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Posts Tagged ‘OCPA’

A developing story for #oklaed

April 30, 2017 5 comments

For those of you who don’t know her, Angela Little is a business professional, single parent, and fierce public education advocate.

angela little

For those of you who don’t know them, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is a right-wing think tank, founded in 1993. The OCPA had $2.7 million in revenue and $1.9 million in expenses in 2015. They closed the fiscal year with about $5.8 million in assets, including one controversial monument.

OCPA ten commandments

That’s impressive for a non-profit!

The OCPA also operates several side projects, including their Center for Investigative Journalism. They call it a center, but it really just seems to be one guy – Jay Chilton. You remember him – the guy who feigns outrage when educators get salty with their frustration. What I enjoy most about his writing is when he refers to his blog in the third person. Sentences that start with CIJ asked… and CIJ contacted… pepper his posts.

Maybe I should start doing that…

Okeducationtruths has learned that in spite of the best efforts of many in the Legislature, nothing has changed.

No, I don’t really like that at all.

I also don’t like drive-by hacks taking cheap shots at friends of public education. That brings me to Friday, when okeducationtruths was shocked – SCHOCKED! – to learn that CIJ had written a post fixating on Angela Little.

The post starts as a follow-up on the relationship between American Fidelity (Little’s employer) and Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s 2014 campaign. American Fidelity was a contributor to the campaign for which Hofmeister is under investigation.

That part seems like fair game. Hofmeister is a public official. She and others associated with her campaign face charges in Oklahoma County. That’s noteworthy.

About halfway through the post, though, it turned into an attack on Little.

While American Fidelity was identified in the indictment, neither the company nor any of its staff were charged with any crimes.

In May of 2016, American Fidelity appears to have adopted another unusual political strategy when it hired Angela Clark Little as part of the company’s “Strategic Quality Management” staff. Despite her listing as a full-time company employee, much of Little’s time is committed to advocating increased expenditures for public education, opposing school choice reforms, and campaigning for the election of candidates who support those positions.

Little’s lobbying efforts have been noted by many legislators and generally take place during regular working hours. If a business pays someone to lobby at the state Capitol, state law requires both the business and the individual to register with the state Ethics Commission and requires the lobbyist to file regular monthly disclosure reports.

Then a funny thing happened. Several legislators insisted that the post come down. It did, briefly. Since CIJ hadn’t reached out to little for a comment, he was asked to pull it until that could happen. Then he sent Little the following message via Facebook Messenger:

Ms. Little, My name is Jay Chilton. I am the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Oklahoma City, a project of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. I recently published a story concerning American Fidelity and your activities as a pro-public education activist. Some of my readers have asked me to reach out to you and ask if you wished to comment. I thought you would like to use written communication so that you could be certain I would not mis-quote you, and if I did you would have a record. Please elaborate as you deem appropriate as to your position relating to the facts of my article. Thank you for your time, ~Jay

Well, he didn’t misquote her; he just truncated her response. I asked her if she’d like me to post it in it’s entirety here. See below:

I began my advocacy in 2014 when I was employed as a data analyst with Devon Energy. Having 8 year old twins brought concerns about the 3rd grade retention testing and I strongly opposed implementation of the Common Core State Standards and helped advocate for the repeal. In Feb 2016, I was laid off from Devon Energy along with 2700 other employees which made it nearly impossible to find a job. During my layoff, I spent time at the State Capitol advocating for my children and their teachers as I continued to look for a new position in my field. My time there allowed me to create relationships with many elected officials who shared my passion for public education. Thankfully, I was offered a job with American fidelity in May 2016 after a friend alerted me to a job posting for a position similar to the one I had with Devon Energy. I help various areas of business implement technology solutions in a cost-effective way by determining the requirements of a project or program. Since I am currently employed, I have only been to the Capitol four times this session for which I used paid personal time off. Thankfully, the relationships I made last session have allowed me to reach out to Legislators and discuss issues in the evenings since I am unable to be there during the day. My current focus is helping our teachers get a much needed raise. They say it takes a village to raise a child and as a single working mother, teachers have become a vital part of my village so I want to help them like they have helped me over the years. The State Capitol was built for the people. The paid lobbyists came second so why do we feel everyone who’s there is getting compensated monetarily? I do this for my boys who are my entire world. Their happiness and future success is the only compensation received or needed. It would be different if I were there on behalf of an industry but I am there on behalf of my children. I am and will continue to be their voice.

Angela Little doesn’t have the resources, history, and connections of the most powerful people in this state. Just the same, she makes a difference. I don’t always agree with her either, but I’m thankful beyond words that she’s an advocate for public schools. Last summer, she caught the attention of the Oklahoman editorial board. Now it’s the OCPA, which is basically the same thing. If those are your enemies, you’re probably my friend.

Chilton finished his revised post (after including a cursory Little quote and removing statements by legislators) with the ominous statement that “This is a developing story.” Of course it is. And anyone who doesn’t play nice and kowtow to the will of the OCPA will face their wrath.

We all have the right to visit the Capitol and engage our legislators. That doesn’t make us lobbyists. What OCPA and CIJ and others like them want is for all of the public education supporters in the state to sit down and shut up.

Good luck with that.

Get thee to a Thuggery!

January 25, 2017 5 comments

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.

