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What the new federal education law means for Oklahoma (part 2)

by | July 13th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (0)

Children With BooksKylie Thomas is an OK Policy intern and a Master’s student in economics at American University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa.

This post is part two of a two-part series which explains the new federal education law that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Part one looked at ESSA’s effects on accountability and standards. This part examines ESSA’s effects on testing and teachers.

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What the new federal education law means for Oklahoma (part 1)

by | June 30th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (3)

studentsKylie Thomas is an OK Policy intern and a Master’s student in economics at American University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era is finally coming to an end, and a new era of education policy is being ushered in with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015 after passing the U.S. House and Senate with bipartisan support. The Act reauthorizes and amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 and goes into full effect at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. The last reauthorization of ESEA was the passage of NCLB in 2001. 

This post is part one of a two-part series which discusses what ESSA does and how it will affect Oklahoma. Part one will look at ESSA’s effects on accountability and standards, and part two will examine ESSA’s effects on testing and teachers.

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Highs and lows of Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session

The 2016 session began with some high hopes and grave concerns given the state’s massive budget shortfall. Prior to session, OK Policy laid out our top priorities in the areas of budget and taxes, health care, education, criminal justice, economic opportunity, and voting and elections. A few of our priorities met with success, many did not, and there were more than a few surprises along the way.  Here’s our staff’s recap of the major highs and lows of the 2016 session in the issue areas in which we were most deeply engaged.

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In its current form, Education Savings Accounts proposal would widen inequality (Guest post: John Lepine)

by | May 31st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (5)

John Lepine

John Lepine

John Lepine is an OK Policy Research Fellow. He is pursuing a Ph.D. 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.

With budget cuts to public schools dominating recent headlines, the political wrangling in March over Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) seems long forgotten. Rep. Jason Nelson’s HB 2949 would have allowed payments to families with students who leave public schools. These families would receive a voucher for a portion of the funding that the state would have given their public school district, which could go towards private school tuition or homeschool expenses.

While HB 2949 stalled out this legislative session, it is likely that Oklahoma will see other proposals for school vouchers in the years to come. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman observed that due to the state budget crisis, “A lot of people that might be in favor of [ESAs] philosophically” withheld their support because the “environment [was] probably not conducive to, in their opinion, passing that bill.”

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This part of the budget deal may be the greatest threat to Oklahoma’s economy

by | May 25th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Education | Comments (6)

Overwhelmingly, the states where residents earn the highest wages also have the best-educated workforce. Both productivity and median wages in a state are strongly correlated with the percentage of residents with a college degree. At the same time, overall state tax levels show no significant correlation with median wages. Plenty of states — including Oklahoma — have relatively low state and local taxes and relatively low wages, but there are no states with a well-educated workforce and low wages.

The link between education levels and state prosperity is clear. That’s why it is especially troubling that the long-awaited budget proposal from the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Fallin would decimate funding for higher education. The budget proposes cuts of $153 million to higher education, a nearly 16 percent drop from initial 2016 funding levels. In total dollars, the cut to higher education is by far the largest cut to any agency.

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Proposed federal legislation could yank free school meals from 51,000 Oklahoma students

by | May 17th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act allows high-poverty schools to provide breakfast and lunch to all students. Access to free, healthy meals helps low-income children and families by improving child nutrition and behavior, relieving administrative burdens, and taking some strain off tight family budgets.

Unfortunately, a proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to dramatically limit CEP’s scope, with potentially devastating consequences for low-income families. Congress shouldn’t jeopardize this progress by making it harder for students and schools to receive this much-needed help.

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This program helps hungry kids and saves administrative costs, but participation lags in Oklahoma

by | April 26th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

school lunch 2Oklahoma is among the worst in the nation for uptake of a program that ensures low-income students have access to school meals, according to a new report. By not adopting this program, schools are passing up an effective way to reduce administrative costs while ensuring that more Oklahoma kids have reliable access to nutritious meals.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. In the 2015-2016 school year, only 15 percent of eligible districts participated in Oklahoma, versus 37 percent nationwide, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Among individual schools that were eligible, 21 percent participated in Oklahoma, less than half the national average of 51 percent.

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Cuts to education spending hurt more than just our children (Guest post: Christiaan Mitchell)

by | April 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Economy, Education | Comments (1)

Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds masters degrees in philosophy and education. He lives and works in Bartlesville.

stack of books and apple stabbed by knife to represent education cuts

A couple of weeks ago Williams announced that it was cutting approximately 100 jobs in Tulsa. This announcement was front-page news and sent ripples of anxiety through the entire community.

Can you imagine the uproar from the business community if these jobs had been lost due to a policy decision at the state Legislature? If the folks down in Oklahoma City had passed a bill that would, on its own, destroy 100 decent middle-class jobs in Tulsa, we could expect a full court press attack by the Chamber of Commerce. And any legislator who had his or her fingerprints on the measure would not be long for the statehouse.

Ten days after the Williams cuts hit the news, the Oklahoma City Public School System announced that it would be cutting 208 teaching positions due to state funding shortfalls. Over 200 decent middle-class jobs have been lost in Oklahoma City alone as a direct result of the Legislature’s unwillingness to pay its bills. More districts are now following suit in announcing layoffs of administrative staff and teachers. Yet the response from the business community has been muted, at best.

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Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry

by | April 13th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (10)

One of the most visible consequences of the state’s budget crisis is the increasing number of school districts that are considering or have already gone to a four-day school week. More than 100 districts are considering making the switch, according to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. Shortened school weeks may save cash-strapped school budgets, but they also can create troubling side-effects ranging from the cost to families suddenly in need of child care to unanswered questions about how shorter weeks affect learning. What’s most troubling is that for kids whose most reliable meals come from school, a shortened school week can mean going hungry.

This isn’t a small number of kids. In Oklahoma, nearly two out of every three students – more than 400,000 in total – qualify for a free- or reduced-price school meals. While lunches are the most common meal students get at school, school breakfasts are also important for many kids. In the 2014-2015 school year, 58 percent of Oklahoma students who ate a free- or reduced-price lunch ate a free or reduced-price breakfast, too.

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Why charter schools get an outsize share of mid-year State Aid funding (Guest Post: Shannon Meeks)

by | April 4th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (6)

School FinancingShannon Meeks is the Chief Financial Officer for Putnam City Schools.

Each year in late December, state aid payments to public schools are adjusted based on changes in student enrollment and local tax revenues during the first part of the school year. This December, at a time when all of Oklahoma’s public schools are desperately hurting for funds, a staggering 69 percent of the state aid released at midyear ($17.7 million out of $25.7 million) went to charter schools rather than traditional public schools. Charters received more than two-thirds of this state aid adjustment even though they account for only 2.8 percent of public school enrollment.

What enabled charter schools to receive the lion’s share of midyear state aid? The answer is found in Oklahoma’s complex funding formula for schools that was created before charter schools were even a gleam in the eye of Oklahoma legislators. In particular, you need to understand one concept in the state’s formula for funding public schools: equalization.

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