Saturday, August 29, 2015

Expand and improve higher-ed vouchers in Oklahoma

"The United States has long been a world leader in school vouchers—for higher education," Greg Forster writes in Perspective. "Now we need a revolution in higher education vouchers similar to the revolution that is hitting K-12 vouchers in the form of education savings accounts (ESAs)."

Friday, August 28, 2015

Editorials laud Henry Scholarship program

In the last 24 hours, three great editorials have made the case for the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program. In The Journal Record, law professor Andrew Spiropoulos writes:
We must free ourselves from the destructive notion that public funding of education means that a student must be educated at a public school. These reports prove that there are some children who require a different school environment than a public school can supply. Our children, the school district, and the larger community will all benefit if the state enables parents to send their children to the school, public or private, that best meets their needs. 
Fortunately, our state has established a program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities, which empowers parents to choose the right school for their disabled child. At best this program helps a few hundred children. We need to expand and trumpet it so it serves thousands. 
Unfortunately, instead of treating the scholarship as a blessing, too many public educators perceive it a threat.
Meanwhile, The Oklahoman opines:
[M]any Oklahoma public schools need a culture change. By freeing the families of children with special needs to take those students to private schools that do a better job, as the scholarship law does, lawmakers have taken a step in the right direction. 
It's not irrational for parents to think second-graders can be disciplined without being handcuffed, or wrong to want their education tax dollars to pay to actually educate their children.
And in The Journal Record, OCPA president Michael Carnuccio writes:
Oklahoma has an opportunity to innovate, create its own solutions to address autism and avoid the perils of mandates. State-specific programs such as education scholarships, high-risk pools, and expanded training for parents and teachers with autistic students are the right solutions. 
Oklahomans should rally to make their voices heard and oppose state bureaucrats who are currently trying to overturn the Henry Scholarship program in court.
I encourage you to read all three pieces in their entirety.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tulsa teacher charged with sexual battery bound for district court arraignment

The Tulsa World has the story.

What are tax-credit scholarships and how do they work?

Toddler technocracy

"It is no coincidence that the aggressive expansion of power in the hands of government monopoly schools since the 1950s has coincided with a declining social role for families and (by extension) churches and other community groups," Greg Forster writes in Perspective. "They’re being pushed out of their role in the formation of children, and hence displaced from the center of culture."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tired of the establishment PR blitz, lawmakers fire back

Check out this House media release. The lawmakers raise some excellent points about ACT spending, teacher signing bonuses, and out-of-control administrative growth.
House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House Republican education leaders called for a more cooperative approach to address the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma school districts. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) announced results Monday of their survey of the impact in Oklahoma of a challenge most schools across the U.S. continue to face: finding enough certified teachers to fill classrooms across the country. 
The OSSBA survey showed approximately 1,000 teaching jobs still open in Oklahoma because school districts are unable to find qualified applicants. The situation is not unlike most other states, many of which have higher costs of living than Oklahoma and pay teachers higher salaries than the mandated minimum wage for Oklahoma teachers. State lawmakers said they remain ready to work together creatively with school districts here to meet the needs of Oklahoma students. 
“Significant signing bonuses might very well have helped our school districts fill those 1,000 teaching jobs this summer and it is still an idea worth exploring by the state superintendent,” said Hickman (R-Fairview). “Last week, paying for the ACT test for all 11th grade students was a higher priority than our teacher shortage. I believe the state superintendent should reconsider the priorities and allocate the $1.5 million in excess funding she said she received in this year’s state budget to provide a $1,500 signing bonus for those 1,000 Oklahoma classrooms in need of teachers.” 
An announcement last week by the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction of a new state program to spend $1.5 million for all 11th grade students to take the ACT exam while new state education standards are still in development and when the state faces a potential budget shortage as low oil prices impact the Oklahoma economy met questions from many House Republican legislators. Approximately 75 percent of Oklahoma high school students already register on their own to take the ACT before graduation and ACT offers financial assistance to students who may not be able to afford the roughly $40 cost for the exam. Lawmakers now have more questions about why that $1.5 million would be directed to start a new state program when it could be used as an incentive to help with the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma schools.

“I understand that we want more college graduates, but we need to make sure we have the teachers to ensure our children receive the education needed to succeed in college,” said Rep. Dennis Casey (R-Morrison), a former teacher and school superintendent who is now vice chairman of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee. “A test doesn’t do that but an incentive to hire more teachers just might.” 
House legislative leaders also expressed their desire to develop a long-term solution to teacher compensation in Oklahoma by looking at reallocating the billions of dollars the state now spends on public schools. Despite the false rhetoric of political education groups recently claiming Oklahoma schools faced greater cuts than other states, revenue for Oklahoma’s pre-K through 12th grade schools was greater than ever for the 2013-14 school year, almost $5.5 billion dollars. Examining expenditures and reprioritizing how the taxpayers’ dollars are spent by school districts could be the quickest way to boost classroom teacher salaries in Oklahoma. 
“Our teachers need competitive wages,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid), a member of the House Education Committee. “The 33 percent increase in the number of non-teaching staff members in Oklahoma schools from Fiscal Year 1992 to FY2013 when our enrollment grew by 14 percent and the number of teachers only grew by 11 percent is concerning at the least and merits a legislative review. If the growth of non-teaching staff had even been equal to the 14 percent increase in the number of students, it would mean roughly $294 million dollars would be available annually to significantly raise the salaries of our classroom teachers. These are dollars that could have addressed teacher compensation but instead the education lobbyists would have everyone believe that the legislature is the only group responsible for being efficient with state tax dollars when we should all share in that responsibility.” 
House education leaders said they believe there is a way to find solutions to the teacher shortage and increase compensation for Oklahoma classroom teachers, but it will require new approaches and a willingness by the education lobbying groups, like OSSBA, to work with lawmakers instead of continuing their partisan attacks.

“We can still address these issues,” said House Education Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow), a former educator. “There must be less rhetoric so we can have an honest conversation and a commitment to changing how we do things. Together, we have to develop a long-term plan that addresses the teacher shortage, student testing and bloated administration levels. Schools cannot continue to operate as they have in the past.”

Underfunded-schools watch

Henry scholarship program has been 'life-changing' for many Oklahoma children

"The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act provides state funds so children with special needs can attend private schools with services tailored to those kids," The Oklahoman pointed out yesterday.
Unlike an autism mandate, that program benefits nearly all affected families. 
In Oklahoma City, the scholarship program has allowed the creation of the Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, which provides intensive intervention based on Applied Behavior Analysis. Many children with autism attend the school. It serves students ranging from 2-year-olds to those in the eighth grade. 
That approach provides more services for a longer period of time to more children than do many state autism mandates. Some states’ autism mandates apply only to young children; many have benefit limits that can be less than the cost of treatment. A 2012 MedClaims Liaison and Autism Speaks survey found more than half of families affected by autism in states with autism mandates complained that their providers didn’t accept their insurance, and most described their autism coverage as “poor” or “unacceptable.” 
By and large, autism mandates offer more hype than substance to desperate families. In contrast, the Henry scholarship program has been life-changing for many children with special needs. Policymakers should build upon that success, not divert their focus to less-effective alternatives.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pay successful teachers more

"If you want to incentivize more people to go into hard-to-fill areas like math, then you must pay those teachers more than you do individuals working jobs that attract more applicants," The Oklahoman sensibly points out. "That’s basic supply and demand."
Also, why not provide merit pay? Tying raises to overall student learning growth would provide greater rewards to the best teachers, even if their students start the year below grade level. To give a hardworking, successful teacher the same pay as one who only punches a clock drives good teachers out of the profession.