William Shakespeare
Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
(a few pages after that one more famous scene)

Two evening events on my calendar this week relate to education advocacy. Last night, I attended the Education in Oklahoma panel discussion at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma featuring strong public school advocates.

ed-panel-webimage

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nita R. Giles Public Policy Program and the Oklahoma Policy Institute present Education in Oklahoma, a panel discussion examining feasible solutions to problems facing the Oklahoma education system.

Panelists: 
Phyllis Hudecki, former Oklahoma Secretary of Education, executive director, Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition

David Perryman, Oklahoma State Representative

Mickey Hepner, dean, College of Business, University of Central Oklahoma

Joe Siano, superintendent, Norman Public Schools

Megan Benn, consultant

Moderator: 
Gene Perry, policy director, Oklahoma Policy Institute

As I said, it was a friendly crowd. I didn’t detect any dissent from those in attendance either. They discussed some of the issues public schools are facing and some potential solutions for solving them. I heard little with which I would disagree. Other than Hepner, I was previously pretty familiar with the rest of the group.

usao-1  usao-2

Tomorrow night is an entirely different ball of wax. I was thinking of going to Full Circle Bookstore to hear Scott Inman speak about the upcoming legislative session.

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It was on my calendar and everything. Then I caught wind of another event:

school-choice-summit

The School Choice Summit and Expo is tomorrow at Oklahoma City Community College. It’s scheduled from 4-9 pm, and it’s free. I’ll just be attending the main event from 7-9. Apparently, this bothers some of the people who aren’t big public school fans.

trent-england-show

“Thuggery paid for with our tax dollars, at least for now.”

So I’m a thug because I’m going to an event that is far outside of my bubble? Sure, there will be people there who see me and are uncomfortable. It happens all the time. I assume these people are adults, though, and that they can handle being in a room with someone who isn’t a fan of vouchers – especially the kind that come with no accountability.

By the way, my tweet that Trent England responded to was from Friday night at 8:59 pm. I’m not really sure how my thuggery was paid for with tax dollars. And what’s with the at least for now business?

trent-england-deuce

Oh, they’ve called the police in for order. The libertarians are so scared of teacher thugs like me that they’ve called the cops. How cute. As KFOR reports:

So far, no word if the event will be canceled, but OCCC assured us they will have campus police available for the safety of the students.

Check that. They’ve called the campus police. All is well.

I have so many issues with all of this.

  1. It’s a public event. I registered on Eventbrite. I announced that I’d be coming almost a week ahead of time. I’m not even trying to sneak in.
  2. My plan is to listen, take notes, maybe ask a question or two, and then write about the event if I come up with anything good.
  3. Nobody is threatening violence. There is a group I don’t know much about organizing a group to support public education, but they’re not even making signs.
  4. How is my tweet on a Friday night anything “paid for with our tax dollars”? I have a life outside of work, you know. And last I checked, Twitter is free.
  5. Is Trent England threatening my job or all public education jobs? He really needs to work on his clarity.

Dictionary.com defines thug as a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. I hardly see myself as a ruffian, robber, or murderer. I do like the sound of the word ruffian. I just don’t think I can pull off the vibe.

Again, as we have seen in the past few weeks, there are some in power who view dissent as vitriol. That’s ridiculous. We need to quit eyeballing the extreme positions and locking into them. That’s why I’m going tomorrow night. I might actually learn something. I also might want to bang my forehead on the seat in front of me for wasting my time. I’m keeping an open mind about it.

What I’m not going to do is recuse myself to a world of like-minded people. I have plenty of those around. I have few friends who are on the other side of education issues anymore. That was never my intent. While I don’t expect to make new friends in the middle of an OCPA/ALEC/Walton event, I can at the least hear what others are saying about the public schools I’m proud to lead.

If that makes me a thug, so be it. Another perspective, Mr. England – and just bear with me here – is you need to work on not being so thin-skinned.

Like Weiners at the Bar-S Plant

November 27, 2016 2 comments

As November comes to a close, and our newly-elected Legislature begins its charge of finding a way to close yet another budget hole, some among their ranks want to focus on a task that misses the mark entirely.

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Yes, instead of finding funds for public schools, Sen. Kyle Loveless is busy trying to find funds for private schools. He’s spent his entire first senate term on this task, and it looks as if his second will be no different.

I’ll give Loveless credit for one thing: he puts himself out there. You don’t really wonder where he stands. He loves to bait people, and for some of us, responding is a compulsion.

Judge if you want; I know I should walk away.

rick-responds-to-kyle

I hate the term school choice, mainly because it’s inaccurate. It’s a euphemism. It’s a voucher that people can apply towards private school tuition if either (a) they can afford the remainder of the tuition, or (b) the school chooses to waive the remainder of the tuition. It’s not choice because the school doesn’t have to accept the bedraggled child that Loveless and his ilk choose they want to save from the failing public education system they turn around and claim to want to help.

As to my friend Kenny Ward’s point on Loveless’s post that the poll has some bias because the pollster hates public education, well there’s some truth to that.

trolling-shapard

That was me trolling his Twitter feed yesterday. Then Bill Shapard, Jr. lashed out at the lot of us.

shapard-trolls-back

Look, guys! We’re number one! We even published an article about it one time!

Yeah, well #oklaed is number one too. In budget cuts, that is. It must be true. It was in the Oklahoman.

