Thursday evening, I did not attend the school choice summit at Oklahoma City Community College. I registered for it. I went to it. Unfortunately, I did not get in because I had been flagged as a security risk.
It wasn’t just me. Other people I know didn’t get in, including my wife. We were told by one of the event organizers that OCCC had initiated the flagging process. Trent England had even tweeted as much the day before.
In fact, I am concerned about accuracy. That’s why my wife called the OCCC police to find out why we had been labeled as security risks. They said the event organizers had flagged us. I’ll let the event organizers and the college work out their differences on that one. It sounds complicated. Read more…
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.
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.
In fact, all the states that border Oklahoma have higher average salaries than we do.
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|
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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:
- You ran for office. Aren’t you supposed to have some ideas?
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That was me trolling his Twitter feed yesterday. Then Bill Shapard, Jr. lashed out at the lot of us.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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. With nine six days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.
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?
Last night in Bixby, I ran into two friends who told me they’re really enjoying my countdown to the primaries. They had one complaint. It’s not funny enough. Well if the premise of the #6 Reason doesn’t make you laugh, at least uncomfortably, then you just don’t get my sense of humor. Besides, I’m not The Lost Ogle, but you should read their thoughts on State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger from earlier today. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
I know what I said in yesterday’s post. The presidential race doesn’t matter. Well, it does, but that’s no reason to check out mentally when it comes to our local races. Who we send to the Capitol really does matter more in our daily lives.
A fellow #oklaed blogger recently went campaigning for a state senate candidate. He estimated that only about one of every four people he met knew who their state senator was. That’s bad. That’s really bad.
I wonder, then, what percentage would know who our lieutenant governor is.
Let yourself imagine, for a minute, that Donald Trump actually picks Mary Fallin to be his running mate. And let’s imagine they win. Who is Oklahoma’s governor now?
I don’t know much about Todd Lamb. His campaign website doesn’t provide too many specific policy positions. It’s mainly just the vague things you need to say to get elected in a state with a preponderance of straight party voting:
Todd knows that state government must limit itself and allow Oklahoma job-creators to do what they do best: provide Oklahomans the chance to work hard and raise a family.
While government cannot legislate morality, it can create a framework that promotes the values we hold dear. Government should encourage work and the self-worth that comes with it. We must show compassion and recognize needs among us, but do so without creating dependency.
As a special agent, I traveled the world and regularly worked with hundreds of local and state law enforcement groups. None compare to the Oklahoma State Troopers. They are underpaid, and I remain fully committed to ensuring the men and women putting their lives on the line to protect Oklahoma families are fairly compensated.
See? He’s just saying nice things, that he certainly means. They just aren’t specific policy proposals. It’s what politicians do when they’re just biding their time, sort of like the Bull Durham mindset on speaking to the media. Don’t say anything that could hurt the team.
And so it’s gone for most of the last six years. You can’t find too much out there that Todd Lamb has said about public education.
It’s one thing to make a campaign statement. It’s much more to actually govern, to do something and to have a vision. It’s time to act and give parents more choices.
Hmm…we should probably talk about that.
What we do know about Todd Lamb is that he’s pro-voucher. That’s one of the big ones. Our current governor is also pro-voucher. Not all Republicans are, however. That’s why the House voucher bill needed the speaker and speaker pro tem to cast their vote to save it in committee this year. That’s why a handful of Republicans erupted furiously when neither legislative chamber would take a bill to the floor for a vote. Vouchers are a public education litmus test on both sides.
Vouchers were a policy priority of Janet Barresi. They remain a priority of Governor Fallin. A theoretical Governor Lamb would continue pursuing them. What we don’t know, however, is whether he’d be more effective at enacting his ideas (and by ideas, I mean bills written by ALEC and supported by the Friedman Foundation).
That’s why we need legislators who understand the harm in such policies. That’s why some of my friends in advocacy have been working on their lists and profiles.
