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Here are our top priorities for Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session

Over 1,700 bills and resolutions have been introduced for the 2016 legislative session, along with an equal number of measures from last session that remain alive and could still be considered this year. Despite the  plethora of legislation, there is little doubt that this session will be dominated by debates over how to address the state’s massive budget shortfall, which is at $901 million and is likely to grow even larger when the Board of Equalization certifies new projections in mid-February.

For OK Policy too, budget and tax issues will be of highest concern over the coming months. But we will also pay close attention to many other issue areas where there may be opportunities for policy gains or threats of serious setbacks. Last fall, our staff went through a multi-step process to identify our top priorities for 2016, identifying those issues that were of the greatest importance to Oklahomans while also fitting within our organization’s mission, expertise, and ability to make a difference. We came up with  some two dozen issues in six areas: budget and taxes, education, criminal justice, health care, voting and elections, and economic opportunity. In December, many of you took the time to complete a survey and offer feedback on our issues, which has helped us further hone our plan for the session.

Here is a brief summary of our 2016 policy priorities. We will be writing more about many of these issues in the coming weeks.

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What a difference a mile makes (Neglected Oklahoma)


Camille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by
.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

man-person-school-headWilliam is a 7th grader who attends a suburban middle school. His school has well-equipped classrooms staffed by certified teachers. Every child has the appropriate textbooks and school supplies. The majority of the children at this school work at or above grade level; they scored well above the state average on standardized tests. Plenty of extra help is available for those who need it. The school received an 8/10 rating on the education.com site and a B on the OK state school report card. William is hoping for a basketball scholarship to OU or maybe an out of state college. It’s likely that William will graduate high school, like 95 percent of the students who attend his school (10 percent higher than the state’s average).

“Sure I’m going to college. Almost everybody here is planning to go to college,” William reports.

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Another cry for school consolidation (Capitol Updates)

by | December 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (3)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, who will serve his last year in the legislature next year because of term limits, has proposed a school consolidation plan for next session. Anderson’s plan is to eliminate all current school districts by the year 2020 and create one school district for each county. He says the plan would save $40 million in administrative costs.

If we have a problem with school district size, the question should be how can we do it better, not just how can we do it cheaper. It may be that some districts are too small and some are too large to give students the best possibility for success. But it is unlikely that simply using the county lines to designate school districts is the best way to re-structure schools.

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Teacher recruitment legislation not enough to fix Oklahoma’s teacher shortage (Guest Post: Jennifer Job)

by | December 17th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (2)

This is the third of a three-part series appearing this week on the OK Policy Blog that examines the reasons behind Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and what we can do to fix it. You can read part one here and read part two here.

Woman breaking a piece of chalk, close-up of handsJennifer Job, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership at Oklahoma State University.

On November 1st, two bills aimed at teacher recruitment for Oklahoma’s schools went into effect. One, HB 1521, allows for a “one-time incentive pay” for new teachers returning for a second year. HB 1521 also permits districts to help pay moving costs for out-of-state hires. SB 20 grants an Oklahoma teaching certificate to any person holding an out-of-state teaching license and five years’ experience teaching in another state. Previously, teachers with out-of-state licenses were required to complete extensive testing to receive an Oklahoma certification.

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Study shows higher teacher pay would ease teacher shortage, boost student outcomes

by | December 16th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

This is the second of a three-part series appearing this week on the OK Policy Blog examine the reasons behind Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and what we can do to fix it. You can see part one here and see part three here.

Ed_rallyEvidence of the teacher shortage crisis facing Oklahoma has become overwhelming and undeniable. Since 2008, Oklahoma has cut per pupil state aid funding for public schools by almost one-quarter after inflation, the most of any state in the nation. As a result, Oklahoma has not increased the pay schedule for teachers since 2009. The average pay for Oklahoma teachers is now third lowest in the nation and well below that of neighboring states.

At the same time, Oklahoma has had extreme challenges in filling classroom positions: districts started this year with 1,000 teacher vacancies, even after eliminating 600 positions last year.  More than one in six teachers in Oklahoma is “unqualified,” meaning they are teaching without a standard certification, according to the  Oklahoma Equity Plan submitted to the State Department of Education. This year the state issued close to 1,000 emergency teaching certifications.

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Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is not just about salaries (Guest Post: John Lepine)

by | December 14th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (7)

John Lepine

John Lepine

This is the first of a three-part series appearing this week on the OK Policy Blog that will examine the reasons behind Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and what we can do to fix it. You can read part two here and read part three here.