Oklahoma’s cuts to general education funding since 2008 continue to lead the nation, according to the latest report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Nearly 27 percent of state per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, has been cut since 2008. That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for educating funding reductions.

Shapard feels the compulsion as well, I guess. He keeps attacking Tyler Bridges, Ward, and me.

shapard-and-the-wiener

Yes, he says he wants to open 12 Corn Bible Academy type schools in Clinton, and he compares public education to a wiener factory. That’s the guy running Sooner Poll. That’s the guy who claims his work is not reflective of his bias.

Maybe looking at the polling language would be instructive, then.

“Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?”

FAVOR — parents have the moral right to choose … 51.5%

OPPOSE — it drains money from public schools … 37.3%

UNDECIDED … 11.2%

First of all, the question compares two things. It should read, “Which viewpoint comes closer to your own.” As long as it’s an education question, a basic grasp of middle school grammar would be nice.

More importantly, the question is poorly worded. Whether that indicates bias or not is another question, but look at the two choices. Parents have the moral right to choose, and it drains money from public schools. Are those options mutually exclusive? Can’t a voucher be a moral right that also hurts the public schools?

It’s also incomplete information. I oppose vouchers for a number of reasons. As I said above, the number one reason is that the private school doesn’t have to accept any kid who shows up with a state aid check in hand. Yes, vouchers will deplete school funding. Yes, vouchers will go to schools that don’t face the same accountability measures as public schools. Yes…actually, if you want a great top ten list of reasons why vouchers are a bad idea, Steven Singer has a great one put together already.

I also question the phrase public or private school which best serves their needs. As Tyler Bridges stated in his response to Shapard this morning on Facebook:

Out of respect for many that I know at CBA I will not speak to their school, as they have great things going on and have great people out there. That being said, using their 1:7 ratio of staff to students, their very small student body, as well as their student makeup, is hardly a quality comparison Bill. My question would be this: if CBA took a representative sample of 100 students (which would more than double their enrollment) from Clinton PS (83% free/reduced, 15% poverty, 35% bilingual, 23% ELL) do you feel they are so much better at providing a quality education that they would continue to turn out the same product as they do now?

Private schools don’t face the number of variables that public schools do. Our students’ situations are often unpredictable. Shapard may be convinced that 12 schools like Corn Bible Academy in Clinton could do a better job than Clinton Public Schools do. According to CBA’s website, they serve about 80 students. Clinton has over 2,300 students. I’m not a statistician, like Bill Shapard, but I think it would take more than 12 CBAs to meet the need of Clinton’s students.

But I digress.

Shapard’s poll question puts the two options on unequal footing. He gives one moral standing. He gives the other a fiscal outcome. Wording matters, and he knows it. Just because a few hundred people who still answer their land lines pick (a) over (b) doesn’t mean it’s good public policy.

One positive thing about Loveless feeling he must constantly twist the fork in the back of public education is that we also see a clear illustration from those who hate public education about the toxic narrative they love to spew. Here are some examples of comments (with names removed) from Loveless’s post yesterday:

  • if everyone gets there 7-9 grand per year, the market will fill the need. Catholic schools have been doing it for 70% less for decades in the inner cities. And outperforming public schools substantially.
  • We’re not talking Heritage Hall and Casady. Go to any large city in the US and compare inner city Catholic schools with the public schools- they take anyone.
  • Let’s just cowboy up and admit that it is about the folks who work in education not wanting to admit that the system is failing but nobody wants to lose their job. For once, let’s just stop saying it’s about the kids…heard that for decades- it ain’t.
  • Believing that tax paying parents should have a choice in how their money is spent on their child’s education is not “hell-bent on destroying public education”. It’s actually the exact opposite.

I don’t know the cost of Oklahoma’s Catholic schools, but I do know the cost of attending any private school is two-fold: tuition and donations. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that tuition alone doesn’t fully fund private schools. They rely heavily on donations. If they start filling up with students attending on vouchers, their donations will decrease. The families using a voucher aren’t going to have the deep pockets their traditional students have.

And yes, I’m certain that we’re probably not talking about Casady and Heritage Hall. That helps prove my point though. No amount of politics and wordsmithing truly grants parents the choice of where to enroll their children.

I challenged the commenter who wants us to cowboy up to come into any of the Mid-Del Schools (after passing a mandatory background check) and tell all the staff that why they come to work is not about the kids. Crickets.

As for the last comment, we don’t all contribute the same amount. Whether it’s income tax, property tax, motor vehicle tax, or any other state revenue source, all of our contributions look different. Thus what we pay into the tax base that funds public education is different. We don’t get rebates for the services we don’t use. I haven’t needed the assistance of a highway patrolman for years (no matter what the one I met a couple of weeks ago thought). Still, I don’t get a rebate for not using their services. I also don’t get to re-allocate those funds elsewhere. That’s not how any state function works.

I’ve said for as long as I’ve thought about such things that I don’t care if you homeschool your kids or send them to private schools. That’s your choice. It may be the best thing for your kid. It’s not for me to decide. I just don’t think the money should follow the child. My business is managing the district’s resources for the kids we have now and the kids we’ll have in the future. Since about 90% of our budget goes to payroll, the vast majority of the investment is in the kids we have right now.