Blue Cereal Education
There are gaps and oversights. There are warnings that we can’t spell out in big enough flashing lights for people who neither support our kids nor our institutions.
The main thing is to be informed. Know who represents you. Vote. Whether your choice wins or not, get to know the person going to the Capitol from your area. Build the relationship and do something with it. We need to elect people who will push back against whoever drives bad education policy from the Governor’s Mansion.
Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections
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. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.
10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
This one time, at EdCamp, my friend Dallas used a word that really shocked me. No, it wasn’t one of those words. It was January 30 of this year – the first time I had ever met the person behind the social media powerhouse that is Blue Cereal Education. We had attended some breakout sessions in the morning, and as we settled in for a nice lunch among friends, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister took the microphone to speak to us.
She gave her preview of the upcoming (now completed) legislative session – her goals, priorities, and hopes. She talked about her first year in office. She was relaxed and comfortable. Then she asked if we had questions. Immediately, Dallas shot his hand into the air, and Joy – oh, Joy – called on him. “Yes, Dallas?”
“Why do they hate us?” he exclaimed, plaintively, and loudly.
I can’t say that I saw Joy’s face in that moment. I was too busy facepalming. When I finally made eye contact with Dallas, and then Scott Haselwood, and finally Joy, and after the laughter in the room had stopped, she responded. “They don’t hate us, Dallas.” At that moment, she made a teacher face. That may have been when I really believed she was one of us. It was that look with the eyes and forehead pointed down, and the mouth pursed as if to hold back certain other words. It was a look with a message. Certainly, it was amusement.
Joy went on to explain the nuances of working within the framework of our system of government and how what the legislature is sometimes willing to do doesn’t align with what the governor is willing to do and that there are these outside entities who influence policy. It was a good answer. It was a necessary answer. And I believe it was sincere.
I also believe Dallas is onto something. There are people and groups out there who hate us. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, let me take you back to 1993. I hadn’t even started teaching yet.
I lived in south Tulsa during the year I spent teaching in Muskogee. It meant a fairly long and scenic commute, but I really didn’t mind. I even signed on with a temp agency so I could do odd jobs before the year started and on some breaks. I had a few short stints in factories, and I worked security (all 5’ 8” of me) during the NAIA basketball tournament at Oral Roberts University. On one very random night, I also worked as a busboy at a banquet, also at ORU.
I don’t remember the name of the organization, but I can tell you their purpose. These were people gathered to talk about why public school was bad. I didn’t think much of it at first. I just thought I was among private school patrons. I’ve never really had a problem with private schools. It just wasn’t my background or experience. I felt then, as I do now, that public school dollars should not be spent in private schools. I was 22 and very naïve, but I knew with certainty was that public and private schools had very different purposes. We exist to teach all the children we get. They exist to teach the kids who apply and gain acceptance.
I’m clumsy at times. You might say I’m a spiller. Overall, I did pretty well though, moving from table to table, filling waters and iced teas. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I remember what she said, more or less. Public schools will teach your children to be gay, and they’re mired in the social experiment of multi-culturalism. The first part was absurd. I grew up in Norman, for goodness’ sake, and I don’t remember anybody teaching us to be gay. Then again, I didn’t have a lot of room in my schedule for electives. Rigor, and all.
The other part – the attack on multi-culturalism – reeked of Pat Buchannan’s failed primary challenge of President Bush the previous year. I’ve never understood this. Our country is proudly an amalgam of multiple cultures. We are not all the same.
The speaker suggested that those who could should pull their children out of public schools and put them in private schools. The rest should choose homeschooling. And we should spread the message about all the awful things public schools were going to teach the children. Most importantly, we should become more active politically and try to pass a voucher law. This was the first time I had heard the term voucher in relationship to public schools.
This was great blog material, but I still hadn’t taught my first day of middle school or high school English. If I had only known then that decades into the future I would share a modicum of renown with Dallas and Rob Miller and all of my other rebel friends, I would have taken good notes. Maybe I wouldn’t even have apologized to the lady on whom I spilled the water I was pouring.
