also have distractions. Days before the election, the state superintendent was indicted for alleged violations of state campaign laws. Interestingly, the charges were filed at the end of absentee ballot voting and at the beginning of early voting. Do I think that made a difference?

  Absentee Early Voting Election Day Total
Yes 52,989 63,895 466,545 583,429
No 46,147 86,400 721,026 853,573

Yeah, I think it made a difference. Before the indictment, Yes on 779 had a slim margin. After the indictment, it was No in a landslide. Are the charges against Superintendent Hofmeister valid? I’m not a lawyer or a judge. Out of thousands of pages of evidence that were reviewed, we’ve only seen a 32 page complaint by the district attorney’s office. We haven’t seen or heard defense arguments yet. A lot can happen between here and there. The timing (on allegations that were 17 months old) definitely stung, though.

We also have the distraction of what appears to be a hush hush settlement orchestrated by the former Speaker of the House. In case you’ve missed the drama over the last couple of weeks, I’ll let the Oklahoman sum it up for you:

A fired legislative assistant and her attorneys were secretly paid $44,500 in state funds in November to settle her sexual harassment complaint against a state representative from Tulsa, records show.

Hollie Anne Bishop, 28, complained Rep. Dan Kirby, 58, began sexually harassing her shortly after she started working for him in January 2015. She complained she was fired without explanation on Nov. 20, 2015, in retaliation for reporting the harassment.

She accepted a $28,414.20 payment, online records show. Her Edmond attorneys accepted a $16,085.80 payment.

The payments appear to have come from taxpayer funds meant to operate the state House of Representatives. The payments were made Nov. 22 after Kirby, a Republican, won re-election, the records show.

Keep in mind that while education and every other function of state government saw a cut in funding, the Legislature increased its own operational budget by 183% for FY 17. Surely this isn’t why, is it?

It’s also worth noting that Kirby won his re-election on November 8th –two weeks before the settlement was paid. Is that timing also fishy? Of course it is.

Since the revelation of this settlement before Christmas, Kirby has resigned, we have learned that outgoing Speaker Jeff Hickman was instrumental in lining up the settlement, Kirby has rescinded his resignation, and that new Speaker Charles McCall wants to investigate the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Scott Pruitt is headed to the Trump administration, the incoming Secretary of Education does not appear to have ever set foot in a public school, and – oh yeah! – we still have nearly a billion dollar hole to fill.

I don’t envy the task our legislators have. Some who are well-meaning engage with public education advocates on social media quite effectively. Others shut down quickly and lament that they are tired of hearing us complain without offering any solutions. I have two things to say to that:

  1. You ran for office. Aren’t you supposed to have some ideas?
  2. We’ve been giving you our ideas for the last several years now. Do we need to list them again?

In the past few years, the Legislature has listened to us on non-revenue issues. They added parents to the third-grade reading committee. They authorized changes to A-F Report Cards. They passed new academic standards. They eliminated End of Instruction tests and simplified teacher evaluations too. Year after year, they’ve even turned back voucher bills.

I know that most of our legislators listen to us. We just can’t seem to get anywhere with funding.

In spite of all of this, I’m going to remain hopeful.

hope gif.gif

We have 700,000 public education students to teach in this state. More than 14,000 of those are in my district alone. I even still have one in my household. Public education continues to be a bargain for taxpayers and a building block for citizenship. In spite of the challenges – both for funding and respect – I see great things every day in our schools. Even the teachers who are looking for an exit come to work and try to make an impact every day.

We have new and returning legislators who need to continue hearing from us. They need to know what our struggles look like. They need to see faces. They need to hear our opinions about everything from funding to vouchers to accountability. We owe them that. We should call them, and they should call us.

2016 is gone, and good riddance to it. Bring on 2017, come what may.

Time to get woke (as the kids are saying)

October 16, 2016 1 comment

Here we are, 23 days away from Election Day, and two things are still true.

cub-fan-bud-man

Ok, well, not those two things. I am rooting for the Cubs in the playoffs right now, but as for the other, I prefer something that isn’t so mass produced – maybe even something made in Oklahoma.

No, the two things that are still true are (1) that we still have a massive teacher shortage, and (2) that many teachers in Oklahoma qualify for government assistance programs, such as WIC and Sooner Care.

This election will be critical, but at the top of the ballot, we have two figures whose personalities turn people off in droves. I won’t get into that. We must look past that and vote anyway. We have several state questions that are important, and dozens of competitive legislative races. Unfortunately, there are no statewide office holders on the ballot this time around.

