Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Doesn't fit the narrative

Mike Antonucci points us to a new NCES brief "that won’t get anywhere near the volume of headlines devoted to nationwide teacher shortages."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Oklahoma's proficiency gap

Why doesn't Oklahoma recognize the importance of honestly measuring student performance?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hey, it's only money

"It seems an auditing firm used by more than 100 Oklahoma school districts typically records irregularities not in the audit, but in separate letters," The Oklahoman notes today in an editorial. "The districts then report a 'clean' audit to state officials, effectively reducing financial scrutiny."
In McAlester, Superintendent Marsha Gore and her husband (the district's plant operations director) are accused of making tens of thousands of dollars in improper purchases with school funds over a 12-month period. The pair reportedly used school money for everything from Hillary Clinton campaign materials to a $129 hourglass to a $2,048 treadmill. ... 
Some are angry at the firm, but school district officials are also to blame. It's hard to believe this lack of transparency isn't driven by impure motives in at least some instances, especially given the findings of those school audits that are reported. 
At Tannehill, the school paid over $1,000 for Internet service at the superintendent's home. 
At Whitefield, the school paid travel reimbursement to the superintendent for driving from his home to school. 
In Timberlake, the superintendent's salary was increased without any amendment to his contract or board approval. 
In Alex, an employee was reimbursed for personal expenses and district equipment was used by school employees for personal use. 
At Whitesboro, the superintendent was reimbursed for travel-related meals and lodging without adequate invoice/receipt documentation. 
At Canadian, travel reimbursements were provided even when employees did not provide a school-related reason for the travel, a destination, or description of the trip. 
In Paoli, the school was carrying outstanding checks from as far back as 2002. 
In Crooked Oak, the district was still paying an absent, sick employee who had exhausted all medical leave. The superintendent tried to explain that one away by saying the employee's life insurance had lapsed due to the school district's negligence and officials were trying to make it up to him. 
The list goes on. If the aforementioned items are examples of what has occurred at districts that report their audits, there's reason to wonder what's going on at districts with 'clean' audits that fail to report 'supplemental' documents.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Questionable expenses from McAlester superintendent, husband

The MiddleGround News has the story.

Alleged fraud in Swink draws scrutiny

[Below is the text of a news release yesterday from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.]

In the wake of alleged misappropriation of funds at Swink Public Schools, the State Board of Education approved establishment of a task force to create an action plan for the school district in southeastern Oklahoma. In reviewing an audit of the small district, board members and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister also expressed concerns that a Broken Arrow-based auditing firm hired by the district had found no financial problems over the previous five years.

A review by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) showed that the firm of Sanders, Bledsoe, and Hewett had failed to uncover alleged embezzlement in the district that totaled nearly $235,000. Eventually, a June 30, 2015, audit by the firm outlines several instances of alleged fraud by the district treasurer and encumbrance clerk, including:

  • Altered school district checks payable to the treasurer and her relatives;
  • Travel reimbursement for trips not taken;
  • Unapproved fuel charge cards; and
  • Unauthorized purchases, including alcohol and tobacco.

The FBI and U.S. Department of Education are investigating the allegations. Prosecutors are expected to file criminal charges against the pair.

The board questioned Swink Superintendent Mark Bush and officials of Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett as to why the firm — which has been performing annual audits for the district since at least 2011 — did not find any suspicious activity in the district’s books until this year. Alleged instances of fraud have increased each year, with $7,200 misappropriated in 2010-2011, to $89,600 misappropriated in 2014-2015, according to the audit.

Of 114 school district audits conducted last year by Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett, all but seven were “clean” and absent of findings. Representatives of the firm told the State Board that irregularities they find are often conveyed in letters to the district instead of in actual audits.

“I have a real problem with audit findings that don’t make their way into the audit,” Hofmeister said. “This is a cautionary tale for other districts around the state. If an audit looks too good to be true, it might be. It is important for administrators and board members to maintain tight controls and ask questions, especially given the fiscal challenges facing our schools.”

In the June 30, 2015, audit, the auditing firm highlights a number of incidents of alleged fraud and makes 10 recommendations for the 164-student district to strengthen internal controls.

Board members voted unanimously to establish a task force comprised of OSDE officials and chaired by board member William Flanagan, a retired certified public accountant and personal financial specialist. The panel will work with officials in the Choctaw County district to strengthen financial oversight. In turn, these recommendations might be worth consideration by school districts across the state.

“Misappropriations of funds is a charge we take very seriously, and we are holding the Swink school district and board members accountable for both the actions of its employees and the auditing firm they hire. We will not sit by and watch tax dollars being stolen from our schoolchildren,” Hofmeister said.

OSDE General Counsel David Kinney, who is also a CPA, consulted with State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and the Oklahoma Accountancy Board in the department’s review.

McAlester superintendent bought Hillary 2016 gear on school credit card

The Daily Caller has the story.

A model education tax credit bill for Oklahoma

[Below is a piece of model legislation from the Home School Legal Defense Association, customized for Oklahoma after consultation with homeschool leaders at HSLDA and in Oklahoma. This is a draft; I welcome your comments on how to improve it. —BD]

A BILL to provide income tax credits for parents or guardians who have paid certain costs associated with enrollment of their children in pre-K—12 public and private schools or expenses involved in providing other means of education to a child other than at the free public schools in the school district of the taxpayer.

Chapter One

Section 1. Definitions.

For the purpose of this chapter:

     “Academic instruction” means instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, science, history (including art and music history), geography, social studies (including government and citizenship), literature, philosophy, and foreign languages.

     “Average per-pupil public expenditure” means the total expenditure for Oklahoma in the table entitled “Total and current expenditures per pupil in fall enrollment in public elementary and secondary education, by function and state or jurisdiction” in the most current issue of the Digest of Education Statistics, available at http://nces.ed.gov.