Knowing who they were – which groups and individuals – really doesn’t matter. They’re still there. They write editorials. They post maniacal rants about the books we teach and the curriculum they don’t understand. They publish tripe from the comfy confines of their think tanks. They even follow dentists into offices for which they completely lack qualification. Rarely are they a united front, but they exist, and they do hate us.
They have a much bigger foothold with obstructionist legislators than they did in 1993. Some of them even hold those offices, for now. They want to lower taxes and starve the beast. They even engage in bizarre conversations on Twitter about lowering taxes to reduce the size of government when all they’ve really done is reduced taxes and let the size of government shrink on its own.
The ones who hold office refuse to make conscious decisions about these reductions. They just let it happen, sometimes as a percentage cut across the board, sometimes as direct hits. You might even say that some get their jollies from it.
Let me be clear, though. I don’t believe that the legislature as a whole hates public education. I just know that some do. Some feel it’s their moral obligation to oppose it. As Kevin Calvey said two years ago:
Let’s face it, public education is a big, black, empty hole and it’s not going to get any better. The rest of the world is hungry and smart and they’re capable. We are the only Western power that doesn’t allow parental choice for schools. The best thing for public education in Oklahoma is more private schools with monies allocated by the Legislature.
On the other hand, Calvey has also threatened to set himself on fire. So there’s that.
This is why we must vote. We can’t let another election cycle pass in which we let those who hate us strengthen their position. I’ve heard that public education is the strongest lobby at the Capitol – from someone who ostensibly likes us but in all honesty doesn’t. It’s time to be the strongest voting bloc in the state, too.
If that’s not enough to motivate you, I’ll give you this in closing. Representative Richard Morrissette, one of 30 Democrats in the House, claims that the state superintendent with whom we parted ways in 2014 is behind some of the dark money supporting selected candidates.
It’s at the 5:30 point of the video clip in the link above.
I can’t tell you whether or not his claim is true. You know if I had proof, I’d be throwing it in your face. I’m a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them.
It’s not a single party that hates us. It’s not even the majority of a single party. It’s a significant enough group though, that when the stars align just right, we see more bad policy and less education funding. I’m not naïve anymore. Nor am I jaded. I just have my eyes open, as we all should.
It’s Tuesday, and today, I have an oversized Two Things post. Somehow over the weekend, I missed a real nugget in the Tulsa World. Brandon Dutcher, senior vice-president with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), opined about how the state’s budget crisis could be a billion dollars worse. Here’s a dollop:
“Oklahoma has about 692,000 students in public schools,” says Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “According to the U.S. Census and data from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 100,000 students are educated outside of the public school system.”
Imagine if 100,000 new students showed up at their local public school tomorrow morning (“I’m here for my free education, please!”). If our elected officials wanted to keep per-pupil spending at its current level, they would have to come up with another billion dollars annually, based on numbers from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System.
One of our policymakers’ chief priorities is public education, i.e., making sure we have an educated public. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter where that education takes place.
Some of it takes place in public schools, for which our political leaders are spending some $10,000 per student (according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s own numbers).
Let’s start there. I see several things floating in the pond already.
1. I looked in the SDE’s system. According to this file, which shows expenditures from all sources of revenue for the 2014-15 school year, Oklahoma school districts spent a grand total of $6.59 billion. This includes General Fund spending, as well as other sources such as the Building Fund, Child Nutrition, and Activity Accounts. That’s actually about $9,600 per pupil. Since Child Nutrition is a self-sustaining fund in most districts, that really doesn’t count. Nor should Activity Funds. Perhaps there are better figures to use.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Oklahoma school districts spent $8,526 per pupil in 2013-14. For the same year, according to Oklahoma’s Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, districts spent $7,875 per pupil. If you want to count debt service in addition to that amount, the average goes up another $813 per pupil.
