In The Know: Law puts high school graduations in jeopardy

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that testing requirements from a new law could prevent about 6,000 students statewide from graduating high school this spring. The Tulsa World profiled a rural superintendent who has become a leader in the fight against private school vouchers. Oklahoma lost out in the Race to the Top grant competition for early childhood education, scoring 30th out of 37 state applications.

The budgets of Oklahoma and 28 other states have yet to recover to their levels of three years ago. The new director of the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum said the project could end up costing a lot of money simply to maintain what’s been built. State agencies are spending more money for goods and services without seeking bids. EMSA board member Ed Shadid said he is concerned the agency may be “manipulating numbers” in the way it reports ambulance response times.

A group seeking to change Oklahoma’s liquor laws says they’re nearly ready to submit a state question for the 2012 ballot. An Owasso woman describes her struggle to escape poverty in Oklahoma and the stress of being poor on Christmas. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) patients in Oklahoma who live in rural areas. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress corrects some gross misperceptions about who receives public benefits and for what purposes.

In The News

Law puts graduations in jeopardy

A statutory requirement that high school seniors pass a battery of tests to get their diplomas kicks in this year, resulting in about 6,000 students statewide who may not graduate this spring, Tulsa-area superintendents told the state Board of Education this week. Current testing is based on educational standards that will change in 2014-15, and school leaders question the fairness of evaluating this year’s and next year’s graduates on standards that may not exist in the future. They would like to see the graduation requirement postponed until 2014-15, when end-of-instruction tests will be replaced as the state’s measure of student proficiency. Most students who did not pass the tests have earned the credits to graduate, a point that is difficult to explain to parents, said Owasso Superintendent Clark Ogilvie.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Rural superintendent speaks out against private school vouchers

As superintendent of a small rural school district in Creek County, Donna Campo may find herself driving a school bus one morning or filling in as a substitute teacher another morning. Busy as she is tending to matters those in bigger districts don’t confront, the Liberty Public Schools administrator has managed to become a central figure in the fight against vouchers. Notably, Campo has taken a stand with superintendents of much larger Tulsa-area school districts against a law that pays part of private school tuition for special-needs students – even though not one of her own district’s 600 students has applied for the voucher. “Every parent, every student in the state of Oklahoma has a dog in the fight,” she said. “And that is, you cannot take revenue from already under-resourced schools and expect them to be able to perform and succeed.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

State loses out on school reform grant

Oklahoma scored among the bottom quarter of applicants attempting to win a portion of $500 million in federal funding for early childhood education systems. Out of 37 applicants for the Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge, Oklahoma’s plan scored 30th. The applications were reviewed by more than 80 peer review panelists who scored and commented on the plans to improve early education in 35 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Many of the analysts called Oklahoma’s application “partially implemented” and “medium-quality.” A few of the reviewers gave the application higher scores, calling it a “high-quality plan.” Oklahoma scored 175.6 points out of a possible 300, while the state with the highest score, North Carolina, scored 269 points.

Read more from NewsOK.

State budgets make up some ground lost in recession

The state of Oklahoma – like 28 other states – has a smaller general fund budget than it did three years ago, a national report shows. Like 30 other states, Oklahoma has fewer state employees than it did two years ago. Oklahoma was one of 43 states that cut funding to public schools, but only eight states cut school funding by more than Oklahoma. Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt said the report shows the extent of the budget cutting state government has gone through in the past three years. Those cuts have resulted in larger public school class sizes, schools being shortfunded for teacher health benefits, nationally board-certified teachers being shorted promised payments for their achievements, critically low staffing levels at state prisons, closures of public facilities, more than 5,000 developmentally disabled Oklahomans being put on a waiting list for state services and many other problems for the state’s citizens.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

American Indian cultural center seeks funding to finish project

The new director of the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum said the project could end up costing a lot of money simply to maintain what’s been built. Private donations are being sought to complete the work. Blake Wade, who headed Oklahoma’s Centennial celebration, was named the new executive director of the cultural center in November. The task given to him, he said, is fairly simple. “This thing is halfway through,” Wade said. “My job, you could say, is to help raise the $80 million we need to complete it.” Wade said the goal is get $40 million in the form of private donations, with the state of Oklahoma covering the rest through appropriations. Not doing so — and not doing so with a sense of urgency — could cost the state big time. “Every year we stall, this goes up in price. … That’s why I came on board,” Wade said. “Even if we stop and do nothing out there at the site, it’s still going to cost us $500,000 a year just to mothball it.”

