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Kicking the can down the road: How inadequate funding dismantles data-driven education reform

by | January 15th, 2019 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

There is a saying that “what gets measured, gets done,” and in 1990, our state Legislature seemed to understand this adage. That year, they passed HB 1017, which dedicated $560 million dollars over five years to implement historic education reforms including class size reduction, curriculum standards, testing, and early childhood programs. Since that time, state funding gains have severely eroded, and Oklahoma has not been able to maintain many aspects of HB 1017 including class size limits. 

In October, the State Department of Education asked for $273 million dollars to reinstate class size mandates, which can positively impact students and improve working conditions for teachers. This ask comes in the wake of a $612 million dollar revenue growth for next year’s budget. If the Legislature does not appropriate adequate funding for schools, they will have to pass new legislation to delay class size reforms once again. Understanding how class size limits were dismantled and what has been lost is an important lesson to share at the Capitol this session.

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Fine arts education matters: how shrinking budgets deepen inequalities

by | December 18th, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (2)

Oklahomans know every student needs access to quality public education.  Unfortunately, our state has struggled to uphold this commitment.  While all areas of public education have suffered from slashed education funding over the past decade, budget cuts have hit fine arts education especially hard.  In the 2017-2018 school year, Oklahoma had 1,110 fewer art and music classes than four years prior, leaving 28 percent of all Oklahoma public school students without access to fine arts classes.  Statewide underfunding of arts education impacts all Oklahoma schoolchildren, but these cuts create deeper disparities in both access and quality for low-income and rural students.  The 2019 legislative session begins in February, but now is the time to gather concerns and share them with your representatives.  Our state must find new sources of recurring revenue for education funding, so we can uphold our promise to quality education. 

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Funding postsecondary education for incarcerated Oklahomans could pay off for public safety and the budget

by | December 12th, 2018 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Education | Comments (1)

Oklahoma has made encouraging progress on justice reform in recent years. Reforms passed in 2016 and 2018 will slow prison population growth and spur investments in rehabilitation. While these are important steps in the right direction, criminal justice reform should not only lower prison admissions or hasten release. Nearly 27,000 individuals are in Department of Corrections (DOC) custody, and approximately 90 percent will eventually be released. For justice reform to be successful in the long-term, we must prepare those currently incarcerated for meaningful re-entry back into our communities.

One crucial component to successful reentry is access to postsecondary education. Incarcerated individuals are under-educated. Among the general public, about one in three adults have a college degree; for formerly incarcerated, fewer than one in 20 do. On average, men entering Oklahoma prisons have a sixth-grade education; women have an-eighth grade education, according to DOC staff. Despite its budgetary difficulties, DOC has been proactive in providing high school education to incarcerated individuals at no cost to the individual. Going further to expand access to postsecondary education for Oklahoma’s incarcerated individuals would yield benefits not only to incarcerated individuals, but to the state’s safety and budget as a whole.

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Beyond Teacher Pay: Class size matters

by | October 24th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (5)

Last April, the Oklahoma Legislature passed HB1010xx and other revenue measures, which restored $480 million dollars of education funding.  The majority of  the new revenue is being used to fund a long-awaited pay raise for teachers.  HB1010xx also increased funding for school operations by $50 million, which is far less than the $200 million teachers demanded, and makes up less than one-third of the amount that has been cut from schools since 2008.  Now, as students across the state settle into the 2018-2019 school year, public school administrators must again struggle with how to allocate insufficient resources.

One commonly cited challenge that educators and students talked about during the walkout was growing classroom sizes, and that concern is well founded. One of the most consistent findings in education research is that class size impacts student outcomes.  It is also a factor that state legislatures can directly control through legislative action.  Funding class size limits would build on the progress made last spring, and likely improve education outcomes in Oklahoma.  

