Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bigots lose, school choice wins, today at Supreme Court

"Religious bigotry is one reason we have 'public schools' in the United States," Trent England writes. "Government-run schools with compulsory attendance were developed as a tool to wipe out minority religious views. That conflict continues, and today the Supreme Court sided with religious minorities in a dispute that arose in Montana but that also helps protect a program in Oklahoma."

U.S. Supreme Court upholds tax-credit scholarship program

Ray Carter has the story.

OKCPS to create school clubs that will be BLM chapters

KOKH has the story.

Teacher unions seek police ouster from schools

"Teacher unions are among those now seeking to have police evicted from public schools as activists decry those officers’ presence as a sign of 'systemic racism,'" Ray Carter reports.

Friday, June 26, 2020

State board of education reprimands Oologah-Talala for teacher misconduct cases

"Oologah-Talala Public Schools had its state accreditation placed on probation Thursday and its local school board and superintendent are being publicly reprimanded by the Oklahoma State Board of Education," the Tulsa World reports. "Representatives of the Rogers County school district were first summoned before the state board in October, citing their handling of four separate cases of teacher 'misconduct of a sexual nature involving students' over the last four years."

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Lockdown proves value of school choice

Some wealthy public school districts, where geographic boundaries have the effect of keeping education segregated, enjoy lavish facilities—such as this $2 million Deer Creek media center that boasts its own café. Private schools like Crossover Prep in north Tulsa cannot afford such things but nevertheless responded well to the COVID lockdown.

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

When schools in Oklahoma and nationwide transitioned to distance learning in April in response to COVID-19, many schools simply stopped teaching students. Recent polling indicates parents noticed—and aren’t happy with that fact.

A recent RealClear Opinion Research nationwide survey found 40 percent of families are now more likely to homeschool or use virtual school after the COVID lockdowns. The desire for alternatives is understandable given how many traditional schools handled their duties during the shutdown. In too many cases, schools simply stopped teaching new material or even grading lessons that students were asked to complete.

And that trend was not a product of the “digital divide” that makes online learning more challenging for low-income students. In fact, some of the state’s wealthiest suburbs were among those who did the least for students.

Norman Public Schools informed parents and students that “no grades will be taken on activities assigned during distance learning.” Longtime journalist and Edmond parent Ted Streuli noted in a column that 90 percent of homes in Edmond have internet access, yet he wrote that students in that suburban school were asked to cover only “material they’ve already mastered” that “doesn’t count” because it was not graded.

Insufficient technical expertise was not the chief barrier. EPIC Charter Schools, the state’s largest online K-12 provider, offered several free distance-learning tools to other Oklahoma public schools, including two hours of staff development. Reportedly, only four districts took EPIC up on that offer by the April start of the statewide school re-opening via distance learning.

In March, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education estimated that only 10 percent of schools nationwide would provide “any kind of real curriculum and instruction program.”

It turns out student demographics mattered less in this process than school officials’ grit and dedication. For example, Crossover Preparatory Academy, a private school in north Tulsa that serves mostly working-class minority male students in grades six through nine, continued teaching and grading new material. That school serves many students with significant economic challenges and a lack of home internet access, yet school officials found a way to serve those children anyway.

As a result, those young boys in north Tulsa received a better education this year than many of their affluent peers who attend suburban schools. The suburbs may have lavish facilities, but long-term benefit is generated by student learning, not school architecture.

Many students at Crossover attend that school thanks to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, which supports school-choice options for low-income students. Lawmakers had the chance to build on success and expand that program this year, but House Republican leaders refused to hear the bill even after the Senate passed it.

Perhaps House Republican leaders feel what happened to students in Edmond and Norman should be the standard statewide. But polling suggests that parents, in Oklahoma and elsewhere, disagree.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Are House Republican leaders dishonest or ignorant?


[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

If this year is like most election years, Oklahomans will receive campaign mailers from state Republicans decrying Washington, D.C.-style politics and proclaiming themselves fiscal conservatives. But in this year’s session—primarily because of House Republican leaders—lawmakers fully embraced D.C. politics and abandoned responsible financial stewardship.

