Mike Seals has the story.
Monday, December 28, 2020
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Friday, December 11, 2020
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
Smear tactics are nothing new in Washington, D.C., but those tactics are now being used in Oklahoma.
During U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, critics portrayed him as a drunk and a rapist. Fortunately, lawmakers saw through those attacks and confirmed Kavanaugh.
Sadly, similar character assassination, recently carried out in Oklahoma, sidelined a qualified nominee for the State Board of Education.
This sad episode began when Gov. Kevin Stitt recently removed Kurt Bollenbach from the State Board of Education and named Melissa Crabtree of Enid as his replacement.
Bollenbach was clearly out of step with conservatives and the governor who appointed him. His removal was justified because Bollenbach vocally supported efforts to bar Christian schools from serving children who receive scholarships through a state program. The regulations cited to justify that action were illegally adopted, as an opinion by Attorney General Mike Hunter soon made clear. It was obvious new blood was needed on the board.
In response, school-choice opponents launched a smear campaign against Crabtree. Sadly, they succeeded, and she withdrew from consideration.
As with Kavanaugh, this debate was not over qualifications, but over whether conservatives in leadership would advance the conservative policies endorsed by voters.
Crabtree’s qualifications cannot be denied. She taught special education in public schools for four years, meaning she may have more classroom experience than the current state superintendent. Crabtree also taught the parents of children with disabilities and served at-risk families of children with special needs for more than a decade through her church.
What part of “longtime educator with expertise in special education” sounds like a bad fit for the State Board of Education?
Crabtree’s critics objected that she homeschooled her own children. Many other Oklahomans have done the same. (I’m proud to say I was homeschooled as a child, yet here I am today, a licensed CPA.) Polling shows thousands more would homeschool if it were financially feasible. And last spring’s COVID-19 shutdown left many Oklahomans with a new appreciation for those who successfully homeschool.
Crabtree’s critics objected that she opposed mask mandates. That’s not out of line with many Oklahomans, and the science behind mask mandates is not scientifically rigorous.
Critics said Crabtree touted zinc and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. A lot of Oklahoma doctors and pharmacists quietly do the same.
Taken as a whole, the attacks on Crabtree—like those lobbed against Kavanaugh—were clearly intended only to prevent conservatives from serving in state government.
Many citizens complain Oklahoma has remained mired in the bottom of education rankings for decades. But we can’t expect results to change if the only government-education officials deemed “acceptable” to serve are those unwilling or unable to think outside the box and do things differently.
Friday, December 4, 2020
|An overwhelming 74% of GOP primary voters believe the money should follow the child.|
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
Oklahoma parents are demanding parental school choice and lawmakers are paying attention.
A new poll by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates (CHS) found 61% of Oklahoma voters support school choice, which was defined as “the right to use tax dollars raised for their child’s education to send their child to the school of their choice whether it is public, private, online, or charter.”
Among Republicans primary voters, support reached 74%. Support was consistent in both urban and rural areas.
That strong support is no surprise, especially considering ongoing public-school closures. Those closures are wreaking havoc and destroying opportunity. This is evident in increased failure rates in academic courses and significant learning loss.
In August, an official from Tulsa Public Schools even told the State Board of Education that district officials expected “that our least-reached students will have lost approximately a year more learning than would have otherwise been the case because of the COVID-related interruptions. So if I’m a student who might otherwise have been predicted to be two years below grade level, we’re anticipating that that student will now be approximately three years below grade level.”
Some school officials now want to end state testing, ensuring parents will not be notified of a child’s learning loss.
Oklahomans’ support for school choice is not tied solely to COVID-19. Polls have found strong support for parental school choice repeatedly since 2014. And Oklahoma’s political leaders have embraced it.
In January 2019, House Speaker Charles McCall said lawmakers “must put parents back in charge of their children’s education and give underprivileged families more options and more opportunity to thrive.”
This year Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat endorsed raising the cap on Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program, saying, “Where there are kids that lack opportunity, my heart pains for them. We need to make sure they are not forgotten.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsed school choice in his 2020 State of the State speech, saying, “Let’s work together to make sure all students at all schools have access to an innovative, enriching curriculum, regardless of ZIP code.”
Yet, despite public support and the backing of legislative leaders, the bidding was done of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, socialist Bernie Sanders, and the OEA/NEA union, which heavily opposed both school choice and President Trump and instead backed Biden and Kendra Horn.
Thankfully for the most vulnerable, there is now no reason for delay. In addition to public support, GOP lawmakers also have the numbers on their side. Republicans now hold 82 of the 101 seats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and 39 of the 48 seats in the Oklahoma Senate. It takes only 51 and 25 votes, respectively, to pass a bill in each chamber.
With this favorable environment for saving the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable through significant expansions of parental school choice, inaction will be impossible.