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OKPolicyCast 36: Back to School (with Rob Miller)

by | August 21st, 2018 | Posted in Education, Podcast | Comments (1)

The OKPolicyCast is hosted by Gene Perry with production help from Jessica Vazquez. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre. If you have any questions for the OKPolicyCast, topics you’d like us to cover, or people you want us to interview, you can reach us at

This month many kids and teachers are heading back to school in Oklahoma. Also this month, an increase in Oklahoma’s teacher pay scale is going into effect for the first time in a decade. It was a hard won raise for teachers, and it came only after massive advocacy efforts culminating in a teacher walkout and rally at the state capitol near the end of the last school year. But even this much-needed raise won’t be enough to make up for years of cuts to education in Oklahoma, and the symptoms of these cuts are still visible in rising class sizes, missing programs, and reduced support staff.

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SQ 801 would give more flexibility, but no new funds for education (Capitol Update)

by | August 6th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (2)

Image Source: Flickr / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

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.

It was announced by Governor Fallin last week that SQ 801 will be placed on the general election ballot this November. SQ 801 is a referendum from the legislature intended to change the Oklahoma Constitution regarding how certain property tax money can be spent. Under the current constitution there is a 5-mill levy on all real property in a school district, dedicated to building and maintaining school property. In addition, there is a 35-mill general school tax and a 4-mill county levy that goes to school operations. So, legislators want to change the 5-mill levy to allow school districts to use property tax revenue that has previously been restricted to building and maintaining schools for operation funding. One mill is $1 per $1000 in assessed value. Assessed value is between 11 percent and 13.5 percent of the fair market value of the property, depending on the assessment ratio set in the county.

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New KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Oklahoma near the worst in the nation for child well-being

A new report shows the youngest generation of Oklahomans face far-reaching challenges. The state ranks near the bottom in the nation for most measures of child well-being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Overall, the report ranks Oklahoma 44th out of all 50 states for child well-being. Even in areas where Oklahoma has seen the most improvement recently, we’re not keeping up with the progress in other states. We have a high percentage of kids scoring below proficient in reading and math, a high rate of teen births, hundreds of thousands of kids living in poverty, and tens of thousands without health insurance. The 2018 Data Book shows that while Oklahoma has improved on some measures of child well-being, we still have a lot of work to do.

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What we know – and don’t know – about the revenue bill veto challenge

by | May 23rd, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Elections, Taxes | Comments (3)

In late March, on the eve of an anticipated teacher walk-out, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a series of bills intended to provide pay raises for teachers, school support staff, and state employees. To pay for the raises, lawmakers approved a number of revenue measures, including HB 1010xx, which managed to overcome the three-quarter supermajority requirement for tax increases established under State Question 640.

In May, a group called Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite launched a veto referendum petition drive that, if successful, would submit HB 1010xx to a vote of the people to approve or reject the new law. This effort has been designated Repeal Petition 25 (R.P. 25); if it gets on the ballot, it will be State Question 799. On June 22nd, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the referendum petition, ruling that it was misleading and fatally flawed. The organizers subsequently announced that they were abandoning the petition effort, ensuring that both the tax increases and the pay raises would take effect on schedule.

This post addresses key questions related to the veto referendum effort. Language in bold reflects the Supreme Court’s June 22nd ruling, which renders moot much of the discussion on this page.  (Last Updated: July 9th)

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OK PolicyCast Episode 29: What Just Happened

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, SoundCloud, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre. If you have any questions for the OK PolicyCast, topics you’d like us to cover, or people you want us to interview, you can reach us at

The OK PolicyCast is back! In this episode, we look at what just happened in one of the most tumultuous legislative years in Oklahoma history. Bailey Perkins speaks about what it was like being at the state Capitol before, during, and after the teacher walkout. Carly Putnam shares some major developments in health care policy. And Ryan Gentzler talks about this year’s most important criminal justice legislation, both the good and the bad.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

Bill Watch: This year in #okleg

Last week, the Oklahoma legislature adjourned one of the more extraordinary legislative sessions in recent memory – one that followed one special session, ran partially concurrently with another, included nine days of protests at the Capitol, saw the Legislature raise revenues for the first time in nearly 30 years, witnessed a first step in criminal justice reform after years of efforts, and resulted in the largest funding bill in state history (although not if adjusted for inflation). But in all of the confusion and breaking news, it was easy to miss other developments. In the posts below, brief summaries by issue area lay out the major victories and defeats of this spring’s legislative session.

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