Loveless posted another article from Choice Remarks on his Facebook page last night. This one was titled “Nearly 4 in 10 Oklahoma teachers would choose private or home education for their own children.” One of my good friends, Pam Huston (a principal in Moore) posted the same article on Facebook, but with some major shade.

pam-huston-to-the-rescue

Above the article, she wrote:

This article could also be titled, ‘Over 65% of teachers surveyed agree that public charter schools are the least, or second to the least, favorable option for their own children.” It’s all in how the results are spun……results are posted in the comments below.

Below are the results:

poll-question

These are teachers responding. Of the four choices, teachers have public schools ranked one or two nearly 80% of the time. I think these results are basically a Rorschach Test. You see what you want to see. Yes, some teachers would love to put their kids in another school setting. Some teachers wish they could be home educating their children. I see no problem with that.

Choice Remarks is one of the many offshoots of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). On a post-election blog, school choice kingpin Brandon Dutcher further discusses the argument for vouchers.

As we approach 2017, the taxpaying parents of 100,000 Oklahoma students, despite being compelled to pay for public education, have in effect said to public school officials: “Your product is sufficiently unattractive to us that you can’t even give it away.” Moreover, Oklahoma has enacted a private-school voucher program and a tax-credit scholarship program. And as we move ever closer to Rod Paige’s vision of universal school choice—by expanding our current programs, enacting ESAs, providing for individual tax credits, and more—I suspect the vindictive resentment will grow.

Dutcher fails to note, then, that 700,000 students remain in public schools. If the 100,000 are dissatisfied, then the 700,000 must be content, right? Of course not. Neither of those assumptions are necessarily valid.

As for the vindictive resentment, yeah, it’ll grow. Keep characterizing public schools as failures, and we’ll resent you. Keep scheming ways to further deplete school funding, and we’ll resent you. Keep using poor measures of school effectiveness and ignoring the effects of poverty on learning, and we’ll resent you. This is no surprise. I won’t shy away from it. I doubt my blogging peers will either. I’ll keep saying, I’m sorry you’re upset, and you’ll probably keep saying the same thing. Neither of us will mean it.

The charge of the choice brigade approaches. Soon, it will have a new standard bearer: future Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking her up, but Rob Miller has:

For the past 15 years, DeVo$ has used her family money and influence to push an agenda to transfer public tax dollars over to unaccountable for-profit corporations. We know she will promote education savings accounts (ESAs) and other vouchers schemes and that she will work to funnel public money to church-sponsored schools.

To steal from the latest Geico commercials, “it’s what she does.”

If you recall, Bet$y DeVo$ has spent the past few years serving as the Chairman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), an organization which has as its vision “the transformation of public education by breaking down barriers to educational choice.”

Among other political activities, AFC has worked in the shadows to fund the legislative campaigns of hundreds of school-choice proponents across the nation. In recent years, they were the ones who contributed to the successful Oklahoma mudslinging campaigns against Melissa Abdo in 2014 and Lisa Kramer this year, just to name a few.

With the head of the Amway empire running education, we won’t just be getting school choice; we’ll be getting a voucher pyramid scheme extraordinaire!

pyramid

People like Loveless will sidle up to everything ALEC, OCPA, Choice Remarks, Sooner Poll, and the like throw out there. Because he won re-election in June and didn’t have to run a general election race, he has had a five month head start on trolling public education.

Meanwhile, others in the Legislature are busy trying to craft a budget to help all state agencies. Some even want to fund public schools, rather than finding ways to fund private ones.

November 8th was a disappointment for many of us in the #oklaed community. I get that. Nonetheless, we must keep fighting. If we don’t, the future is easy to predict.

They came, they saw, they puked

October 30, 2016 Comments off

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, Oklahoma has faced budget shortfalls each of the last three years, and they just keep getting bigger. This has created tension at our Capitol – you know the one getting the $245 million in repairs.

That’s not what this post is about. I’m glad the Capitol is being restored. Here’s what Governor Fallin said in her state of the state address back in 2014:

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

Based on a Fox 25 story from last week, some of those same terms could be appropriate in describing the state’s budget negotiations process. As Phil Cross explains:

Documents obtained by FOX 25 shed new light on the difficulties of filling the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. They reveal the governor’s office began talking about the budget long before the session kicked off. Doerflinger said while formal negotiations did not start until 2016, the talks started shortly after the 2015 legislative session closed.

Emails from the governor’s staff showed the session began with optimism. Even when House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) told the Tulsa World there was no chance for a teacher pay raise during the session, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Denise Northrup wrote “challenge accepted…gov remember this for the meeting with Inman soon.”

Ultimately though, no teacher pay raise happened in the session. By May, a staff member for the governor’s office wrote, “Not very grateful,” in an email to Northrup containing the statement of Oklahoma State School Board Association on the end of the session saying schools would continue to struggle under the budget agreement. Northrup replied, “jerks.”

I don’t find much of this surprising. The governor’s staff didn’t like the push back they received to their budget ideas. And maybe they were upset that Inman didn’t think their ideas would produce a teacher raise, but show me where he was wrong.

Remember, the Republican party can pass any piece of legislation they wanted to without a single Democrat voting for it. If the governor vetoed it, they could override her, again, without a single Democrat supporting them. That’s called a supermajority. Governor Fallin has had that luxury for the six years she’s held the office. It’s a luxury Fallin expects to retain for her last two years as governor as well.