Monday, November 30, 2020
- Strongly Favor .......... 40%
- Somewhat Favor .......... 21%
- Somewhat Oppose .......... 9%
- Strongly Oppose .......... 24%
- Undecided .,........ 6%
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
I’m a CPA with many years’ experience in government finances and I have had the opportunity to review the recent state audit of Epic Charter Schools as well as separate responses from Epic. An objective review reveals the performance of the audit has glaring flaws.
According to state law, the office of the State Auditor and Inspector (SAI) is required to review all audits of public schools. When deficiencies are found by the SAI, the office is required to notify the school board of statements of deficiencies. There’s no indication that the SAI’s previous reviews ever found any deficiencies at Epic, so the SAI’s new claims of improper financial accounting at Epic are tantamount to an admission of neglect or incompetence by SAI—if those claims are true. But it appears many claims of financial abuse are unfounded.
The audit’s problems include a de facto recommendation that Epic violate state regulations on calculation of retirement contributions of teachers, even though Epic has provided documents from the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System that showed the school made the calculations correctly.
The audit went way beyond its scope to call for a ban on for-profit operation of charter schools, echoing the platforms of socialist U.S. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the Democratic Party platform.
One SAI staffer significantly involved in the audit has previously admitted to lacking basic accounting knowledge, such as understanding the principle of “assets = liabilities plus equity.”
When Epic expanded its model into California, that state’s regulators asked for documentation that demonstrated Epic’s financial soundness. That documentation included a bank statement showing millions of dollars of cash on hand. SAI declared that providing such information was the equivalent of using state funds as collateral—yet Epic entered into no such agreements. The funds shown on that bank statement never secured any loan whatsoever. They only provided financial documentation at the request of California officials.
Neglecting best practices, the SAI didn’t include Epic’s full responses to the allegations in its report, nor thoroughly review calculations with Epic before releasing the allegations. The failure to abide by such standard auditing procedures is another red flag.
The SAI has since taken more than seven weeks to produce workpapers from the “special audit” and provide full support for some of the audit’s most salacious claims, including that Epic and the State Department of Education misclassified millions in administrative salaries.
Put simply, the audit omits much relevant information and ignores documents that undermine its most headline-grabbing claims, and SAI officials appear to be dragging their feet in facilitating a thorough review of their work product.
That pattern of behavior gives Oklahomans reasons to doubt the audit’s veracity.
An honest review of the state audit of Epic Charter Schools raises many questions. But those questions are centered around the validity and seriousness of the audit process, not on Epic.
Monday, November 23, 2020
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Friday, November 13, 2020
|Credit: The Weekly Standard|
It’s no secret government officials often target traditional Christians for harassment, but Oklahomans often view that as a problem that happens in other states, not here. Sadly, that’s not true.
In 2010, lawmakers passed and the governor signed into law the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program. It provides state scholarships for certain students—those with special needs like autism, or foster children—to attend private schools.
A few things are required for schools to participate. The LNH law requires that participating private schools comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of a section of federal law that bars discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin.”
Those are the only three categories listed. Yet, under the leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the OSDE drafted new regulations that added “religion” and “sexual orientation” to that list.
As a result, private Christian schools are now being blackballed from serving LNH students.
When Altus Christian Academy and Christian Heritage Academy applied to serve LNH students, they were denied approval by the State Board of Education at the group’s October meeting.
Oklahoma State Board of Education member Kurt Bollenbach complained one of the schools required staff to be “mature Christian teachers,” which he declared was “discriminating against other religions or nonreligions.”
Bollenbach and Brad Clark, who serves as Hofmeister’s top attorney, also stressed the two schools' policies on sexual orientation.
Put another way, if they want to serve LNH students, Christian schools must be prepared to hire strident atheists and embrace all aspects of the LGBT agenda.
Bollenbach even declared Christian schools have the right to set hiring policies only “until they ask for state dollars.” But that is not true, because the LNH program does not force parents to attend any specific private schools. Instead, students attend by choice.
That’s one reason the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the law in 2016, saying, “When the parents and not the government are the ones determining which private school offers the best learning environment for their child, the circuit between government and religion is broken.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld school-choice programs that allow students to attend private religious schools.
It’s notable that the LNH program operated for nine years without any problem before the OSDE concocted these new restrictions on schools’ policies regarding religion and sexual orientation.
The OSDE regulations are, in effect, a unilateral rewriting of Oklahoma law done outside the legislative process. Fortunately, the illegality of that action is apparent to all, and the agency will likely face lawsuits if it does not reverse course.
Even so, this incident highlights a sad fact: Citizens in conservative Oklahoma must be just as vigilant in monitoring their government’s actions as their blue-state counterparts.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Saturday, November 7, 2020
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
Hope is among life’s most precious commodities. Oklahoma lawmakers can increase the stock of that commodity and provide it to Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens by fully funding parental school choice for all who want it.
This year’s pandemic-created challenges have been felt by all, but not shared equally, including in education.
The closure of physical sites for in-person instruction has created hardship for families at all income levels, but the burden is greatest for those of limited means who must forgo work opportunities to watch children during the day. And the virtual learning options provided in lieu of classroom instruction have often been subpar at best.
