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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 (2)

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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OCPA’s ‘alternative’ for funding teacher raises proves it can’t be done without new taxes

by | November 19th, 2015 | Posted in Education, Taxes | Comments (2)

Last month, a group of Oklahomans led by University of Oklahoma President David Boren launched an effort to put an initiative petition on the ballot that would restore funding to education in Oklahoma through a 1 percent statewide sales tax increase. Even before the effort has begun gathering signatures, the ballot initiative has been challenged in court by OCPA Impact, a lobbying group associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They argue that the initiative violates the single-subject rule in Oklahoma’s constitution that requires individual ballot initiatives and legislation to deal with only one main issue.

Interestingly, OCPA Impact did not try to argue that Oklahoma doesn’t need to improve teacher salaries, which are among the lowest in the nation even after adjusting for cost-of-living. Instead they suggested that a tax increase of any kind was not necessary to boost teacher salaries, because we can find the money solely by eliminating “wasteful or non-essential state government spending.” They even prepared a list that claims to show where more than $600 million in savings could be found (similar to a 1 percent sales tax increase, which is estimated to generate around $608 million annually). However, digging into the contents of OCPA’s list reveals a very different conclusion from what they claim.

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Why is it so hard for state leaders to hear the views of teachers? (Capitol Updates)

by | October 30th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (1)

Katherine Bishop

Katherine Bishop

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.

There was recently an op-ed piece in The Oklahoman by Katherine Bishop, Vice-President of the Oklahoma Education Association. The OEA is the teachers’ professional organization, nowadays often referred to by some pejoratively as the “teachers’ union.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being a teachers’ union. You have to listen to the context to know if the description is friendly, unfriendly or neutral.

Ms. Bishop had attended the Workforce Skills Gap forum sponsored by The Oklahoman and was apparently inspired to say something about the experience. The panel of speakers consisted of officers of the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative and representatives from the State Chamber of Commerce, higher education, CareerTech and the State Department of Education. There was no classroom teacher, public school parent, or student on the panel.

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Oklahoma lottery’s contribution to education reaches new low

by | October 21st, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Education | Comments (4)

As an effort gears up to restore funding to education through a 1-cent sales tax, we’re already hearing more Oklahomans ask a common question: Why hasn’t the lottery fixed our education funding problems? In a post from last year, we broke down the numbers to show that the lottery helps some, but the boost it provides is far less than what has been cut from other revenue sources.

Oklahoma’s Lottery Education Trust Fund contributed $65.4 million to the most recent state budget, divided between K-12 public schools, Career Tech, and higher education. Out of that $65.4 million, $29.4 million went to the state aid formula for public schools and another $6.5 million went to other funds that support K-12 education. Yet Oklahoma’s total funding for the state aid formula has been cut by $172 million since fiscal year 2008. The gain from the lottery is barely more than one-tenth what’s been cut overall.

Besides these other cuts erasing the gains from the lottery, another problem has emerged. The lottery’s support for education has fallen to a new low, and it’s projected to go down even further. Here’s the total funding going to the Education Trust Fund since the lottery was created:

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Why the wealth of college-educated minorities is especially vulnerable (Guest post: Ryan Gentzler)

by | October 13th, 2015 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Ryan Gentzler is a Research Associate at the Early Childhood Education Institute at OU-Tulsa and a former OK Policy Research Fellow.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently issued a report that highlighted the effect of higher education on wealth protection during times of economic difficulty. The report found that white and Asian families headed by a four-year college graduate maintained their wealth better than their counterparts without a college degree, but black and Hispanic families headed by someone with a college degree did significantly worse than those without degrees, losing more of their wealth during the Great Recession.

Figure 1 shows these changes. The authors speculate that this is due, at least partially, to “job-market difficulties specific to Hispanic and black college graduates” and “financial decision-making” by those groups. The term “financial decision-making” as the authors use it, however, is deeply misleading, because it suggests that these minorities simply made bad choices about how to spend their money.