There’s more:

“In this budget, there are things that you don’t like,” Doerflinger said, “and in this case that was one that made my stomach church but at the end of the day the governor has to make a decision as to whether all the other things that were accomplished in this budget.”

The stomach churning was not confined to Doerflinger’s office. Upstairs, in the governor’s office Northrup looked at the final agreement which included an addition that was never part of any negotiation. She simply wrote, “puke.”

I love this kind of insight. Knowing that there would be no budget deal otherwise, the governor’s office accepted something they didn’t want. It made them want to puke.

dodge ball threw up in my mouth.gif

I couldn’t bring myself to use a Linda Blair gif.

Yet when the OSSBA feels the same way, they’re jerks, right? Right.

During the last six years, I can’t even count the number of financial decisions our state has made that have made me feel that way. Just for fun, though, here are a few:

In 2012, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 766, which now costs the state tens of millions of dollars annually in property tax collections. This impacts our cities and our schools, and it deepens the budget deficits we face in this state. It benefits large corporations, most notably AT&T. The measure passed 65% to 35%, because all we heard was “tax cut.” Never mind that it doesn’t help most of us.

In 2014, the Legislature passed an income tax cut that continued to cut into state revenue. It is likely that the legislation responsible for dropping the tax rate in Oklahoma to 5 percent this year will cause it to fall even further in 2018.

In 2015, the Legislature passed HB 2244, which threw motor vehicle tax collections into a spin that created huge imbalances in state aid to school districts. On top of that, the Oklahoma Tax Commission misinterpreted the Legislature’s intent for how those collections should be distributed. A judge’s decision against the OTC now means that some corrective action will be taken, which will impact districts’ budget planning.

In 2016, school districts throughout the state faced cut after cut after cut, but only once half the year had already passed. Then during the summer, the same people who wanted to puke because of all the jerks announced that they had accidentally cut $141 million too much from state agencies. They even tried re-branding it a surplus and attempted to talk legislators into having a special session (like the one they worked to avoid in May by holding their nose and accepting an imperfect product).

Meanwhile, the governor’s biggest cheerleaders (besides Oklahoma’s energy industry) – the editorialists at the Oklahoman and the think tank double-speakers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – spent the year alternating between trying to convince teachers that they were actually making good money and contriving strategies to use one-time funds (such as the surplus that wasn’t) to fund raises that wouldn’t be sustainable. One of the OCPA guys even suggested that we should illegally spend bond money to pay salaries. If he thinks that idea will float, then he’s probably going to buy OU’s Tuscan monastery.

Making the burn of bad decisions worse, North Dakota has managed the spoils of their energy industry and created a real budget surplus. That could have been Oklahoma.

Yeah, I still want to puke.

Puke shirt.png

We vote in nine days. Maybe you’re still on the fence about SQ 779 – the penny sales tax that would generate raises of at least $5,000 for teachers. Or maybe you’ve been reading propaganda that says more than half the money will go to higher education. That’s a lie. No matter how many times you read it on the Internet, it’s still a lie. If you want to read the legal language and get back to me, feel free.

If the people who are running things at the Capitol make you want to puke, you still have a chance to support pro-education candidates. A few changes here and there, and our collective stomachs might rest a little better.

That’s about it for things that make me want to puke – well, as long as I don’t get started on the Halloween overtime that is our presidential election.

Vote Yes, or Else #SQ779

October 2, 2016 1 comment

I’m not sure that I’ve come out and said it, but will be voting yes on State Question 779. Right now, this is the best solution on the table to help public education. It has an upside, and it has limitations. It also has context.

As David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute wrote back in January, we have spent a decade digging this hole:

Repeated cuts to the state income tax made since the mid-2000s are one of the most significant reasons for an ongoing financial crisis that is eroding important public services and threatening Oklahoma’s economic well-being.

Acute teacher shortages, college tuition and fee hikes, critically understaffed correctional facilities, longer waiting lists for services, and lower reimbursement rates for medical and social service providers are among the harmful consequences of chronic budget shortfalls.

Prior to 2004, the top income tax rate in Oklahoma was 6.65 percent. That’s not what the average household paid. It was the top rate.

Various state revenue triggers have since lowered the rate to 5.00 percent. Additional triggers will continue lowering the rate to 4.85 percent by 2018. Again, those are the top rates. Most Oklahoma households were unaffected by these cuts. The later cuts have barely affected the majority of Oklahomans.

What’s the big deal? It will have taken 14 years to complete this slide.

Again, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Hemingway quotes:

gradually-then-suddenly

He was either describing the Oklahoma economy or exponential curves. Maybe both.

The political premise for cutting taxes is that doing so will stimulate the economy. I’m still looking for the evidence of that. Meanwhile, the median household in Oklahoma, making about $50,000, has seen a tax cut of about $230 annually. It’s something – not a game changer, but it’s something.

In addition to cutting income taxes, our state has also in recent years cut taxes on new oil and gas production. This is why Oklahoma has seen continued declines in public education funding. Prior to the industry downturn of the last few years, other energy-producing states, such as Texas and North Dakota, were increasing their investment in public education.

Not Oklahoma. Not even when oil was booming a few years ago. We missed our opportunity. Missed badly.