Even parents who do not face such harsh choices want to make sure they do not endure this limited menu of education options for any reason in the future.
That’s why lawmakers should provide fully funded parental school choice options for all who want them. It’s time we gave parents greater control over their children’s education.
There are several ways to achieve that goal. The first is to expand the “digital wallet” program Gov. Kevin Stitt launched this year. That program, currently funded with federal COVID-relief funds, provides $1,500 to low-income families to spend on educational supplies.
Lawmakers can expand equality of opportunity and make the program available to all Oklahomans, putting at least $5,000 in state funds in each account and allowing families to use the money for services, including private-school tuition. That alone would open the door of educational opportunity for families across the state.
Lawmakers should also provide a significant refundable tax credit for families to offset education expenses. That would be comparable to the Earned Income Tax Credit that provides cash payments to low-income Oklahomans, and it would allow more parents to cover the costs of better schools for a child.
Best of all, that would effectively increase overall education funding in Oklahoma.
Legislators should also raise the cap on Oklahoma’s scholarship tax-credit program, which has benefited thousands of low-income children. Tax-credit scholarships have helped numerous children escape from failing schools and enter private schools that provide better academics, personal safety, and (often) moral grounding.
For far too long, private schools have been mostly restricted to children in families with higher income, yet that doesn’t have to be the case. Private schools across Oklahoma are ready and eager to accept children from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds. Some schools are already leading the way, such as Crossover Preparatory Academy in Tulsa, Little Light Christian School, Mission Academy, and Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City, which serve low-income, children of the incarcerated, those recovering from addiction, and homeless children.
For parents worried about their children’s future, Oklahoma lawmakers can offer the antidote of hope, optimism, and justified belief in a better future—if they are ready to lead on parental school choice for all who want it.
Friday, November 6, 2020
Saturday, October 31, 2020
|President Donald Trump is pictured here with rapper Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., better known by his stage name Lil Wayne, on October 29, 2020.|
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
This year’s presidential campaigns are causing many people to have “aha” moments that defy partisan stereotypes.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden says he will repeal the tax cuts enacted under President Trump and add many new taxes. When analysts reviewed the combined state-federal tax rates that would result under Biden’s proposals, they found top rates would surge to 62 percent in New York, for example. That prompted Rapper 50 Cent to declare, “I don’t want to be 20 Cent.”
Rapper Lil Wayne in a recent tweet praised Trump for his work on criminal justice reform and inclusion of Wayne’s proposals that empower ownership in black communities.
Rapper Ice Cube reached out to both political parties to discuss his proposals to help black Americans. The Trump administration included some of Ice Cube’s ideas in the campaign’s agenda. Ice Cube lamented that all Democrats did was pay lip service with constant references to “minorities” and "people of color."
In Ice Cube’s video discussing the two parties’ response, he looked somber. That’s a common reaction for those confronted with reality. Nationwide, there’s often a glaring gap between what people have been told about the two political parties and reality.
Here are a few examples.
The Democratic Party was the party of slavery.
Democrats insist all Americans should have to give tax dollars to groups like Planned Parenthood, an organization whose founder specifically targeted black babies and whose mission today still places disproportionate attention on increasing abortions in minority communities.
“Progressives” decry the Electoral College, yet without the Electoral College, our nation would not have had Abraham Lincoln as president or the subsequent Emancipation Proclamation.
President Trump champions expanding parental school choice, while Joe Biden—who once said he didn’t want Delaware children forced into a “racial jungle”—wants to limit charter schools and opposes scholarship programs that help children attend private schools. Many families who benefit from those policies—including many minority households—are starting to notice.
Biden has also said, “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” And Biden noted, “…unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community…”
The Trump administration has protected individuals and organizations from being required to facilitate practices they believe violate their faith. Biden’s team has declared they will force individuals and organizations to violate their faith, and the national Democratic Party platform even characterizes abiding by Biblical principles as attempts to “discriminate”.
Aha moments are mounting. We shall see what it means when the votes are finally cast.
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
"A Tishomingo Middle School coach was arrested on Thursday after a sheriff’s deputy found meth in his car," KXII reports.
It is just the latest black eye for Tishomingo schools: two basketball coaches were fired three years ago for using a school bus to make a beer run on a road trip, two years ago a former superintendent was audited by OSBI for misusing school funds, and his wife -- formerly a teacher and cheer coach -- is currently serving time for having sex with a student.
Monday, October 26, 2020
Cheating has always been an issue in schools, but there is little getting in the way for students today. Shared answers have become even more accessible as districts have adopted or expanded their use of popular online learning programs like Edgenuity, which delivers the same content to students across the country.
Many schools adopted such virtual programs in a matter of months to adapt to the ongoing public health crisis. Seventy percent of Oklahoma districts had a virtual option at the start of this school year, and 7.5% were exclusively online, according to a state Department of Education survey.