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Ten Commandments fight could be a back door to private school vouchers

by | October 12th, 2015 | Posted in Education | Comments (2)

In the latest development in the contentious saga of Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments monument, multiple court orders have forced the state to remove the monument from Capitol grounds. Its new home is the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a think tank that has been one of the biggest advocates in the state for expanding vouchers to allow tax dollars to go to private schools and homeschooling parents. The new location of the monument is fitting, because attempts by Governor Fallin and the Legislature to bring the monument back to the Capitol could have a major side effect of opening the door to vouchers.

So what does a debate over a monument have to do with school vouchers? Court decisions ordering the removal of the monument were based on Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which reads:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

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Our statement on the proposed ballot initiative to fund education with 1 cent sales tax increase

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on the proposal for a ballot initiative that would increase funding for common and higher education through a 1 cent increase in the state sales tax:

Our public schools and colleges are the critical cornerstones on which Oklahoma must build a more prosperous and equitable state. Oklahoma’s education system is in crisis as a direct result of more than a decade of irresponsible tax cuts and tax breaks, including the choice to allow yet another cut to the top income tax rate this year despite massive budget shortfalls. The Oklahoma Legislature has proven unwilling and unable to address this funding crisis. It has become undeniable that an initiative petition may be the only way for Oklahoma to recruit and retain enough qualified teachers and provide the high-quality education that our students deserve.

This education initiative is sorely needed, but the decision to fund it exclusively through a sales tax increase means that it will most hurt the pocketbooks of those families who are already struggling and who have received little or no benefit from the past decade’s repeated cuts to the top income tax bracket. A sales tax increase also risks encouraging more people to shop online, further eroding the sales tax base on which the state, cities, and counties depend.

This initiative can help Oklahoma’s dire education funding crisis, but the crisis of our unfair and inadequate tax system still waits for a response. Oklahomans urgently need real tax reform to create a tax system that does not put the greatest burden on those who can least afford it and that collects enough to meet critical needs of Oklahoma families — not just for education but also health care, safe communities, and other public services to ensure a stable economy and strong quality of life.

Cost-of-living doesn’t make up for Oklahoma’s low teacher pay

by | September 9th, 2015 | Posted in Education | Comments (6)

Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has resulted in more than 1,000 teacher vacancies statewide this school year and and a huge spike in emergency certifications to get teachers in the classroom, even when they don’t have the required qualifications. Why is it so difficult to get enough qualified educators in the classroom? School administrators have pointed to Oklahoma’s very low teacher salaries compared to neighboring states.

Whenever the issue is brought up, it’s usually not long before someone responds that our teacher pay doesn’t need to meet national averages because we have a low cost-of-living. That certainly helps, but we have to be more precise to understand whether the low cost-of-living makes up for our low salaries.

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Interactive: What the jobs are in Oklahoma

by | August 17th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Education, Financial Security | Comments (1)

Politicians love to talk about jobs. Promoting job creation is a go-to justification in many of Oklahoma’s policy decisions, whether it’s to extend tax breaks for oil companies or ban local minimum wage and paid sick leave laws.

However, aside from talking about job creation in very broad strokes, we don’t hear much discussion about what the jobs actually are in Oklahoma. That’s not for lack of data. Quarterly economic surveys by the U.S. Census give us a detailed portrait of where Oklahomans are working and what they earn by industry. These numbers may correct some popular misconceptions about Oklahoma’s economy.

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Thorny questions on the role of law enforcement in schools (Capitol Updates)

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.

You can probably look for some attention to the issue of school discipline next session in the wake of a lawsuit filed in Kentucky after a “school resource officer” handcuffed an 8-year old, 52-pound boy.  The handcuffs were too big for the boy’s wrists so the officer handcuffed him around the biceps.  In the video of the incident that went viral the officer looks to weigh at least 200 pounds.  The boy, diagnosed with ADHD, was unruly in the classroom.  The principal’s office called in the officer after the teacher’s efforts to “deescalate” the situation failed and the boy tried to leave the principal’s office.  The officer took the boy to the restroom where the boy “elbowed” the officer.  Kentucky school regulations prohibit restraining students in a public school unless the “students’ behavior poses an imminent danger of physical harm to self or others.”  The officer’s boss, the county sheriff, defended the officer’s actions.

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