Education rallies, then and now (Guest Post: Steve Lewis)

by | April 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1989-1991 during the time of HB 1017. He currently practices law in Tulsa.

NOW: The crowd at the Rally for Education, March 31, 2014

NOW: The crowd at the Rally for Education, March 31, 2014

I don’t know how much was accomplished by the education rally at the Capitol last week, but I hope it was a success.  From inside the Capitol, I stood at the window a few times to look outside and walk down memory lane.  I was there in 1990 when the teachers came to the Capitol to demonstrate for HB 1017.  Several people asked me how this rally for education compared to the 1017 march.  Truthfully, they were quite different because the circumstances were different.

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Education follows the ROADS to guaranteed funding growth

by | April 9th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (0)

school children roadA decade ago, following the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to boost state taxes on motor fuels, supporters of increased transportation funding hit on a new approach.  In 2005, the legislature approved HB 1078,  creating the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund dedicated for maintenance and repair of state highways and bridges. State dollars would be allocated directly to the ROADS fund “off the top” from  income tax collections without going through the appropriations process, and the fund would be guaranteed an automatic annual increase until it reached an overall cap.

The idea worked. The ROADS fund reached $357 million this year and is slated to grow an additional $59.7 million annually until it hits $575 million. The increased funding has allowed the Department of Transportation to bring about significant infrastructure improvements and adopt a succession of 8-year construction work plans.

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That’s a Whopper: Total revenue is a false measure of school funding

by | April 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

WhopperIn making the case against additional funding for public schools, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has recently asserted that “Oklahoma’s per-pupil revenues — – a whopping $12,206 in fiscal year 2013 — – are at record levels.”  The $12,206 figure has been cited in numerous editorials and articles, and was a common talking point among some legislators at last week’s education rally.

In looking at the actual numbers used by OCPA, one sees that they generated their “whopping” $12,206 per-pupil average by considering the lump-sum total of all school revenues, include revenues that have little or no bearing on school operating budgets. Most importantly, the lump-sum total includes all money in school bond funds,  sinking funds, building funds, and municipal levy funds, as well as dedicated taxes, such as the MAPS fund. It also includes money for school lunch programs paid for by students out-of-pocket and through the federal Free- and Reduced-Lunch Program, and all revenues generated locally by fundraising and ticket sales for school activities, such as athletics and band trips.

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With the right choices, we can restore education funding

by | March 31st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

okedrallyThese are the prepared remarks delivered by David Blatt at the Oklahoma Education Rally on March 31st

It’s amazing to see such a huge crowd standing up for public education and Oklahoma’s children. Thank you all for being here.

My name is David Blatt. I’m the Executive Director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank that works on education and other state policy issues. We lead a coalition called Together Oklahoma, and if you want to find our information and join with us in the work that we do, please visit TogetherOk.org and okpolicy.org 

When you leave the rally this morning to go talk to legislators, many of them will express sympathy for boosting funding for education, but they may tell you that the money just isn’t there.  Don’t believe them. We have options, and I’m going to tell you what they are.

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There’s still no free lunch: Impact of massive tax cuts in Kansas offers a warning to Oklahoma

by | March 27th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

ks_socialmediagraphic_finalAs Oklahoma considers tax cuts similar to those that took effect in Kansas last year, a new report shows that following in Kansas’s footsteps is a bad idea. 

Kansas’s massive tax cuts have failed to improve the state’s economic performance, as they have deepened the damage done by the recession to schools, colleges and universities, and other key services according to the new report from the nonpartisan, Washington, DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

Those arguing for more tax cuts in Oklahoma, even before we restore huge cuts to education funding, have claimed the tax cuts would boost the economy so much they would pay for themselves. Faced with the reality that large majorities of Oklahomans oppose cutting funding for services in exchange for tax cuts, the tax cut boosters have tried to promise a free lunch. The news out of Kansas exposes how weak that promise really is.

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Revising the third-grade reading retention law

by | March 12th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

test_stressIn 2011, the Oklahoma legislature approved major amendments to the Reading Sufficiency Act, a law originally enacted in 1997 to improve Oklahoma children’s reading skills. As of this year, the law requires third-grade students who score “unsatisfactory” on a state standardized reading test known as the OCCT to be retained in third grade, unless they meet limited criteria for an exemption. Schools would have no discretion or choice about retaining students with an unsatisfactory test score who do not qualify for one of the legislatively-defined exemptions.

The legislature is now considering two measures – HB 2625 and HB 2773 – that mark a significant change of direction from the mandatory retention approach in current law. Under HB 2625, authored by Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa), a team composed of a parent, teacher, principal, and certified reading specialist would determine whether a child who tests unsatisfactory would be retained or promoted to fourth grade, based on “the best option for the student.” HB 2773, by Rep. Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs), would create a district-level appeals process for students who are retained in third grade. HB 2625 passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 84-6, while HB 2773 has passed out of committee and is awaiting action by the full House.

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Rip-off U (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille 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).

“I’m mad. Really mad. I’m stuck with thousands of dollars in debt for training that I didn’t get. The State of Oklahoma pushed me into a training program that was worthless and expensive. I spent 10 months and $15,900 on a stinking pile of nothing. They ripped me off.”

Marsha Bradley’s life started to unravel in 2007. “My mom’s breast cancer returned. She didn’t make it. My brother and sister were still in high school so I moved them in with me. I couldn’t keep all those balls in the air. I lost my job.”

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The Governor’s Budget In-Depth: Budget cuts plus tax cuts don’t add up

by | February 5th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Healthcare, Taxes | Comments (0)

With state agencies and schools still struggling to climb out  of deep budget holes from the last recession, Governor Mary Fallin’s FY 2015 Executive Budget proposes even deeper cuts that could seriously harm our families and our economy.

With initial estimates showing $170 million less available for the FY 2015 budget, it was clear that the Governor faced hard choices. Under her proposed budget, total FY 2015 appropriations would be $7.022 billion. This is $137 million, or 1.9 percent, less than the FY 2014 budget. Excluding $45 million in last year’s budget from the Rainy Day Fund for disaster relief following the Moore tornado, the FY 2015 budget would be $92 million, or 1.3 percent less.

FY06-FY05Exec

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The Legislature returns to work today. Here’s what should be top on the agenda.

by | February 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Capitol Matters, Education, Healthcare, Taxes | Comments (0)

Oklahoma_State_CapitolPolitical debates often divide us between Republicans and Democrats, between conservatives, progressives, and libertarians. Winner-take-all political campaigns tend to emphasize those divides.

But when we envision what a good future looks like for our state, Oklahomans aren’t that far apart. Nearly all of us want a state with healthy and well-educated citizens, good-paying jobs, safe streets, and strong communities. We want everyone to have the freedom and economic opportunity to raise a family without constantly worrying about having enough to get by.

We still fall short of that ideal. But with lawmakers returning to work today, they have some big opportunities to bring it closer.

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Tower of Debt (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

by | January 27th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Financial Security, Neglected Oklahoma | Comments (0)

camille_landryCamille 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).

“I don’t know where it all went wrong,” Shelley says. “I went to college, earned my degree.  So where are all the good jobs?”

Shelley McMurray graduated two years ago from a state university with a degree in psychology. She planned to attend graduate school to become a child & family therapist. Instead Shelley works part-time for a social service agency at $18/hour, plus another 15-20 hours per week at a local mall for $11.50/hour.

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