But when students are not inside classrooms, it becomes more difficult to ensure they are actually learning, teachers say.
“Everything my kids are doing at home is a cheatable assignment, which makes that in-class time so incredibly valuable,” said Elanna Dobbs, who teaches English at Edmond Memorial High School.
Friday, October 16, 2020
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
Ask the average citizen what they know about Epic Charter Schools, an online public K-12 school, and you’ll typically hear two responses. First, the school’s critics are vocal, fierce, and determined to shut down Epic, and second, the school is increasingly popular among parents.
Some will consider those two facts incompatible. Why would parents flock to a school that is constantly under fire from bureaucrats and teacher unions who regularly remind us they know better than the rest of us? The answer is simple. Because parents believe that Epic provides a better educational product than many local brick-and-mortar schools, particularly in the state’s urban centers. If Epic’s back-end business functions have been questioned by a flawed state audit that encouraged Epic to make inaccurate calculations, that’s of little concern to parents focused on the welfare of their child.
One parent of an Epic student, addressing members of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, put it bluntly: “A lot of the parents that are inside Epic think that brick-and-mortar schools are mad because they’ve had too many kids pulled from them and they’re losing too much money and they’re trying to get Epic shut down.”
Due in part to COVID-19 and the continued closure of many physical school sites, along with the bad-to-terrible online alternatives provided by local districts, families have flocked to Epic this year. The district now serves more than 61,000 students—all of whom proactively chose the school—making Epic Oklahoma’s largest school by enrollment.
The demand for Epic’s services shows parents desire parental school choice. Those who feel Epic has gained an outsized role are often people who oppose parental school choice. But if we truly care about parents and families having access to the school they believe best meets their student’s needs, we need to increase the length of the school-choice menu.
Lawmakers should provide families the ability to use their tax funding at any school of their choice. If a local district won’t provide in-person instruction, allow families to transfer to other districts or private schools without restriction or penalty. When a local district is failing to educate children, let families use tax dollars for private-school enrollment. When a district refuses to stop bullying, let a child choose from a wide range of online, charter, public, and private school options.
Consumer choice and competition generate improvement in all other fields. They can do the same thing in education. But right now many families have only two choices: the local traditional school or a statewide online charter school.
The great challenge in education today is not whether Epic used the proper accounting codes for administrative expenses (the main allegation contained in the flawed state audit), but the fact that tens of thousands of families have demonstrated a strong desire for a greater array of parental school choice options for their children.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Saturday, September 26, 2020
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
State House Democrats have asked Attorney General Mike Hunter for an opinion on whether it is legal to use federal funds to help low-income (and often minority) students attend private schools. Yet that question has been asked and answered—in the affirmative—repeatedly.
Earlier this year Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, providing hundreds of millions to state governments for COVID-19 response. Oklahoma education entities were among the recipients with public schools getting $160 million, state colleges—both public and private—getting another $159 million, and nearly $40 million placed in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.
Stitt designated $10 million in GEER funding for his “Stay in School” program. That program is expected to provide more than 1,500 Oklahoma families with up to $6,500 apiece for private-school tuition. That’s a bargain compared to roughly $9,200 apiece that would otherwise be spent educating those kids in public schools.
The beneficiaries of the “Stay in School” program will include homeless children, teens recovering from addiction through a “sober school,” and low-income minority children from the state’s urban core. Apparently, some House Democrats see that as a bad thing and are trying their best to now deprive those children of educational opportunity.
But Democrats are doing so based on a legal foundation that makes quicksand look like bedrock.
The section of the CARES Act governing GEER Funds states that governors are authorized to support not only local public schools but also any other “education-related entity” the governor “deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld government programs that allow children to attend private schools, declaring, “We have repeatedly held that the Establishment Clause is not offended when religious observers and organizations benefit from neutral government programs.”
Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a brief in one such recent U.S. Supreme Court case. Hunter said prohibitions on uses of state funds for religious purposes do not prohibit aid to students who then attend private religious schools.
Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court referenced Hunter’s brief in its ruling, and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) awarded its 2020 U.S. Supreme Court Best Brief Award to Hunter’s Solicitor General Unit for that brief.
Also, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has found that taxpayer funds can support students who attend private schools—and their ruling was unanimous.
Put simply, there is no question about the legality of the “Stay in School” program.
Even as the debate over “Stay in School” funding continues, federal CARES Act funds have gone to private colleges such as the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma City University. But Democrats have voiced no objection to supporting those private colleges with federal funds, only to using federal cash to aid some of the neediest children in Oklahoma.
Make of that what you will.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Thursday, September 17, 2020
|Protesters set up a guillotine outside the home of billionaire Jeff Bezos on June 28, 2020. A flyer promoting the march |
on Bezos's home called for an end to his "abuse and profiteering" and to "abolish the police, the prisons, and Amazon."
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Friday, September 4, 2020
In politics, as in retail, consumer demand drives product selection, only politicians offer policies rather than baked goods. So it’s notable that multiple speakers strongly advocated for school choice policies every night of the recent Republican National Convention.