So somewhere between $8,500 and $9,000 per this and per that is probably accurate.
2. State support for public education is on the decline. As of 2013-14, about 48% of school funding was from state tax dollars. Even if we used Dutcher’s $10,000 per pupil figure, half of it would come from somewhere else. In his thought experiment, the increased billion dollar burden is only half a billion.
3. I can’t tell you the percentage of those 100,000 students who would be served by programs such as free/reduced lunch and special education, but since we’re manipulating statistics, let’s assume both would be lower than what public schools currently serve. Still, the number would be greater than zero. That changes the funding streams as well. Both of those would trigger adjustments in federal aid, generating more tax dollars for schools.
Let me drop a few more chunks here:
Some of it takes place outside of the public school system — in home schools, for example, or in accredited private schools, where the median tuition is $5,310, according to the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission. Cash-squeezed appropriators should be grateful for these thousands of parents who are picking up the tab themselves.
Indeed, politicians should try to save even more money (and reduce school overcrowding) by redirecting some of those 692,000 students into the nonpublic sector.
Many parents would jump at the chance. In the last two years, three different scientific surveys have asked Oklahomans what type of school they would prefer for their children. Each time, many respondents (48 percent, 50 percent, and 30 percent) said they would choose a nonpublic alternative.
Policymakers should try to bridge the gap between actual enrollment and what parents want. A $5,000 voucher, tax credit, or education savings account, for example — even if it didn’t cover the full tuition amount — would spur some of those 692,000 to choose alternatives outside of the public school system. (As for the 100,000 already outside the system? Sorry, I’m afraid in this budget climate that would be too tall an order.)
4. Another fun thing about math is knowing the difference between median and average. The median tuition may be $5,310. What we don’t know is whether that statistic is skewed or not. If so, which direction? It could be that many private schools with low enrollment and low cost drive those numbers downward. The reverse could be true. It’s a number without context, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a representative amount. Is tuition the only revenue source for private schools? Do faith based academies receive appropriations from their congregation or diocese? What level of donor support do they have? Hell, can we count lunches and activity funds too? Apples to apples, right?
5. I can’t speak for all my public school friends, but if any of those 100,000 students were to show up in Mid-Del tomorrow, we’d gladly take them in and find space for them. On the contrary, private schools would only selectively accept the students we serve. As I’ve written before – both on this blog, and in an email exchange with Dutcher last fall– I don’t want private schools to have to change their mission in order to accept all students. I just don’t think tax dollars should go to schools that have missions which would lead them to exclude people.
6. Oklahoma’s budget has been built around OCPA math for more than a decade. It’s probably fair to say, even, that many who serve in leadership roles in the current Legislature are some of the think tank’s strongest disciples. Rather than imagining a budget crisis that’s a billion dollars worse, try imagining one that doesn’t exist at all. That’s an altogether different thought experiment.
7. In January, David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, detailed how tax cuts have decreased state revenue by more than a billion dollars in the last 12 years.
Cuts to PK-12 education alone, due to these tax cuts, total $356 million.
8. It’s not just schools. It’s colleges also. It’s health care, human services, roads and bridges, and corrections too. I’ve said many times that there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you. This is the legacy of the term-limited members of what had been the largest freshman legislative class in decades.
9. This is also why the 2016 crop of candidates who have filed for office is even larger than the 2004 class that replaced the first group of term-limited legislators – and why so many of those who have filed are teachers (or teacher-adjacent).
10. Lastly, Dutcher’s column in the World is a cold reminder that many of those whose public service is ending next month are still desperate to pass vouchers. Watch for them in the budget bill.
Or your swimming pool.
Who spends their Spring Break walking the halls of the Capitol and talking with their legislators? Today, it was a few hundred of my closest friends.