Last Wednesday, I attended a town hall meeting moderated by Fox 25 in Oklahoma City. The topic was SQ 779.

Panelists for the state question were Amber England of Oklahoma Stand for Children and Shawn Hime of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. Panelists against it were Steve Agee, Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University and Dave Bond with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

England and Hime reiterated the fact that our state leaders have had the chance to raise teachers’ salaries and have failed miserably. Agee made the point that the tax is regressive because it hits poor families harder than it impacts the wealthy. Bond made the point that passing the state question may falsely tell the Legislature that the job is done, sort of like establishing the lottery has. These are all good points. I don’t disagree with any of them.

I won’t repeat all talking points from the town hall, but I do want to respond to one thing said by Agee and one thing said by Bond.

What I will never understand is how Fallin has failed to make this a legacy issue for the first six years of her administration. The governor is Republican. The Senate has a Republican super majority. The House has a Republican super majority. Every single elected statewide office is held by Republicans. When I hear any of our state leaders talk, they say teachers deserve raises. Yet nothing happens.

By the way, I’m not blaming the Republican Party. Teachers were underpaid when Democrats controlled the various branches of government, however you want to enumerate them. Maybe they didn’t go 10 years without seeing raises, but they were still among the lowest-paid educators in the country.

I don’t doubt that Governor Fallin wants to raise teacher salaries. I would also agree that if she could do so, it would punctuate her time in public office. Unfortunately, that punctuation mark would be a question mark, rather than an exclamation mark.

Regardless of what she accomplishes in the next two years, our state, and more specifically, our education system, will take years to recover from the hole we’ve dug. How many teachers have quit the profession or left the state? Do you think they’ll all come storming back because of a raise? Many are settled into the next phase of their lives and won’t look back.

According to the OSSBA, school districts in Oklahoma eliminated over 1,500 teaching positions in 2016 because of the state budget collapse. In spite of this fact, 53% of the superintendents who responded to their survey said the teacher shortage is now worse than it was a year ago. Last year, the Oklahoma State Department of Education approved over 1,000 emergency teaching certificates. This year, the state is on pace to fly past that number.

Not to be overly-dramatic, but if SQ 779 fails, we’re going to see the problem get exponentially worse. I know too many people who see this as their last hope for staying in education to believe otherwise.

While I see Agee’s point and don’t entirely fault him for wanting the governor to find an alternate solution, that’s no reason for me to have hope. Going into the 2016 legislative session, we all knew that momentum for the penny sales tax was building. If Fallin and the Legislature weren’t motivated enough by this knowledge to find an answer in February or May, I have my doubts about whether they can agree to one now. Hope is a good thing. It’s not a blind thing, though.

Bond, on the other hand, kept making the case for how the state already has plenty of revenue to raise teachers’ salaries. He predictably blamed administrative bloat. He said we have too many non-classroom positions. He even threw out the fact that the University of Oklahoma owns property in Tuscany. Twice. When Hime mentioned to him that it was a gift, he went on some strange rant about a Corvette.

None of that really shocked me. This did:

Yes, he really said that. He also said that nobody is going to sue a school district for using bond money to pay teachers just because it’s unconstitutional.

Side note: this is why I never approached the moderator. I pictured myself going off on a rant rather than forming a question. Nobody was there to hear me.

My guess is that one of the OCPA’s many tentacles would be the first to sue a school district misusing money. I also can imagine the headlines in the Oklahoman. No doubt they’d be full of compassion and understanding for our plight.

Along with hosting the town hall, Fox 25 also ran a Twitter poll asking how followers planned to vote on SQ 779. Only 145 people responded, but 59% of those said yes.

Hopefully we’ll see a similar result on November 8th. Whatever Oklahoma decides will send a strong message to our leaders about what this state values. It’ll send one to our teachers too.


If you missed the town hall and would like to watch it in its entirety, Fox 25 has it online.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

Mock Outrage and Real Impact

August 16, 2016 Comments off

Facts matter. So do details. So does context – well, to most of us at least.

By now, many of you have probably seen the blog post by Steve Anderson at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs expressing mock outrage at school districts and the funds we’re allegedly hoarding. If you haven’t, it’s worth your time to read. Here’s his opening:

Oklahomans who have been told repeatedly that Oklahoma’s schools are underfunded may be very surprised to learn that the schools in fact have “savings accounts” that are full of cash sitting idle.

Idle is a pretty strong word. We do end each fiscal year with funds in various accounts. That much is true. Most of those funds are in accounts that have limited purposes. I’ll get to that in a minute.

What really caught my attention is that of all the districts in the state, Anderson chose to highlight 11 in a table on his blog.

2015 School Year Revenues

School District

Cash Forward

Largest Balance Item?