That type of strong, vocal support only happens when politicians are certain a policy is both popular and beneficial, as several speakers demonstrated.
|Survey research consistently shows strong support |
for school choice among Oklahoma Republicans.
Sarah Hughes, whose eight-year-old son is a beneficiary of a Wisconsin school choice program, told national viewers her son “would have slipped through the cracks in public schools” but now has been provided the educational opportunity that will allow him “to succeed.”
Tera Myers, whose son has Down syndrome and is a beneficiary of an Ohio school-choice program, likewise noted her son says school choice “helped my dreams come true” and allowed him to become the “best I can be.”
Such stories are not outliers, nor are they isolated to places far from Oklahoma. Our state has seen dramatic success stories generated by school choice.
For example, in north Tulsa this year Crossover Preparatory Academy continued educating students through distance means when Tulsa Public Schools effectively threw in the towel, other than having online review of past content.
Many of the low-income, all-male and mostly minority students at Crossover Preparatory Academy in north Tulsa attend that private school because of a state tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.
The benefits of their private-school education can be seen by comparing those students to their socio-economic counterparts still in Tulsa Public Schools. A TPS official recently told the State Board of Education that district now expects that kids “who might otherwise have been predicted to be two years below grade level” are instead going to be “approximately three years below grade level.”
The kids at Crossover still have opportunities thanks to education, but many kids in TPS do not and will pay the price for years.
Former state Rep. Jason Nelson, who helped create a state program that pays for children with special needs to attend private schools, has reported some parents “have told me that it saved their child’s life.” That is not hyperbole. Oklahoma’s school-choice programs have served children with special needs, teens recovering from addiction, survivors of horrendous childhood abuse, and more. School-choice has not only changed lives but saved them.
As the nation grapples with issues of inequality, one of the best paths forward is to expand school choice in Oklahoma and elsewhere. As Donald Trump Jr. bluntly noted, if officials really want to “help minorities in underserved communities,” the best option is to “let parents choose what school is best for their kids.”
Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president, noted at the RNC that education “is the great equalizer.” He’s right. It’s time we give all students of all races and economic backgrounds a greater chance at success through school choice.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
In some Oklahoma school districts (Oklahoma City, Norman, and Owasso, for example), "teachers and other staff are allowed to bring their children to physical school sites and the district provides adult supervision of those pupils' on-site 'distance' learning," Ray Carter reports.
The special treatment given to the children of school staff has not gone unnoticed by other parents. But the perception of special treatment may be the least of the problems created by the program. Benjamin Lepak, a legal fellow at the 1889 Institute who previously provided counsel to 24 elected officials across three counties while working for a district attorney, said such arrangements appear to violate the Oklahoma Constitution.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
"School choice is not a magic wand that removes tradeoffs and hard choices," Greg Forster writes. "But it allows parents to make the tradeoffs that make sense to them."
Monday, August 31, 2020
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Friday, August 21, 2020
After having been at the bottom of the barrel, Oklahoma now ranks in the top 10 for bridge conditions, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration. That success is the result not of government, but primarily of private-sector forces. And similar improvements can be generated elsewhere by taking advantage of market forces and the benefits of competition.
In 2004, nearly 1,200 of Oklahoma’s 6,800 highway bridges were considered structurally deficient. Today, only 86 highway bridges are considered structurally deficient, and each is already scheduled for improvements through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year construction plan.
Increased funding was a component of that successful turnaround—but only one component. The more important factor was reliance on private-sector competition to generate improvement.
How? The state’s eight-year road plan has an equal emphasis on performance and outcomes, along with funding. Notably, ODOT uses state funds to pay private entities to perform the work. That’s not a minor detail.
ODOT’s contracts include bonus pay for high-performance and, on the flip side, the agency can and does fire contractors who don’t live up to expectations. Imagine that.
Thus, this is a “government success” built almost entirely on free-market competition and the superior service produced by the private sector. It’s a success that can be duplicated elsewhere.
Each year it is common for education advocates to call for the creation of an eight-year plan for schools. Yet those advocates typically want a plan focused only on increased funding, not increased funding tethered to increased reliance on competition and private-sector providers. But the road-and-bridge plan shows such competition is crucial.
If school funding were increased each year, with parents allowed to use their taxpayer dollars to choose a child’s school (public or private), we would quickly see improvement in education that matches the improvement in state bridges. When pay is tied to educational outcomes for children, providers quickly show they can provide better outcomes—knowing that if they don’t, bad providers will be let go.
Such choice is especially important now as many districts are ignoring the needs of children by telling parents they can go online-only or do without. Notably, in the urban areas where such take-it-or-leave-it edicts are coming from public schools, most private schools are finding a way to safely offer in-person instruction. Those private schools do so because their pay is tied to consumer needs, not bureaucrats’ wants.
