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Legislature’s timid approach to a teacher raise doesn’t bode well for schools (Capitol Update)

by | March 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, 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.

I watched the House floor debate on HB 1114 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow) raising the minimum salary schedule for Oklahoma teachers by $6,000 over the next 3 years. The raises would be $1000 next year followed by $2000 and $3000 respectively in the next two years. The bill contained no funding, but Rep. Rogers said funding would be considered by separate measures later in the session.

It was gratifying to listen to all the debaters-for and against-recognize both that teachers should be paid more money and that operational expenses for courses, textbooks, technology, and many other aspects of funding for schools also needs more money. Those who debated against the bill did not debate against the need for teacher raises but against passing a bill only for teacher raises and with no funding.

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For the first time, lawmakers were found guilty of supplanting lottery funds for schools

by | March 15th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Education | Comments (5)

Along with all of their other budget challenges, lawmakers this session will need to allocate an additional $10.1 million for the Education Lottery Trust Fund as the result of a determination made last month that lottery funds had been used to supplant rather than enhance education funding this year.

Back in 2004, Oklahoma voters established the state lottery via two state questions. The first, SQ 705, created the Lottery Commission and specified how lottery funds would be allocated. The second, SQ 706, created the Oklahoma Lottery Education Trust Fund into which lottery funds are deposited and stated that this fund could be spent only on specified education-related purposes. To ensure that money raised through the lottery would be used to enhance education spending and not allow existing education dollars to be diverted elsewhere, SQ 706 included “supplantation” language. This language was added to the State Constitution as Article X, Section 41.D :

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Using lawsuits to fund our schools: Is it time to try again? (Guest post: Elizabeth Smith)

by | March 13th, 2017 | Posted in Education | Comments (2)

Elizabeth Smith, Ph.D., is the planning director for the Yale National Initiative at the University of Tulsa, a partnership between TU, Tulsa Public Schools, and Yale University to strengthen teaching in Tulsa schools.

“The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated. … The Legislature shall, by appropriate legislation, raise appropriate funds for the annual support of the common schools of the State…”

The Oklahoma State Constitution, Article 13

An Oklahoma native, I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2001 to attend the University of Arkansas.  I transitioned from being a student to a resident of Arkansas and began a career in higher education which included research on PreK-12 schools.  Studying school funding in Arkansas, I investigated the transformation that took place in statewide education following Lake View School District no. 25 v. Huckabee, one in a series of Arkansas Supreme Court decisions that contributed to an overhaul of the school funding system. Moving back to Oklahoma in 2015, colleagues have frequently asked me, “Why are Arkansas schools funded so much better than Oklahoma schools?”  My short answer is always: “Lake View.”  Yes, this is an oversimplification considering that Arkansas and Oklahoma are very different in terms of population, major industries, and history.  However, Lake View was the turning point for school funding in Arkansas, and similar cases have been turning points in many other states.

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Increasing breakfast in the classroom participation can help kids learn while strengthening school budgets

Maggie Den Harder is an intern with Oklahoma Policy Institute and a Masters of Public Administration student at the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa.

Experts agree that a healthy breakfast is crucial for children to grow and learn. However, in many families factors like hectic morning schedules and pinched finances mean that children don’t get a nutritious start for the day. This is where the School Breakfast Program comes in. Like the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program allows low-income students to receive meals for free or at a reduced price. A new report shows that Oklahoma’s school breakfast participation as a percentage of School Lunch Participation outpaces the national average. Maintaining and building on this success would bring a wealth of benefits to Oklahoma students while improving the finances of school nutrition departments.

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Where teacher raises are needed most

by | March 1st, 2017 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

If there’s one thing Oklahoma citizens and political leaders of both major parties agree on, it’s that our state’s teachers need a raise. Republican leaders in the House and the Senate both say a teacher raise is at the top of their priorities in the coming session, and Democrats in both chambers have filed bills to increase teacher salaries as well. Even the most vocal opponents of the SQ 779 teacher raise plan insisted that they believe teachers need a raise but disagreed with how SQ 779 would pay for it.

In her State of the State address to kick off this year’s legislative session, Governor Fallin laid out some parameters for a teacher raise. She said, “Let’s act on a permanent pay raise for our public school teachers. It is what the public and families want. The pay raise may need to be phased in and it may be targeted, but it must be done.”