Bartlesville $20,577,066 Yes
Bixby $25,774,424 Yes
Clinton $4,562,120 No
Jenks $57,381,683 Yes
Midwest City-Del City $45,491,461 Yes
Moore $33,185,915 No
Norman $42,912,359 No
Sand Springs $21,590,762 Yes
Stillwater $14,005,455 No
Tahlequah $8,611,547 No
Tulsa Union $87,812,848 Yes

It’s strange for a number of reasons. Many of these districts have outspoken leaders who have pushed back against OCPA’s propaganda. Mid-Del, which is mine, is an obvious target. Still, if the point was to shock their readers, why did Anderson not highlight the two districts with more than $100,000,000 in cash forward balances

Last week, KFOR in Oklahoma City asked us for a statement about the OCPA post. We sent one, which they didn’t use in their report (and that was perfectly fine with me):

The OCPA blog post showing that Mid-Del Public Schools carried forward a balance in excess of $45 million is misleading. Among funds included in their calculation are several that cannot be used for every day operational costs. Examples include:

  • $12.4 million in the Sinking Fund
  • $11.4 million in the Building Fund
  • $2.4 million in the Child Nutrition Fund
  • $1.2 million in various Activity Accounts
  • $939 thousand in the Workers Comp Fund

Mid-Del Public Schools began Fiscal Year 2015 (14-15 school year) with about $7.6 million in the General Fund. Mid-Del received $89.6 million in General Fund revenues for that school year. The cash forward amount represented about 8.5% of that figure. As a district, we strive to achieve a cash forward (or carryover) balance in the General Fund of 6% to 8%, so that we can continue operating fluidly before receiving our first state aid payment of the school year in late August.

As a point of reference, Mid-Del ended FY16 with a 5.9% cash forward balance. Even with the mid-year reductions in spending we were able to make after last year’s statewide budget collapse, we were not able to achieve our target fund balance.

The danger with blog posts such as this is that they only serve to confuse the public. On the other hand, they also open a door for conversations to educate the public at-large about the intricacies of public school finance.

Mid-Del Public Schools remains committed and prepared  to providing a quality public school education to the more than 14,000 students who will arrive to meet their teachers in 11 short days. No level of budget cuts will change that.

Yes, I wrote that over a week ago. It’s just taken me a while to finish this post.

And for the record, I was happy with the comments KFOR used in their report. First was Steve Lindley from Putnam City. Well, actually, OCPA President Jonathan Small spoke first:

I do think, when you look at the way our funding is spent in K-12 education in Oklahoma, that it’s clear that the priority is not first the most important person, which is the teacher in the classroom.

It’s clear? Really? We spend money on salary and benefits. We spend money on facilities and utilities. We spend money on instructional materials and technology. Unfortunately, as the districts have had to count on the state less for funding, most of the costs after salary and benefits have been left to districts’ bond projects and building funds.

As data from the Office of Educational Quality and Assurance (OEQA) show, for the 2014-15 school year, state funding generated 47.7% of what school districts had available to spend. (This doesn’t include bond costs, which vary widely among the school districts.) For the 1999-2000 school year, state funding accounted for 57.3% of what school districts had available to spend. State support for public schools has been on a steady decline for a long time now.

Some districts are growing. They need to add to the size of their facilities. Other districts are aging. They need to replace or upgrade their facilities. There just aren’t funds available through the funding formula to meet these needs, so the districts pass bonds through local elections.Many districts also use bond funds to buy buses, which also have an optimal span of usage. As we drive more and more operational costs into our bond projects, meeting these needs becomes more challenging.

Back to the KFOR piece:

Putnam City Spokesman Steve Lindley showed NewsChannel 4 the district’s finances and the “$83 million surplus” the OCPA reported.

About $14 million (which has since shrunk to about $10 million) is available for use in the general fund, he said, though much of it is being saved to pay bills that will be due before property taxes are collected at the end of the year.

Other money is saved in reserves to deal with emergency situations.

“In the financial situation we’re in now, we don’t know what’s coming or when it’s coming,” Lindley said. “We manage our resources very carefully and make the best use of them that we can. And, why would we do anything else?”

Another $11 million was raised with a specific purpose like MAPS or child nutrition or by a specific group like an activity fund or a gift.

That money can not be used for general operations.

And, the lions share of the Putnam City “surplus,” $57 million, are dedicated to paying off voter-approved bond issues.

In other words, just as the Mid-Del figures I provided at the top show, school districts have multiple funds that have very specific purposes. We’re not hiding money from our teachers, and they know it. Either that, or they just don’t understand how school funding works. This statement by Small further illustrates this:

“A lot of our money ends up going more toward bonds and buildings than it does toward teacher salaries,” he said. “Often, school districts are going to voters asking for increased property tax levies for the purpose of bonding instead of for the purpose of teacher salaries.”

The guy in charge at the OCPA should know better. Maybe he does, and this is just his way of sowing the seeds of discord. That seems to be their specialty anyway. If they truly are a public policy research organization, as their website proclaims, I expect better from their research. Maybe that’s why, when a friend sent me the link to Anderson’s post, my browser was reluctant to let me visit the site.

OCPA Not Safe.png

I’m not the only one who has written about this post. My friend Gary Watts, the recently retired chief financial officer for Sand Springs Public Schools, has started a blog that targets the OCPA for misleading the public.

He also dismisses the real concern districts have with managing cash flow in their general funds:  “They don’t seem to understand that the accrual of those expenses incurred but not paid should already have been made.”  I managed a $40+ million budget for an Oklahoma school district for ten years and I don’t know what he means, probably because he doesn’t.  I think his “accrual of those expenses” is referring to encumbrances under Oklahoma law–and yes those expenses, like salaries, are encumbered fully before they are paid.  The problem that Mr. Anderson chooses not to understand is that revenues are also “accrued”, in our language budgeted, before they are received.