There’s a reason Oklahoma’s eight-year plan for roads succeeded when the old Soviet Union’s five-year plans generated only misery. One relies on private-sector forces, while the other trusted government bureaucrats over market forces.
As Oklahomans rightly celebrate our top 10 ranking in roads, they have reason to note our continued low ranking elsewhere, including education, and then ask this question: Why not copy success?
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Voters were also asked about their view of homeschooling: “With COVID-19 forcing many parents to pursue home-based education solutions, would you say your opinion on homeschooling has become more or less favorable as a result of the coronavirus?”
- Much more favorable ... 31%
- Somewhat more favorable ... 26%
- Total more favorable ... 57%
- Somewhat less favorable ... 11%
- Much less favorable ... 15%
- Total less favorable ... 26%
- Unsure ... 18%
Friday, August 7, 2020
What if you paid for a service, were then told the service would not be provided, that you wouldn’t get your money back, and that you are now expected to pay for the same service again? That’s the reality facing parents in Oklahoma school districts that have refused to reopen physical sites and are instead mandating distance learning for all.
Through numerous taxes, Oklahomans have already paid for children’s education. But now they are being told they will pay for much of that service a second time, either directly or indirectly.
To cite one example, this week Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that $15 million in federal funding will be used to launch 30 community centers to serve roughly 4,200 children. The centers will have mental health professionals, social workers, virtual learning tools such as computers and iPads, meals and snacks, a weekend backpack program, and other programming to support families.
Put simply, Oklahoma is spending $15 million to provide many services that have already been funded through other taxes and would normally be provided in schools. Stitt’s plan is necessary only because some public schools refuse to reopen.
Families will directly pay additional costs due to continued school shutdown.
Many parents must work and now must also ensure their children’s safety while they are gone. Some will hire babysitters—another added cost of schooling. But many will not be able to afford that alternative, so some parents may have to quit a job to stay home with children. That’s a huge financial burden for many families and an insurmountable one for many single-parent households.
In some homes, older siblings will be left in charge of younger siblings, but that’s obviously not ideal and cause for concern.
Churches and other civic organizations will no doubt step up and provide places for children to stay that are safe. Once again, however, that requires spending additional money that will not go to other uses.
Officials at schools that are going online-only claim they want to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure, yet in many instances, parents will be forced to rely on alternatives that still involve large gatherings of children during the day, just in non-school settings.
As a result, the virtual-only model will do little to reduce potential COVID exposure among children, who are not very susceptible to the virus anyway, and the online-only model will increase the cost of education for families who can least afford to bear additional financial burdens.
This highlights the continued need for education choice in Oklahoma. Parents should be allowed to use their education tax dollars to send their children to the school of their choice. Otherwise, the cost of “free” public education will only continue to skyrocket as the service provided to parents declines.
Monday, August 3, 2020
“As you may know, Oklahoma’s school districts currently receive their funding based on the highest number of students they have served during any of the past three school years. This means that districts with shrinking enrollment are receiving funds for students they are not serving and that those with growing populations are getting less per student than they would otherwise. Would you favor or oppose legislation that funded schools based on the number of students they are serving during that particular school year?”
- Strongly Favor .......... 51%
- Somewhat Favor .......... 24%
- Somewhat Oppose .......... 7%
- Strongly Oppose .......... 12%
- Undecided .......... 6%
Friday, July 31, 2020
|Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell are pictured here outside the state Capitol with students and staff from Crossover Preparatory Academy after the State of the State address on February 3, 2020.|
Governor Kevin Stitt’s background as a businessman is often apparent in his understanding of financial realities that traditional politicians ignore. Hence, the governor’s willingness to save, rather than spend, much of last year’s budget surplus.
But Stitt’s “Stay in School” initiative highlights another benefit of his private-sector expertise: the governor’s understanding that Oklahoma cannot afford to squander human capital.
Stitt’s plan uses $10 million in federal COVID funding to help low-income families served by private schools. More than 1,500 Oklahoma families will be able to access $6,500 apiece to attend private schools.
Contrary to teacher-union wailing, Stitt isn’t “starving” public schools in the process. The $10 million is a small share of the state’s overall $360 million in federal funding designated for education response to COVID-19.
But even if that wasn’t the case, there’s good reason to praise Stitt’s bold leadership. A longstanding problem in Oklahoma (and nationwide) is the existence of a huge academic achievement gap between low-income students in the urban core and their counterparts from higher-income households.
That gap is often a canyon. To cite just one brutal example, just 22 male African American senior students finished Tulsa Public Schools college-ready in 2015, based on ACT testing. Not 22 percent, mind you, but 22 young men—period.
That gap exists not because those children are somehow incapable of learning, but because the system fails them. And experts agree the COVID shutdown last spring made things worse. Across Oklahoma, many schools effectively stopped teaching in March. Higher-income families could afford to offset that loss with private tutoring or the purchase of quality online programing, but lower-income students were often left to fend for themselves.
Often—but not always.