John Lepine is an OK Policy Research Fellow. He is pursuing a M.Ed. in Educational Administration, Curriculum, and Supervision at the University of Oklahoma. He is also a reading specialist and English department chair at the McLain Magnet High School for Science & Technology and a research associate with the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy.

The Oklahoma teacher shortage is well documented; reports describing the crisis have made news for nearly two years. The state began the school year with over 1,000 unfilled teaching positions, and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister recently announced that nearly 1,000 emergency teaching certificates* had been issued for the 2015-16 school year — over 25 times the number of emergency certified teachers approved just four years ago.

Oklahoma’s teacher pay undoubtedly contributes to the ever-deepening teacher shortage. Even after adjusting for the state’s relatively low cost of living, Oklahoma teachers are paid almost 15 percent less per year than their counterparts in other states, with an average public school teacher salary ranked 49th out of the 50 states and DC. However, teacher pay is not the only issue behind the shortage. Research shows that improving teacher working conditions — via state law, district policy, and building-level leadership — is equally important to retaining a stable, high-quality workforce in Oklahoma schools.

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New report: Oklahoma’s education funding per student drops even more

by | December 10th, 2015 | Posted in Education | Comments (3)

Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. After inflation, Oklahoma’s general preK-12 education funding per student is down by 24.2 percent since 2008, far more than any other state. Oklahoma’s total state appropriations for the support of schools is $173 million below what it was in fiscal year 2008, even before accounting for inflation and enrollment growth of more than 45,000 students.

The report also examined states’ total funding for education, including funds for transportation, teacher health benefits, and other funds for specific purposes. After inflation, Oklahoma’s total state funding for education is down by 15.3 percent per student since 2008, more than all but five other states. Local funding to schools has increased, but not by enough to make up for state cuts. Oklahoma’s combined state and local funding for schools per student has dropped 10.1 percent after inflation since 2008, a bigger cut than all but eight other states.

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Is this the blueprint for ending poverty? (OK PolicyCast)

by | December 7th, 2015 | Posted in Education, Podcast, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Dr. David Grusky

Dr. David Grusky

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

This October, Stanford University’s Dr. David Grusky visited Oklahoma for a talk at the University of Tulsa. Dr. Grusky’s books include Social Stratification, Occupy the Future, The New Gilded Age, The Great Recession, The Inequality Reader, and The Inequality Puzzle. His presentation at TU was titled, “A Blueprint for Ending Poverty… Permanently.” Dr. Grusky also spent some time with OK Policy’s staff discussing how the research on poverty and inequality is inspiring an ambitious new effort to end poverty in California.

You can download the podcast here, play it in your browser, or read a lightly edited transcript below:

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‘School choice’ is a popular phrase, but do Oklahomans want vouchers? (Capitol Updates)

by | December 4th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

The capitol did not see much action last week as the current occupants turned their attention to travel, family and Thanksgiving. With the deadline for requesting a bill for the upcoming session on December 11th, one can assume things will be picking up soon. Outside the capitol there was a recent poll that caught my attention because it will probably be used to affect our state during the next session and beyond.

The poll was in Sooner Survey, a publication of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates which was founded by Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Deby Snodgrass who is currently Secretary of Commerce and Tourism and Director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, appointed by Governor Fallin. Pat McFerron is now President of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass in addition to having founded CMA Strategies, a political consulting and lobbying firm.

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Four-day school week is a consequence of unwillingness to fund public schools (Capitol Updates)

by | November 25th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (9)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has taken a quick, strong stand against a 4-day school week that is being considered by some school districts. The legislature passed a bill a few years ago to allow for longer, fewer days, mainly to make it easier for schools to make up “bad weather” days toward the end of the school year. That probably wasn’t a great idea at the time, but at least you could understand the rationale. It’s pretty hard to keep students on task for makeup days at the end of the year anyway. But now some schools are considering going to a 4-day week as a recruitment tool for teachers and to save money on such things as transportation and utilities.

This just seems to be another unanticipated consequence of our state’s unwillingness to responsibly fund our public schools. Since the great recession we have cut school funding more than any other state despite that part of that time included an oil boom with prices over $100 per barrel. At the same time we cut taxes, including a huge gift to the oil and gas industry with a cut from 7 percent to 2 percent in the gross production tax. So now that teachers are voting with their feet and abandoning Oklahoma classrooms, either for teaching jobs in other states or jobs outside their chosen profession, schools are scrounging for ways to make a poor-paying teaching job more attractive and to pinch pennies on the gasoline and utility bills.

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