Gary, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I can only wonder why Sand Springs was one of the districts in the spreadsheet at the top!

Even The Lost Ogle called out the OCPA. And they did it more beautifully than any of my blogger friends and I could have:

Before we continue, I should probably inform you that the guy who published the article for OCPA is Koch brothers shill Steve Anderson. From 2011 to 2013, he served as a key advisor and state budget director for Kansas governor Sam Brownback…. Under Brownback and Anderson’s regime, the state slashed income taxes for the rich in an attempt to spur economic growth. Sound familiar? As you probably know, the plan backfired. Kansas faced a revenue shortage, made drastic budget cuts to education and transportation, and eventually landed in a recession. Once again, sound familiar?

Same game plan, different latitude.

In reality, the OCPA has one job: to feed the public a narrative that all government spending is bad. They are a non-profit funded by donors, who can write off the donations the same as they would write off donations to St. Jude’s. They exploit any piece of data, no matter how far they have to reach, just to make public education look bad. Their agenda is one in the same with the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

What we see now is just a trickle. It’s that nuisance of a drip leaking from your bathroom faucet. You don’t think much about it, because it really doesn’t cost you much. We just have to get ready for the fire hose now. As state elections approach(run-off elections for now), they will only seek to strengthen their base’s loathing of all things public – especially education. By November, when the penny sales tax is on the ballot, their effort will be relentless.

Reason #3 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: Janet and Friends

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have two days left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.

In August 2014, the Oklahoma Federation for Children supported six candidates in run-off elections for legislative seats. They won all six. From their press release:

Washington, D.C. (August 26, 2014) – The Oklahoma Federation for Children celebrated the results of tonight’s run-off election, as parents responded overwhelmingly in support of educational choice candidates. All six of the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund supported candidates were successful and strongly believe in empowering parents through educational choice. The most closely watched race was between Melissa Abdo and Chuck Strohm. Abdo, the front runner and an unapologetic opponent of educational choice, was upset by pro-educational choice candidate Chuck Strohm.

The group is still involved in our legislative races. Here is a letter they sent to candidates in April:

Jennifer Carter action fund.jpg

The name at the bottom should sound familiar to you. Maybe this will help:

Barresi and Carter.jpg

The one on the left is Jennifer Carter. The one on the right, of course, is Janet Barresi. Carter was Barresi’s campaign manager in 2010. She was Barresi’s first chief of staff. She has referred to a group of superintendents as “dirtbags,” and her husband writes editorials for the Oklahoman.

Here are a couple of attack ads by their group aimed at candidates in this year’s races:

taxes taxes taxes Kramer attack ad

The people out there who just hate public education because they think we’re indoctrinating the kids have always been there. They always will be. Then you have the Barresi crowd. They love to perpetuate the belief that schools are failing. They more they say it, the more their corporate partners can swoop in and take something.

They want vouchers. They want for-profit charter schools (which, for the most part, are different than the ones we have now). They want to label as many things as they can and create a system of winners and losers.

And they’re not the only ones. According to Oklahoma Watch, dark money is rampant in this year’s primaries:

Independent groups that seek to influence elections have spent more than $300,000 over the past five weeks on Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional primary contests.

Since May 19, $300,716 in independent expenditures have been made to influence results in Tuesday’s election, Oklahoma Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission filings show.

Of the four groups that have made independent expenditures on legislative primary races, an obscure nonprofit called Catalyst Oklahoma spent the most.

The organization, formed in October 2013, has spent $89,120 on advertisements, videos and phone calls in support of three Republican legislative candidates. This includes $17,500 in support of Bob Jack in Senate District 25, $32,500 in support of Julie Daniels in Senate District 29, $10,000 in support of Miguel Najera in the Senate District 21 and $29,120 in support of Tim Downing in House District 42.

The group is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) social-welfare nonprofit and it identifies in its federal filings as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to the promotion of pro-growth public polices based on the free market principles that are the foundation of a long-term vibrant economy for Oklahoma.”

Charles Sublett of Tulsa, a member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ board of trustees, is listed as the president of the group. The organization’s 2014 tax return also names OCPA, a conservative think tank, as a “related tax-exempt organization.”

The tax form lists four contributors who have given $1.35 million, including one who gave $1.15 million, but the names have been redacted.

Well that’s lovely. Apparently OCPA has yet another tentacle (they might want to get that thing checked out). And they get to launder donations from millionaires, while the rest of us have to observe campaign donation limits. Different income strata, different rules I guess.

Politics has long been about money and about paying no attention to the person behind the curtain.I think we’re all used to it. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to educate ourselves.

For the record, one candidate opposed by both of these groups is Lisa Kramer in Senate District 25. The Tulsa World just endorsed her today:

Kramer is a rational conservative. She isn’t an ideologue determined to fight a social war in Oklahoma City. Rather, she’s a CPA and a mother who has been on the front line of trying to save public education and understands the state isn’t pulling its share of the load.

She favors prison reform, opposes vouchers, understands the role of charter schools and is willing to look at a variety of ideas — from reforming the way tax credits are distributed to how we fund health care — on the basis of what would be best of the state.

I love those words: rational conservative. Those are people I can get along with beautifully. Those are the candidates who put their constituents above their party. I guess that’s why Barresi and the OCPA oppose them.

 

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