Some of Oklahoma’s private schools had stepped up to the plate long before anyone had heard of COVID. Crossover Preparatory Academy serves mostly working-class minority male students in grades six through nine in north Tulsa. Those students continued to learn even after public schools effectively shut down. So did homeless children served by Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City and the low-income, predominantly minority students served by Cristo Rey OKC Catholic High School.
Students at all three of those schools are expected to benefit from Stitt’s “Stay in School” initiative.
In contrast, many of Oklahoma’s urban schools are expected to remain closed and offer only online learning for at least nine weeks of this school year. An analysis by consultants at McKinsey and Company estimated that if in-class instruction does not resume until January 2021, low-income students will lose more than a full year of learning because of poor quality or non-existent online instruction.
The “COVID slide” has been called the “summer slide on steroids.” Stitt’s plan provides real hope to needy families who would otherwise be dragged down by that academic avalanche.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Friday, July 24, 2020
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Among other things, Stitt’s plan will boost online course offerings in rural schools, close the digital divide for low-income families by assisting with technology purchases, and provide scholarship assistance so low-income students who already attend private schools can continue doing so. ...
Stitt’s plan will use $30 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, authorized by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to pay for three new programs. GEER funds represent a portion of total federal COVID-19 funding provided to the state of Oklahoma and are controlled by the governor. Oklahoma received $360 million total in federal funding for Oklahoma’s public education systems to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, of which $39.9 million was directed to the GEER Fund.
Thirty million dollars will be divided between three new education initiatives: Learn Anywhere Oklahoma, Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, and Stay in School Funds.
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
"Espinoza buttresses the already favorable educational choice environment in Oklahoma," the Institute for Justice points out.
In Oliver v. Hofmeister, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a publicly funded scholarship program for students with disabilities under the state’s Blaine Amendment because the program was neutral toward religion and the aid was for the child. Espinoza reinforces that Oklahoma is free to enact any type of generally available educational choice program its policymakers believe will best serve the state’s students.
Friday, June 26, 2020
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Saturday, June 6, 2020
|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.|
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
[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
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
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
Rep. Jacob Rosecrants is fighting hard against school choice in Oklahoma— Corey A. DeAngelis (@DeAngelisCorey) May 13, 2020
But I just found out he attended a private school
Why doesn't he want others to have similar options?🤔
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Friday, May 8, 2020
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Friday, May 1, 2020
The assault on lives, livelihoods, and medical needs of Oklahomans by governments’ response to COVID-19 is going to require bold reforms to reverse the damage. Lawmakers should enact several polices as a result.
First, any regulations waived to deal with COVID-19 should stay repealed. The state is functioning without those regulations and lives and livelihoods have been saved.
Oklahoma government is receiving more than $1 billion in federal funding to recover. As the federal government provides more flexibility, these funds should be used for a mix of purposes, including offsetting of state revenue shortfalls, financing of some strategic projects, and facilitating pro-growth reforms.
Pro-growth tax reform is desperately needed. With two “black swan” events underway—the collapse of the oil and gas industry and COVID-19—Oklahoma must now position itself to diversify with new businesses, preserve existing businesses, and attract business from other states.
It’s time to eliminate the wildly volatile corporate income tax, adopt a revenue-neutral plan to phase-out the personal income tax, and adjust the tax code to protect the most vulnerable from tax increases. That will provide a more stable revenue system for state government and foster job creation and economic diversification.
Lawmakers should use part of federal aid to reform the teacher’s retirement system. Strengthening state finances and pensions and giving teachers an asset that travels with them (that can benefit them and their families) can be accomplished by enrolling all new teachers in a robust defined-contribution plan, duplicating the similar successful reform done for other new state employees. This will also help with recruitment since today’s employees are extremely mobile and change jobs throughout their lives.
Policymakers should provide permanent and full expensing for new investments in machinery and equipment, allow faster depreciation deductions, and foster crowdfunding infrastructure to provide more capital to small businesses. Businesses are going to need maximum flexibility to rebuild.
Legislators should delay collection of business property taxes until at least Oct. 1, 2020 and remove the experience rating on unemployment-insurance tax rates related to COVID-19.
In health care, lawmakers need to protect patients from surprise medical bills by requiring advance notice of costs. They need to protect doctors by placing caps on noneconomic damages in the Oklahoma Constitution. And they need to protect the truly needy already on Medicaid and taxpayers by rejecting any sort of Medicaid expansion. The state already faces a $1.3 billion shortfall.
To build the workforce of tomorrow, lawmakers should support tax-credit scholarship programs that increase K-12 educational opportunity and scrutinize tuition rates so colleges focus on productive teaching.
The government response to COVID-19 has done severe damage to Oklahoma citizens’ lives. But lawmakers have the chance to change that trajectory and put Oklahoma back on the path of vitality—if they embrace needed reforms.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Although methodological limitations prevent scholars from drawing a causal connection between homeschooling and the largely positive outcomes identified in the literature, the research on the outcomes of those who homeschool, whether the result of homeschooling itself or other unobservable characteristics of families who homeschool such as greater parental involvement, shows positive academic outcomes for participants.