One thing that really hit home for me this week was when a friend asked me to guest lecture in his class for pre-service teacher candidates at Oklahoma State University. I also had the chance to speak to a broader group before the class discussion.

osu-speaker-announcement

I really didn’t know what to expect when I met with America’s Brightest Orange ™. We had some great comments and conversations about the state of public schools in our state. In both talks, though, I had to answer a question, somewhere along the lines of, “After I graduate, why should I stay in Oklahoma?”

My answer, as I was mindful of the fact that this during work hours, was that if SQ 779 passed, or if the our elected leaders could find a meaningful way to give raises to teachers, that there are a bunch of reasons to stay. (I also told them that if they choose to stay in Oklahoma, they should choose Mid-Del. Don’t judge. You’d have promoted your own district as well.)

I also told them that if the state can’t find a way to raise teacher salaries before they graduate, then I can’t in good conscience market the state of Oklahoma to them. I love it here. I’m a fourth generation Oklahoman and I’ve lived here my whole life. My own children are looking elsewhere, though.

We also talked about the lack of students entering the profession in the traditional way, through the teacher prep programs at our colleges and universities.

I know some great teachers who started their careers with alternative certification. I even know some teachers with emergency certification who work out just fine. Over the years, though, it’s the teachers who went to college with the intent to become teachers who tend to work out most reliably and stay with us the longest.

I’ve written it many times, but once you sign to come to work for me, I don’t care what pathway you took into the profession. Our job is to support you and help you become a rock star teacher. With the people I have around me in Mid-Del who are geared to support just that, it’s much easier to make the case of why you should come work for us than why you should stay in Oklahoma.

I didn’t say it directly on Thursday, but I support  SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I tire of the argument that we’re letting the Legislature (and governor) off the hook for failing to do their jobs. The truth is that the bigger the margin of victory, the more it will be seen as a reprimand. We’re calling out our elected leaders.

They’ve spent the last six years with one party control of the government, yet per pupil state aid for schools has steadily declined. The first four of those years, they missed an opportunity to help all core state services while oil prices were at historically high levels.

historical-oil-prices

The last two years, they’ve built flimsy budgets on faulty estimates. This led to a massive revenue shortfall last year, and the state miscalculated that too. This fiscal year, the state continues to fail to meet revenue collection estimates. That means we’ll likely see another revenue failure declaration and more budget cuts – after the election, of course.

Voting for SQ 779 is important because our various branches of government can’t agree on (a) how to fund public education adequately, or (b) just how much money they’re working with in the first place. These are also reasons why we must send some different people to the Capitol.

As much as I want to, I won’t specifically endorse any candidates for November’s election. Yes, it’s my personal blog, and I’m on my own time. I have every right to do what I want, but I’m increasingly aware of the fact that I need to have good working relationships with whoever voters send to 23rd and Lincoln.

That said, if you want to educate yourself about many of the races, my friend at Blue Cereal Education has some great candidate comparison. Whenever possible, he lets candidates’ own words do the talking. In particular, I find his information on House Districts 69 and 93, and Senate Districts 33 and 37 particularly compelling.

Educating yourself about candidates is a moral imperative. According to a Sooner Poll survey cited in the Oklahoman today, teachers feel quite underappreciated.

A vast majority of public school teachers across the state have an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature — 81 percent, according to SoonerPoll — which has some teachers seeing similarities between this year and 2014.

In unrelated news, puppies are cute.

puppy

If we’re all really that frustrated, then we need to get off of our butts on Election Day and do something about it. The people who still want to wreck public education keep finding new angles.

ocpa-environment-for-the-win

I’m not making this up. Yes, the OCPA, which refutes that climate change is even a thing, now wants us all to support school choice in order to help the environment.

That reminds me, as long as you’re voting on November 8th, you should probably take a good hard look at SQ 790. Supporters claim that the intent is to allow us to move the 10 Commandments statue back to the Capitol. The fact that it currently sits in front of the OCPA building speaks volumes though. It’s really a back door for spending state money on religious education. I’ll be voting no on that one.

Again, if you’re a parent, educator, or future teacher, you need to vote. You need to vote in numbers that exceed the averages for other groups of people.

Public schools educate 90 percent of Oklahoma’s children. If we have any chance of continuing to serve them effectively, we can’t sit this one out.

Ignore the presidential election if you must. Just be informed and make smart choices.

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