Read more from NewsOK.

State agencies increase no-bid spending

State agencies are spending more money for goods and services without seeking bids, leading some to wonder if the state is getting the best bang for its buck on some contracts. Spending by state agencies on no-bid contracts increased by 24 percent, to $126 million, in fiscal 2011 compared to the previous year, records supplied by the Office of State Finance show. In all, some 74 state agencies issued 1,376 no-bid contracts over the course of the year Contracts were issued without bids for items ranging from $48,000 for photocopiers to $2 million for out-of-state schooling for special education students, a Tulsa World analysis of state reports shows.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

EMSA’s response time data scrutinized

EMSA board member Ed Shadid said he is concerned the agency may be “manipulating numbers” in the way it reports ambulance response times. Shadid, a doctor and Oklahoma City councilman, had asked for data on response time exclusions and a report was provided to the board Wednesday. Many board members had not seen the data previously. A City of Tulsa ordinance requires EMSA to ensure its ambulances respond to the most serious calls within eight minutes and 59 seconds. EMSA must meet that standard in 90 percent of calls, according to the ordinance. However, the ordinance allows EMSA to exclude ambulance calls in certain conditions from that calculation. Reasons allowed include calls during “unusually high-demand” periods and “unusually severe weather conditions,” the ordinance states. But in fact, EMSA is excluding calls for ambulances that occur in “any measurable precipitation,” Williamson told the board last week.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma group puts finishes touches on liquor ballot language

A spokesman for a group seeking to change Oklahoma’s liquor laws says they’re nearly ready to submit a potential state question to officials at the Capitol. Brian Howe, spokesman for Oklahomans for Modern Laws, said his group is putting finishing touches on a possible ballot language that would allow wine and single-strength beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores of a certain size. Howe said his group tried to get the measure pushed through the legislature during the past session, but a task force formed to explore the issue disbanded after meeting only twice. Howe said the group is hoping to have the question on the ballot for the 2012 general election, which means they’ll be turning it in to officials in early January.

Read more from NewsOK.

Being poor on Christmas

We moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to my husband’s childhood home of Owasso, Oklahoma, with high hopes and great expectations for opportunity. It is not going as well as we hoped. We have applied for several hundred jobs between us. I was rejected for a job at a chicken restaurant. I am from Alabama. I was born with a frying pan in one hand and a hunk of lard in the other. I’m still mad about not getting that job. In a former life, my husband was a computer technician. In this life, he slings pizza, rakes leaves, shovels snow, cuts grass and bakes cakes, but it still is not enough money to pay for basics, let alone any utility bills. I use both of my worthless college degrees as microfiber cloths to fight grime as a house cleaner, and out here in Oklahoma, people are not as willing to pay for this service as they are in the South. I speak publicly and perform comedy, but gigs are harder to come by than we originally anticipated. We thought the move to Oklahoma would turn it all around and send us sashaying back into our middle-class life. Instead, it has given us the final shove into the abyss of poverty.

Read more from CNN.

Quote of the Day

So much rides on this high-stakes testing. We see this as not only a potential academic disaster, but an economic disaster.
Owasso Superintendent Clark Ogilvie

Number of the Day

64 percent

Percentage of Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) patients in Oklahoma who live in rural areas; 31 percent of the state’s population lives in rural areas

Source: National Association of Community Health Centers.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The facts about Americans who receive public benefits

Gross misperceptions about who receives public benefits and for what purposes are leading the nation toward debates that distract from the real problems facing middle-class and low-income Americans. Most public benefits spending is for participants, largely senior citizens, who have paid for the services via a lifetime of work. This is far different from the picture painted by many conservatives of public benefits being for lazy poor people who do not want to work. These misperceptions put all public benefits programs at risk, including those that reach the middle class. They also derail benefits programs that specifically target people living in poverty and help them to join the middle class. The facts about public benefits detailed in this issue brief help shape the real debate Americans should be engaged in—how to fund and shape public benefits programs that largely serve the middle class and those living in poverty for the long haul.

Read more from the Center for American Progress.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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