Saturday, April 25, 2020
The OSDE administrative complaint details what investigators say they found on Holland’s phone. The following statements are quoted directly from the affidavit, which says investigators found:
- Numerous nude photographs of Nathan to include what appears to be him in the school locker room;
- Videos of himself sitting at a desk in a school classroom with an erection; ...
- Nathan also has a photo that shows a female student with scissors pressed against her neck assumedly held by Nathan;
- There are multiple videos and pictures of school-aged girls on Nathan’s phone, some in the locker room and others appear to be at school, inside a residence or in a vehicle.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
A previous article focused on actual content being delivered through the many different distance/continuous learning programs put in place by local school districts. Some are simply asking students to review previously presented material, while others are more aggressively assigning lessons that would effectively complete the fourth quarter for kids from kindergarten through high school, although most schools are not grading the students’ work.
But the key question – are most if not all students actually linked to their schools and doing the assigned work? – yields different answers depending on where it is asked. It appears that in some schools 10 percent or more of high school students are off the learning grid, at least initially, and that figure could increase as the school year winds to a close.
So far though, Oklahoma does not appear to be as bad as some other states.
A survey conducted during the first weeks of distance learning nationwide showed that up to 40 percent of secondary school students who were supposed to be enrolled and active in the programs were no-shows. When Common Sense Media polled 849 teens, 41 percent of them said they had not attended even one online class. When responding students were limited to those in public schools, the no-shows rose to 47 percent.
In Los Angeles, a newspaper investigation revealed that some 15,000 high school students were not taking part in that district’s online program, while as many as 40,000 had failed to maintain daily contact with teachers. A New York Times investigation showed that online attendance was worst in districts with high shares of low-income families and in rural areas.
Cleveland’s school district reported an initial 60 percent participation rate, but that had risen to 87 percent after the first week of online classes.
Yet another random survey, of 5,659 teachers via the social media app Fishbowl, showed that 55 percent of those teachers reported that half or more of their students were not connecting to remote classes. More than one-third of them said attendance was 25 percent or less. Only 17 percent reported 75 percent or more student participation.
So how are we doing in Oklahoma? Again, it depends on where you ask the question. As might be expected, districts with high concentrations of low-income families are less likely to have internet connections and a parent at home to direct the work, with resulting poor participation in distance learning programs.
There are bright spots. In Enid, district spokesperson Amber Fitzgerald said all students already had district-provided Chromebooks and assured wi-fi hotspots.
“We had a very successful first week,” Fitzgerald said.
Mary Ladd, speaking for Ponca City Schools, said she could not estimate participation rates but felt they were high.
“We had a lot of students down here for their packets,” she said, noting that the line to pick up hard copies of class assignments stretched “more than two blocks. It was unbelievable.”
Dawn Jones at Moore Schools said teachers used the week before remote learning began to assure that all junior high and high school students had access to computers and an internet connection.
Tulsa Public Schools, with 39,105 students the largest in the state, has directed many of its online students to the Canvas learning platform. District spokesperson Lauren Partain said 14,321 students were using Canvas as of April 13, about 40 percent of those enrolled, but she noted that “some schools use Spark or Summit learning management systems, and are not included in Canvas users.”
Other students are “only engaging with teachers via phone, due to internet accessibility,” Partain said. She said the district has now distributed more than 40,000 hard copy learning packets in the first two weeks of distance learning.
Oklahoma City Public Schools assigned teachers to make initial phone or email contacts with all of their students, according to district spokesperson Beth Harrison. That yielded an 89 percent contact rate, she said.
As the continuous learning program began, elementary teachers were instructed to touch base with students twice a week, while secondary teachers, with a higher student count, were asked to make one weekly contact.
Harrison said the district’s continuous learning website logged 132,783 visitors between April 6 and 16. The district has distributed 50,814 paper lesson packets and had 296 calls to a hotline created for students needing assistance.
At Putnam City Schools, spokesperson Sheradee Hurst said the initial day of the continuous learning program logged 35,512 website views for the district of just under 20,000 students.
“Putnam City is actively surveying to ascertain numbers of student/teacher connections,” Hurst said. “Our survey is still in progress. Partial results show district numbers averaging 95 percent.”
It is too early to accurately track how many students – primarily at the secondary level – may be disconnecting from their home district’s learning and lesson resources, either online or in paper format, but according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, during a normal school year, one out of four high school seniors who entered four years before as freshmen fail to graduate. That means that even in good times, significant percentages of students in the upper grades drop out of school. One suspects that as the continuous learning programs continue through May, more of those students who were prone to drop out will discontinue contact with schools and teachers, bringing the Oklahoma non-participation rate more in line with those being reported in some other states.
It is also to be expected that districts with inner-city student populations will see a higher disconnect rate, just as they experience higher dropout rates during normal school years.