While there weren’t many legislators around, we had plenty to discuss with those we found. We were thankful of their bill to provide Rainy Day Funds to schools (and prisons), and we let them know that we supported several bills they’ve advanced so far this session. Overall, I felt proud that so many students, parents, teachers, and administrators showed up on a beautiful day to talk to elected leaders about education. Why shouldn’t that make us feel good? We didn’t all hear the things we wanted to hear, but most of the legislators we met with were happy to see us. Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman even saved his last donut for me.
As great as today was, two things have me feeling uneasy.
1. The fight over the standards has just begun.
This should be settled. Oklahoma educators (PK-12 and Higher Ed) have worked for over a year on these. They’ve been critiqued. They’ve been vetted. Superintendent Hofmeister presented to the Legislature on the first day of session. Now, just a few days after voucher bills died in both chambers, Speaker Hickman and Senator Brecheen have introduced a total of three joint resolutions to disapprove of or continue amending the standards. Today, they even brought in two out-of-state experts to tell us why what Oklahomans have written isn’t good enough.
To me, the timing is suspicious. Why wait until now? With no action at all, the standards would have automatically been enacted next week. For months, fringe groups (people who do nothing but complain about public schools and encourage parents to pull their children out of them) have been calling the new math and English/language arts standards simply derivative of the Common Core that our state rejected two years ago. Nothing in the standards would have made them say anything different.
On KFOR this afternoon, I saw a clip from the meeting. One of the experts, Dr. Larry Gray, advised against approving the math standards. In the clip of his testimony, he expressed concern that a substitute teacher would not know what to teach just from reading the standards. While I’m sure this wasn’t representative of his entire testimony, this really isn’t how substitute lesson plans work. Teachers don’t leave a list of standards for a substitute; they leave assignments, preferably with detailed instructions. If they are minute-by-minute plans, even better.
Last summer, Oklahoma responded to a list of Gray’s concerns, and did so very transparently. The SDE’s record of changes made based on his suggestions is on their website .
On the English/Language Arts side, Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky also is recommending changes. For one, she wants the state to list works of literature that are appropriate for each grade level. She has also called the standards “empty.” It’s worth noting that in 2014, when the legislature passed HB 3399, one of the stipulations was that there not be a literature list. This is better left to local control. It’s also worth noting that Stotsky’s most recent book is titled, An Empty Curriculum.
The Legislature asked for Oklahoma standards to be written by Oklahomans based on Oklahoma values. Dozens of Oklahomans have worked diligently to make that happen. Now, a few disgruntled legislators want to throw that work out and leave it to professors from out-of-state.
This process has been thorough and public. The SDE has published the name of the math and ELA standards writing teams. The presentation of the standards to the State Board of Education is available online. They have been approved by the SBE and the State Regents. Dr. Frank Wang, President of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math has given the standards his approval. If you want out-of-state validation, they have also been approved by the Southern Regional Education Board. The SDE has more than 60 letters of support for the standards in all.
If you want to read the texts of the three resolutions, feel free:
Six weeks have come and gone. There’s nothing like the last minute to decide you want to ask a few questions. What we don’t need is to turn the remainder of the process over to out-of-state experts (and I don’t question their credentials at all, by the way). That would be a waste of precious time and an unconscionable use of Oklahoma money that we simply don’t have.
Nobody will like everything that went into the final draft. If you put 20 third-grade teachers in a room and asked them to agree on essential math skills for their students, you’d find some common ground, but a considerable amount of disagreement. And that’s just the standards. Now try to get them to agree on how these skills should be taught or assessed, and you have a bigger battle on hand.
2. The voucher fight isn’t over.
I know, we partied like it was 1989 (when we were fighting for HB 1017) last week when neither the House nor the Senate advanced their voucher bills. That was probably a bit premature. How else do you explain this video, released today by The Daily Signal, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation?
Yes, that’s our governor explaining why Education Savings Accounts are so good – on camera with a conservative think tank. The big money rolling into Oklahoma to fight for vouchers won’t stop now, just because we’ve become the “strongest lobby at the state Capitol” (unconfirmed). There’s still time for a May surprise. Just don’t be surprised.