     “Close relatives” refers to a person’s children, grandchildren, mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, or uncles, whether by blood, marriage, or adoption.

     “Low-income,” or “low-income household” means that the total adjusted gross income of all taxpayers in the household does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level.

     “Qualifying educational expenses” means either (i) tuition and other instructional fees charged by a qualified school other than instruction provided by other means, or (ii) the following fees and costs associated with the provision of instruction by other means in pre-kindergarten through grade twelve directed by the parent or guardian: tutoring fees charged by an individual teacher or a correspondence school for academic instruction, including remedial assistance; and the cost of computer equipment (including related software and services), textbooks, workbooks, curricula and other written materials used primarily for academic instruction.

     “Qualified school” means either (i) a public elementary or secondary school charging tuition pursuant to [insert applicable section of State Code], or (ii) a private educational program that can be used to satisfy the compulsory school attendance requirements of [insert applicable section of State Code].

Section 2. Tax Credit for Certain Tuition Payments to Public or Private Schools.

A. For Oklahoma tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2016, a taxpayer shall be allowed a non-refundable credit against any tax levied pursuant to [cite section of State Code imposing individual income tax] for up to 80% of the qualifying educational expenses incurred during the tax year on behalf of each child who is eligible to be enrolled in a public school in this State free of charge pursuant to [cite State Code section delineating eligibility for free tuition in a public school], qualifies as the individual’s dependent for federal tax purposes, and who does not attend a free public school during the semester or other school year portion for which such qualified educational expenses were incurred. Taxpayers who are members of low-income households shall be allowed to claim the credit for up to 100% of the qualifying educational expenses incurred.

B. For each child for which this credit is claimed, the maximum allowable credit amount for each taxable year, including carry-over credits allowed by Section 2 (E), shall be the greater of the following: (i) 50% of the average per-pupil public expenditure for the state fiscal year ending prior to the start of the tax year during which the credit is claimed; or (ii) $2,500.

C. In the absence of available figures for determining the average per-pupil public expenditure, a best estimate of such expenditure shall be used.

D. For two taxpayers filing a joint return, the maximum allowable credit per taxpayer shall be 50% of the maximum allowable credit per child under 2 (B).

E. If the amount of the allowable credit exceeds the tax imposed on the taxpayer for such taxable year, such excess may be carried over for credit against the tax imposed on the taxpayer in the two succeeding taxable years until the total amount of the tax credit has been taken.

F. Amounts claimed under this section shall not also be itemized as deductions for the same tax year when computing Oklahoma taxable income.

Section 3. Initial Limits on the Tax Credit Claimed.

A. The tax credit allowed per eligible child by Section 2 shall be limited for taxpayers who are not members of low-income households as follows:

     (i) for the tax year 20__, a maximum credit of 10% of the average per-pupil public expenditure for FY__;

     (ii) for the tax year 20__, a maximum credit of 20% of the average per-pupil public expenditure for FY__;

     (iii) for the tax year 20__, a maximum credit of 30% of the average per-pupil public expenditure for FY__; and

     (iv) for the tax year 20__, a maximum credit of 40% of the average per-pupil public expenditure for FY__.

Section 4. Forms and Regulations.

A. The Oklahoma Tax Commission is authorized to require the taxpayer to submit with the tax return copies of such receipts or similar financial documentation as may be necessary to confirm the taxpayer’s statement of the allowable credit.

B. The Oklahoma Tax Commission shall promulgate regulations and develop tax forms, directions, and worksheets as necessary to effectuate the intent of this chapter. The regulations shall:

     (i) modify the state tax forms, directions, and worksheets to provide a convenient way for taxpayers to claim a credit under this chapter; and

     (ii) provide a format for a standardized receipt to be issued by qualified schools at the conclusion of a student’s period of instruction for which qualifying expenses have been incurred, and including the date of the receipt, the dates of the student’s enrollment for which expenses have been incurred, the name of the person paying the expense, the total expenses, the portion of the amount paid toward qualifying educational expenses, the name of the qualified school, and the printed name and signature of the agent issuing the receipt on behalf of the qualified school.

C. Regardless of what documentation the Oklahoma Tax Commission may require for purposes of allowing credit for payments of qualifying expenses, no school or other organization shall be required to provide such documentation or otherwise act to facilitate taxpayers’ access to credits under this chapter, except that schools may be required to fulfill a prior promise to a taxpayer to provide such information.

Section 5. Prohibition on Additional Regulations.

A. Eligibility of a school or other educational program to be considered a “qualified school” under this chapter shall not be subject to a school’s compliance with any state law or regulation not applicable to all private schools in this State, with the exception of the financial documentation requirements authorized by Section 4.

B. The intent of the Legislature is that tax credits authorized pursuant to this chapter not result in any additional regulation of public or private schools or taxpayers’ decisions about the education of their dependent children, except to the minimal extent necessary to provide for the efficient administration of the tax credits.

Section 6. Annual Reports and Budgeting

A. The Oklahoma Tax Commission shall determine annually by credit type the total amount of credits claimed under this chapter on all state income tax returns and shall report the same to the Secretary of Finance and the Secretary of Education.

B. Within sixty days prior to the start of each legislative session, the Secretary of Finance and Secretary of Education shall present a report to the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee projecting the total dollar amount of credits expected to be claimed under this chapter on returns for the current tax year and the following tax year as of the date of the report.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tulsa schools want you to call a little girl a boy

You may have seen the news last week that two daycare workers in Texas were fired because they refused to call a little girl a boy, even though the girl's two fathers wanted them to.

Now KJRH and News 9 are reporting that Tulsa Public Schools—which is already on record declaring that reality is optional—is moving ahead with staff training on "gender nonconformity" issues.