Few things highlight this sad reality more than House Republicans’ decision to increase Oklahoma’s unfunded liability by advancing an unfunded “cost of living adjustment” (COLA) for retired state government workers—a transparent election-year ploy to buy votes with other people’s money.

The negative consequences for working families will be significant.

When Democrats controlled the Legislature, they also advanced unfunded COLAs in election years. That ultimately drained pensions so fast Oklahoma ranked 47th among the 50 states by 2007.

Between 2000 and 2010 the unfunded liability of Oklahoma’s state pensions increased from $6 billion to $16 billion. Things got so bad that by 2010 actuaries predicted the teachers’ retirement plan would never achieve fully funded status.

However, when the GOP won power, that first generation of Republican legislative leaders—who not only touted conservatism on the campaign trail but practiced it in office—began reforming pensions. One major reform, abandoned this year by House Republican “leaders,” was to ban the raiding of pension assets through unfunded COLAs.

Major progress has since been achieved, but—contrary to the fiscal fairy tales offered by some lawmakers—state pensions are still far from whole. Oklahoma’s government pensions started the year with $7.8 billion in unfunded liabilities. That figure is larger now thanks to the unfunded COLA.

The teachers’ retirement system, in particular, faces major challenges. The teachers’ system already had more money going out in benefit payments than what was coming in through employee and employer contributions. The system must make up the difference with investment earnings. Now, those earnings are reeling due to the stock-market collapse tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma portfolio has declined by $1 billion since June 30, 2019, and its funded status has fallen from 72.3 percent to around 64 percent.

The unfunded COLA further drained system assets, adding an estimated $400 million in unfunded liability to the teachers’ system.

I am a CPA who previously served on the board of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, so I understand what those numbers represent: reduced benefits for current teachers upon their retirement, diversion of funds from schools and other needs to retirement systems in the future, and tax increases for working families to cover unfunded liabilities (or some combination of all three).

When incumbent Republicans dismiss the hard financial realities created by their raid of pension assets—done amidst a global pandemic when the livelihoods of working Oklahoma families are being decimated—citizens must ask if those lawmakers are willfully ignorant of financial reality or deliberately misleading constituents. Those are the only two possible answers, and neither inspires voter confidence.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Never let a crisis go to waste

A Tulsa nonprofit organization is working “to make sex education as accessible as possible for youth and families in our community to engage with during the COVID-19 pandemic.” One featured item is a coloring book with the typical pronoun propaganda (not to mention words that are inappropriate for children who are young enough to like coloring books). The organization coordinates programs for Tulsa Public Schools, Tulsa Union, and other districts.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

School-choice foe arrested for lewd proposals to a minor

"One of the chief ringleaders of the 2018 teacher walkouts in Oklahoma has been arrested for lewd proposals to a minor," Ray Carter reports.
Twenty-seven-year old Alberto Morejon, an 8th grade U.S. history teacher at Stillwater Junior High, was arrested following a complaint from a concerned parent and a subsequent investigation, a Stillwater Police Department release revealed. ...
In running the “Oklahoma Teachers-The Time is Now” Facebook group, Morejon drew national prominence for his role in launching the 2018 teacher walkouts and was a featured spokesman for the event, standing alongside officials with the Oklahoma Education Association during at least one press event.

The walkout occurred after lawmakers approved nearly $600 million in tax increases and provided the largest teacher pay raise in state history. Walkout leaders said it wasn’t enough.

In 2019, Morejon called for ousting as many as 35 Republican lawmakers, despite the fact most of those lawmakers supported teacher pay raises and school-funding increases.

Morejon has also been a prominent opponent of school-choice policies that allow children options other than their local public school, including a tax-credit scholarship program whose beneficiaries are mostly low-income children.

Legislation filed in 2019 that carried over to the 2020 legislative session—Senate Bill 407—would have increased the size of the tax-credit scholarship program while also providing millions in private funding to public schools.

Morejon was a vocal opponent of the proposal, tweeting on May 16, “For the 2nd straight year, SB 407 is dead!”

Children aided by the tax-credit scholarship program include children who have been victims of child sexual abuse or were previously living in an environment where sexual trafficking occurred.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Why indeed?