In The Know: Last school report cards to be released before A-F system gets overhaul

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Last school report cards to be released before A-F system gets overhaul: This week marks the end of the line for Oklahoma’s current method of grading schools, but the much-maligned A-F school report cards will likely live on. The Oklahoma State Department of Education will go through the same motions Thursday as it did in October 2015, when it last released annual report cards for every public school in the state with the disclaimer that the system is inaccurate and in need of overhauling. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said everything is on track to update Oklahoma’s student testing and A-F school accountability systems to meet new state and federal requirements [Tulsa World].

Education sales tax, crime reforms top initiative questions: When Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan told some of the nation’s other top teachers that he and his schoolteacher wife couldn’t afford to purchase a house, he heard audible gasps. The Norman High School algebra teacher, who was one of four finalists for the national teacher of the year, said his out-of-state colleagues “were blown away” to learn how little teachers earn in Oklahoma, where the average salary of $45,317 in 2014-2015 ranked 48th among the 50 states and District of Columbia. His own base salary — with a master’s degree — is about $36,000. Sheehan is hoping voters will give teachers an assist this November in passing State Question 779 [Tulsa World]. See OK Policy’s 2016 Oklahoma State Question Guide here.

In Need of Education Funding, States Look to Customers and Corporations: Public education was one of the biggest casualties of the Great Recession. Nearly a decade since it started, nearly half of states are still providing less general funding for schools than they were the year the economy tanked. Two states, however, are asking voters to boost education funding this fall — but they differ on who should pay for it: customers or corporations. Oregon wants to impose a tax hike on corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in the state. If passed, the measure would raise an expected $3 billion a year. Oklahoma, on the other hand, proposes raising the state sales tax a percentage point to 5.5 percent. The state has imposed the biggest per-pupil funding cuts in the country and is facing a teacher shortage. The new revenue, expected to be about $600 million a year, would go straight into a new education fund with more than half of it paying for teachers’ raises [Governing]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet about the education sales tax state question here.

Investment in rehabilitation programs core of state questions: Supporters of State Question 781 say the ballot initiative presents an opportunity to make one of the largest investments in mental health and substance abuse programs in recent history, giving a state plagued by budget cuts and inadequate resources for treatment a much needed shot in the arm. SQ 781, which is a companion ballot question to State Question 780, could pump as much as $30 million a year into county-level rehabilitation and treatment programs, using funds that would have previously been used to incarcerate individuals convicted of low level property and drug crimes [NewsOK]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet about SQ 780 and 781 here.

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel apologizes for any errors revealed by audit: Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel apologized Friday in his first response to a critical investigative audit for any “errors on my part,” but he asked residents to keep in mind “there … is no finding I or anyone else misappropriated money.” State Auditor Gary Jones on Tuesday released a 32-page report on the special investigative audit of the sheriff’s office. The audit found repeated examples of financial wrongdoing. The audit specifically criticized Whetsel, saying he chose not to pay the jail’s medical care provider for months in 2015 “even though funds were available at the time payment was due.” [NewsOK]

Cost for Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program rises with tuition, student success: Oklahoma’s Promise will cost about $6.5 million more to keep next fiscal year. On Thursday, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved an estimate of $74.3 million to fund the scholarship in 2017-18 for an expected 18,000 recipients. The increase is due to more students completing college and tuition increases, Chancellor Glen Johnson said. Oklahoma’s Promise has paid tuition for eligible students for 20 years. The number of recipients earning a college degree has grown in the past 10 years from fewer than 500 to nearly 3,000 annually [NewsOK].

Reasons for worry and hope in the next Legislature: Thinking about the budget problems facing next year’s Legislature would give anyone a headache. Due to the use of “one-time” money in this year’s budget and an Oklahoma economy that continues to decline — or at least fail to recover — the new Legislature is predicted to face another “budget hole” on the order of $600 to $700 million. Moreover, last month’s general revenue fund receipts were 12.4 percent less than the estimate used to appropriate this year’s budget. That estimate was made last February, only seven months ago! [OK Policy]

Trump solidifies lead in Oklahoma, poll shows: Just two weeks before Election Day, Donald Trump’s lead continues to solidify in Oklahoma, a new poll shows. Despite crumbling support from party leaders, the release of a recording in which Trump can be heard making lewd comments and several women coming forward with accusations of sexual misconduct, the Republican presidential nominee maintains a 30-point lead in Oklahoma over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among other findings, the poll suggests that Trump’s support in Oklahoma is strongest among voters age 35 and older. Among Millennial voters age 25 to 34, roughly half said they planned to support Clinton, while Trump held just 34.1 percent [Oklahoman].

Oklahoma remains among reddest of states, voter numbers show: Oklahoma’s reputation as one of the reddest states in the nation appears more secure than ever. The Republican Party continues to build its lead over the Democratic Party in voter registration, according to the latest numbers from the Oklahoma Election Board, which also confirms Republicans are requesting and returning more absentee ballots. Polls also indicate Donald Trump will carry the state in a landslide on Nov. 8, even as surveys show him struggling nationally [NewsOK].

As public television in Oklahoma turns 60, it’s time to look back and appreciate OETA: Programming at the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority has gone from math concepts and “Sesame Street” to local documentaries and “Poldark.” That’s progress. Oklahoma’s public television turns 60 this year. Considering I’m still recording programs from the channel, something must be going right. Without grumbling about politics, it’s a good time to appreciate what public television has provided for Oklahoma [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

”The difference I’ve seen from the other systems that grade schools and ours is the level of input the schools and parents had up front. I’m not saying we had zero research from lawmakers, but we didn’t have enough. That is the mortal sin, if you will, of our current system.”

-Raul Font, a member of the task force redesigning Oklahoma’s A-F grading system for public schools, which has been widely criticized as inaccurate and unhelpful for promoting school improvement (Source).

Number of the Day


How much Oklahoma’s state aid funding for public schools has been cut per pupil after inflation since FY 2008, the largest cuts in the nation.

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

America’s innovation crisis: Politicians like to brag about American entrepreneurs. Hilary Clinton did it in her speech at the Democratic National Convention; Paul Ryan has called the United States the most innovative in the world. On Thursday, the White House released a fact sheet asserting that “America continues to be the world’s most innovative country.” But what if it turns out that America isn’t as entrepreneurial as our leaders like to believe? And that the smaller U.S. safety net, which reflects a national belief in self-reliance, is one reason? [Politico]

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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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