Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Oklahoma school districts fail to comply with transparency law

Gov. Brad Henry signed the School District Transparency Act into law in 2010. But over at OCPA’s Center for Investigative Journalism, Jay Chilton reports that not all school districts are in compliance.

Commode Core shows why we need school choice

The Obama administration’s bathroom bullying, Greg Forster writes in Perspective, demonstrates the conflict between America’s commitment to a pluralistic society and its policy of maintaining a government school monopoly.

Spending priorities and the $1.5 million press box

Oklahoma’s education system had $8.7 billion in total revenue last year, the most in state history, OCPA president Jonathan Small writes. But in a bloated system with questionable spending priorities and more non-teachers than teachers, the money simply isn’t going to teachers.

Fired OKC high school teacher charged in sexual battery case involving students

The Oklahoman has the story.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Oklahoma Teacher of the Year to be announced on Tuesday

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has the details on the upcoming announcement of the 2017 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. Pictured above (at left) is OCPA’s Estela Hernandez, who served as a judge in the competition. At right is Myron Pope, vice president for student affairs at the University of Central Oklahoma, one of the other judges in the contest.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

'School choice can be a winning issue'

So notes The Oklahoman in a house editorial today. 
In Senate District 25 in the Tulsa area, Republican Joe Newhouse won easily against Lisa Kramer. Newhouse supported school choice, including education savings accounts. Kramer was strongly opposed, even voting as a member of the Bixby school board to ignore Oklahoma law and deny state scholarships to children with special needs. That became an issue in the runoff.

Republican Scott McEachin won his runoff handily for the House District 67 seat against an opponent who was vocally against school choice. The contrast wasn't as stark in other races, but several candidates who supported school choice and ESAs won their GOP runoffs. These include Pugh, Dave Rader in Senate District 39, Matt Jackson in House District 85 and Lonnie Paxton in Senate District 23. In some of those races, both runoff candidates supported school choice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The myth of the underpaid teacher lives on

Larry Sand on the latest report from a union front group.

Parental choice candidates advance

Supporters of parental choice in education should be pleased with last night's election results, as a press release from the American Federation for Children (AFC) makes clear.

Joe Newhouse
In Senate District 25, "AFC supported Joe Newhouse over his opponent Lisa Kramer. Newhouse is a U.S. Navy fighter pilot who campaigned as a supporter of public education and school choice, including education savings accounts or ESAs. Newhouse’s opponent opposed school choice and as a member of the Bixby School Board voted to defy the law and deny students with special needs access to state-funded scholarships. In the end, SD 25 voters strongly supported Newhouse’s optimistic message of school choice over Kramer’s indifference to children with very serious challenges."

The result shouldn't be surprising—by now it's no secret that Republicans support school choice—but still it seemed like it would be a close race. It wasn't until I saw the kiss-of-death endorsement from the Tulsa World telling Republicans to vote for the longtime Democrat Kramer that I knew this race would indeed be Melissa Abdo 2.0. Incidentally, some folks profess to be quite upset about "dark money" (also known as "First Amendment money") when it helps pro-school-choice candidates but seem blissfully unconcerned when it helps anti-school-choice candidates.

Scott McEachin
In House District 67, "AFC supported Scott McEachin in the runoff. McEachin is an attorney and longtime Republican activist who campaigned on boosting teacher pay without tax increases and supporting school choice, namely ESAs." OCPA trustee Tom Coburn endorsed McEachin, and some OCPA staff and family members made weekend treks to Tulsa to knock doors for him. McEachin's opponent was surprisingly vocal in his opposition to school choice, almost as if he thought he was involved in a Democratic runoff. In other words, he chose a position contrary to Ronald Reagan and James Lankford and Mary Fallin and Todd Lamb and Scott Pruitt and Jim Bridenstine and the state and national GOP platforms. And, he lost the GOP runoff 56.44 percent to 43.56 percent. Ouch.

"Additional candidates who have supported school choice and ESAs in writing won their primary elections as well," AFC adds. They are (clockwise, from top left): Adam Pugh, Senate District 41; Dave Rader, Senate District 39; Matt Jackson, House District 85; and Lonnie Paxton, Senate District 23.

"Tonight’s victories follow an impressive showing by pro-school choice candidates in the June primaries where 12 out of 15 bipartisan candidates supported by AFC either won their election outright or advanced to a runoff election," AFC says.

UPDATE: Though AFC says Adam Pugh supported ESAs in writing, journalist Patrick McGuigan now reports that Pugh appears to have changed his position. At the 2:00 mark below, McGuigan discusses the matter with Alex Cameron of the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City:

Friday, August 19, 2016

Common Core, LGBTQ agenda spur homeschooling surge

"Local newspapers and homeschool leaders from West Virginia to Alabama and North Carolina to Texas report a surge in homeschooling interest and enrollment," Nicole Russell writes.