Ideally, we could pay all teachers much higher salaries, but with Oklahoma staring at another large budget hole and legislators already expressing skepticism about Governor Fallin’s most ambitious revenue ideas, it seems unlikely that we can find the money for a significant across-the-board teacher raise this year. So if we need to aim for a targeted raise, how should it be targeted?

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The politics of revenue raising matters for health care and teachers (Capitol Update)

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education, Healthcare | Comments (1)

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.

There are couple of big issues starting their trek through the legislative process, and the way they ultimately get handled will affect the state’s long-range structural challenges. The first challenge concerns raising the cigarette tax and dedicating the proceeds to health care agencies. In the last several years, legislative and executive leaders have blamed the general revenue shortfall on too many revenue sources being taken “off the top” for some specific purpose, thus never reaching the general revenue fund.

The current cigarette tax proposal increases the tax by $1.50 per pack and specifically directs where the money must be spent. This is the same as taking it off the top. The only difference is the revenue goes to the general revenue fund, but it is required by law to be spent for a specific purpose. This limits the flexibility of future legislatures to appropriate the money where it may be more urgently needed without changing the law.

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Statement: With failure of SQ 779, lawmakers must take responsibility for restoring school funding

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on the failure of SQ 779, the sales tax increase for education:

SQ 779 did not reach majority support even though Oklahomans widely acknowledge that we must improve school funding. The results of this vote show that many believed that SQ 779 was the wrong solution to the right problem. Many voters were not willing to add to the sales tax — our state’s most regressive major tax, which takes the biggest share of income from low-income seniors and working families — after years of income tax cuts heavily slanted to benefit the wealthiest Oklahomans. Going forward, lawmakers must find a more balanced approach to restore school funding. The failure of SQ 779 does not take lawmakers off the hook, because our state’s children and economic future still depend on better funding of schools and teachers.

What cuts to alternative education mean for individual lives. Lives such as mine. (Guest Post: Teara Firor)

by | November 3rd, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (2)

Teara Firor is a Tulsa-born social worker and parent of three children in the  public school system.

We hear a lot about the cuts to public programs that have been made in recent years as a result of the state’s endless budget crisis. Often a lot of numbers get tossed around, but we can lose sight of what the programs that are being cut mean for individual lives. Lives such as mine.

I attended Broken Arrow Academy from 2001 until I graduated in 2004. The BA Academy is one of over 250 alternative education programs that operate in the state to serve at-risk students. Prior to being accepted there, I was on the fast track to dropping out of high school entirely. I attended four different schools my freshman year. When I was in school, I ate lunch alone in the bathroom because I found the school of over 1,000 students overwhelming, and after so many transfers it became difficult to make friends.

My first day at Broken Arrow Academy was my first good day of school in years. As time progressed, I developed relationships with my teachers and school counselor. Those relationships helped me see school as a safe place and helped me continue to attend when things got rough.

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Fact Check: The claim that less than half of SQ 779 revenues will go to teachers is false

by | November 1st, 2016 | Posted in Education, State Questions, Taxes | Comments (18)

A central claim being made by opponents of State Question 779, the ballot measure that would increase the sales tax by one percentage point to boost funding for education, is that less than half the money will go to raise teacher pay. This assertion is made repeatedly on the homepage and campaign ads of the group leading the No on 779 campaign and has been repeated by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and other organizations.

The assertion is false. SQ 779 clearly provides that of all revenue received by the new one-cent tax, a full 60 percent will go to teacher pay.

Here’s how it will work. Under the new language to be added to the state Constitution, 69.5 percent of all revenue from the one-cent sales tax will go to common education. How common education’s share will be allocated is spelled out in Article XIII, Section C.3.A.1  and Section C.4, as follows:

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When K-12 schools are underfunded… (Guest post: Elizabeth Smith)

by | October 31st, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

sad student

Elizabeth Smith is the planning director for the Yale National Initiative at the University of Tulsa, a partnership between TU, Tulsa Public Schools, and Yale University to strengthen teaching in Tulsa schools.  She recently completed a Ph.D. in Public Policy, P-20 Education Policy.

The latest school funding numbers have been released, and, sadly, Oklahoma is once again the winner!  After inflation, our state’s general funding for K-12 education is 27 percent less per pupil than before the beginning of the 2008 recession, a higher percentage than any other state in the country.  This amounts to $211 less per student per year in each school.  As a parent, I care about school funding because I want my kids to have art and music programs and teachers who are treated like professionals and have access to the best resources to use in their classrooms.  As a higher education professional for the last 12 years, though, why does adequate funding for K-12 education matter to my work?

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