Why more black parents are homeschooling their kids

"While some parents cite religious and moral reasons," The Christian Science Monitor reports, "others say they are keeping their kids out of public schools to protect them from school-related racism."

From medical doctor to homeschooling mom

Trauma surgeon Kathryn Butler, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, tells why she left clinical practice to homeschool her children.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Oklahoma school districts are sitting on $1.9 billion

OCPA research fellow Steve Anderson's much-discussed blog post is here. An accountant whose firm has audited school districts for several years, Mr. Anderson has heard it all before. Listen to his conversation with OCPA trustee Michael Carnuccio (here) and with OCPA vice president Trent England (here).

In addition, OCPA president Jonathan Small discusses the topic with KFOR and with The Oklahoman.

Oklahoma mom says child bullied by teachers, students

FOX 25 has the story.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Oklahomans (still) support parental choice in education

An honest reading of the public-opinion survey data over the past couple of years shows that Oklahomans favor educational choice. But what if a pollster explored the question again now, in this climate dominated by daily news stories in which the public education community (despite $8.7 billion in annual revenue) tells us the sky is falling?

Well, SoonerPoll did just that. And though Oklahomans are concerned about school finance (the same SoonerPoll survey shows the Boren tax increase has strong support), they nonetheless favor educational choice:
"Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child's education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child's path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?"
  • FAVOR — parents have the moral right to choose … 51.5% 
  • OPPOSE — it drains money from public schools … 37.3% 
  • UNDECIDED … 11.2%
Looking at the results by political party, 64.1 percent of Republicans favor educational choice while 24.2 percent oppose. "These results are encouraging but not at all surprising," says Pam Pollard, state chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. "Poll after poll shows that Oklahoma Republicans favor parental choice in education. It couldn’t be any clearer in our state party platform—or, for that matter, in the new national party platform we Republicans adopted last month at the convention. There’s just nothing more basic or fundamental than the fact that parents have the moral right to shape their children’s educational future."

Among Democrats, 39.4 percent favor educational choice while 50.3 percent oppose. 

Looking at the results in the two major urban centers, in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area 58.7 percent favor educational choice while 31.4 percent oppose. In the Tulsa metropolitan area 55.9 percent favor educational choice while 34.4 percent oppose.

For more details about the survey, click here. In short, says SoonerPoll CEO Bill Shapard: “Time and time again, we've asked Oklahoma voters in a variety of ways about the concept of school choice, and a majority continue to support it.”

[Cross-posted at OCPA]

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cristo Rey coming to OKC

It's a great model serving low-income kids, and Oklahoma's tax-credit scholarship law will be a key component of the school's success.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Wagoner teacher jailed after showing up at school drunk and without her pants

"A Wagoner Public Schools teacher was jailed Monday," the Tulsa World reports, "on allegations that she showed up at school under the influence of alcohol and without her pants, police said."

Oklahoma's tax-credit scholarships are providing choices

Good article by Jessica Misun in the current MetroFamily Magazine.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Context missing in Oklahoma teacher pay debate

Economist Byron Schlomach writes that "a $5,000 pay raise in Oklahoma is the equivalent of a nearly $5,700 raise in the rest of the country."
Such an increase would raise teacher pay enough that on a cost-of-living-adjusted basis, only Texas would still outrank us among our nearby neighbors. We would have the 15th-highest average teacher pay, ahead of Connecticut, Rhode Island, California, and Massachusetts. Georgia would be the only Southern state besides Texas to outrank us in average teacher pay adjusted for cost of living. 
A $4,000 pay raise would still see Oklahoma paying more than every neighboring state except Texas on a cost-of-living basis and see us continuing to outrank the states just mentioned. We would be 17th highest in adjusted teacher pay. 
A $2,100 pay raise would see Oklahoma ranked 24th among the states in teacher pay with cost of living taken into account. We would move above Maryland, California, Massachusetts, and Missouri. 
These are facts to be considered as Oklahomans contemplate raising teacher pay, whether the Legislature does this in a special session or we vote to do so in a referendum election. As the spouse of a teacher, a pay raise would be appreciated. But whatever is done, it should be an informed choice.
Dr. Schlomach says Oklahoma's teacher pay currently ranks 30th, not 48th.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Understanding the times: Oklahoma faith leaders working for parental choice in education

[Guest post by Patrick B. McGuigan]

Paul Abner is a minister of the Gospel—and more. For starters, he is the father of three delightful children. Jack, Julianna, and Cloe accompanied their father to a recent speaking engagement where he discussed educational options in the Sooner State, including his hopes for expansion of school choices to more parents and children.

He said in an interview that presently, after some 36 years in ordained ministry and more than two decades traveling through Oklahoma, he is focused on “bringing faith-based men and women into the public square to support school choice.”

Paul Abner
A veteran organizer of worthy causes, Rev. Abner was drawn toward school choice activism by longtime civic activist Todd Pauley and began to work recently with Faith Leaders for Parental Empowerment in Education. After the practical work of developing logos and such things, he began to labor in the vineyards—reaching out to other ministers. It was in the course of that new work he “encountered many ministers who are also school teachers.”

While many exhibited a natural sympathy for educational choice, some of them have also challenged him—perhaps inevitably in a state like ours—among other things, sharing a fear that private school programs would beat local public school football teams.

At the other end of responses he has encountered, Abner shared nuggets from his conversations with people like Deborah—an inner-city Assembly of God preacher who says direct empowerment of parents and children to seek faith-based schooling options would be “the greatest thing that could happen for our kids.” She wants to break the generational curse of bad outcomes for minority students in urban schools.

Then, there’s his affiliation with Tony Miller of The Gate Church, a suburban congregation with 2,500 members who, Abner detailed, desires “to help the poor. To lift up people stuck in an educational rut.”

Abner continues with such outreach, dialogue, and direct action. Already he and colleagues leading the Faith Leaders group have brought hundreds of ministers into the cause. It is a natural extension, he believes part of a spiritual journey that flows from his original work as a youth minister.

Long ago, Abner bridged into professional affiliation with a national group, the Men and Women of Issachar. The Scriptural reference is to I Chronicles 12:32—to leaders who “understood the times, and understood what Israel should do.”

In the midst of his best years in such ventures, he got a call from a friend one day, inviting him to volunteer for the campaign of a political novice, a Southern Baptist youth minister working at the Falls Creek summer camp program. That was in 2009, and he agreed to help the long-shot campaign of a fellow named James Lankford.

In 2010, Lankford won a crowded Republican primary for the U.S. House seat that had been occupied by Mary Fallin, before her run for governor. The effort of which Abner was part was “the biggest outreach into faith community in Oklahoma political history.” After two good terms in the lower chamber of Congress, Lankford ran for the U.S. Senate. For that successful campaign Abner was one of his paid staff. Then, he was part of a conference for ministers held on a parallel track at the time of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) in Oklahoma City last year. Along the way, earlier this year, he found time to assist with the Franklin Graham prayer rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol, which drew some 6,000 people to join impassioned prayers for revival and moral renewal across America.

Abner’s involvement in electoral politics was not a path he might have predicted for himself four decades ago, but as it unfolded, “I recognized the voice of God leading me to get more people of faith involved in the process of public policy.”

To be clear about Abner’s broad range of interests, he presently is supportive of the local public school bond issue for the Piedmont district. He has been encouraging support for the proposition in the faith community, and has discussed the issue with other leaders.

Craig Eidson
That thumbnail narrative brings us back to Abner’s current work with the faith leaders group, which includes Rev. Craig Eidson, who serves as pastor at a metro-area church. Eidson’s wife is a public school principal. In the course of their marriage, their children have been educated at home, in a private school, and in the public schools. At every stage, they have wanted, he said, “to do what’s best for the kids.”

Eidson reflects, “You hear that a lot—do what’s best for the kids. The question is if that’s what people are really for. Some people ask, ‘How can you say that and not be for creating smaller classes?’” Like most people who are knowledgeable about education, Eidson believes smaller class sizes and better teacher pay are worthy objectives. But, he has concluded since joining the faith leaders group, some people in education “just don’t want vouchers.” He has a different view: “Vouchers cannot hurt, and they are almost certain to help.”

As he looks across America these days, Eidson says, he realizes that “we need God’s help. Allow parents to have total control of their children’s education. When we say we’re for what is best for the kids, do we really mean it? Or is it all about the agenda for public schools?"

Bill Price
The two faith-community leaders spoke at a special July 29 meeting of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition, held at the Advance Center for Free Enterprise on the OCPA campus. Bill Price, a former U.S. attorney who now serves on the Oklahoma State Board of Education, honored Abner for his years of work as a leading state advocate for premarital abstinence, and his new role as an organizer of Faith Leaders for Parental Empowerment in Education. Price, an OCPA trustee who also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition, has advocated for public school excellence and increased educational options for several decades.

OCPA president Jonathan Small was unable to attend the meeting, but in a prepared statement he stressed the need not only for educational choice but also for a teacher pay hike. “Our preK-12 education system currently has plenty of money—$8.7 billion in total revenues last year, the most in state history,” he said. “But in a bloated system that employs more non-teachers than teachers, that money’s simply not going to the right place: take-home pay for the many excellent teachers who have earned a raise.”

The July 29 meeting coincided with the July 31 birthday of the late Milton Friedman, a school-choice pioneer and one of the most honored economists of the 20th century. The session was more abbreviated than customary for the monthly meetings, as the event included a couple dozen children who are participating school choice programs in Oklahoma. And those youngsters were waiting to visit the ice cream truck parked outside the entrance of the Advance Center for Free Enterprise. When he kicked off the session, Price quipped that he had directed the speakers to keep their remarks focused because “I don’t want to be the guy standing between children and ice cream.”

Photo credits: Jay Chilton