“I’ve been optimistic this session that state leaders would live up to their public statements in support of public education and increased teacher pay. That optimism is quickly fading. We need bold leadership now.
Legislators and state leaders need to quit having press conferences, stay off social media, quit wasting time and get in a room together to work out a budget that’s best for Oklahoma. We can’t afford another year of stop-gap budget measures that fail to stop the bleeding. Just last night, school boards across the state cut millions from their budgets that will leave children with fewer educational opportunities. This is no way to run a state.
All of the plans introduced for votes to date fall woefully short of what Oklahoma needs to return to stable financial ground. The final budget must:
· Include $1 billion in recurring revenue;
· Have minimum common education and career technology appropriation levels at least equal to the initial FY17 budget and also covers the state’s required payment for teacher health insurance; and
· Include additional funding for a multi-year teacher pay raise so Oklahoma schools can compete with our surrounding states and the private sector for the best and brightest teachers.
Oklahomans are counting on real solutions to the state’s budget challenges. Don’t let our children down.”
OSSBA issued a trio of legislative alerts today on several key bills that are in committee next week. You can read more about each bill and find contact information for the respective committees in the emails below:
Reading Sufficiency Act (third-grade reading bill/retention) and mandatory grading policies: Read the alert
Proposed changes to ad valorem tax code: Read the alert
Charter schools, bond issues & district property: Read the alert
You can see all OSSBA alerts, legislative updates and tracking lists here.
Climbing class sizes and shrinking educational opportunities will become more widespread for Oklahoma students next year if state funding for schools continues its unpredictable decline, according to a new survey.
The survey from the associations representing school administrators and school board members asked school districts the effect of potential budget cuts for next school year. The survey, completed by districts representing more than two-thirds of Oklahoma’s public school enrollment, found:
Oklahoma invests less in public schools per student than nearly every state in the nation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Leaders of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association are urging legislative leaders not to let education funding fall even further behind.
Education leaders also want assurance that if lawmakers agree on a teacher pay raise plan, it will be based on additional appropriations and won’t be paid for by supplanting current funding. That counterproductive scenario would require districts to make cuts elsewhere in their budgets and likely reduce teaching staff.
“The bottom-line effect of budget cuts and financial uncertainty is obvious: We’re leaving students behind,” said Shawn Hime, OSSBA’s executive director. “Many current and prospective teachers are leaving the state and profession because of low pay, growing class sizes and lack of classroom resources. Tight budgets are forcing schools to cut programs that we know are good for students. This path isn’t sustainable if our state truly values education as the foundation of our state’s economic future and the key to lifting Oklahoma families out of poverty.”
CCOSA Executive Director Pam Deering said she speaks daily with superintendents desperately seeking hope as they plan for next year without solid budget information.
“We understand our state’s legislative leaders are in an incredibly difficult situation and have competing priorities,” Deering said. “Funding education must be our state’s top priority. We continue to put the future of our students at risk with cuts, and we’re eager to work with legislators so schools can make decisions in the best of interests of students.”
Education appropriations are down $110.4 million since the start of last school year, including $69.1 million to date this school year. During that time, enrollment has increased, leaving schools with about $160 less per student.
Since 2009, state appropriation cuts to schools have totaled over $1 billion and Oklahoma has about 2,050 fewer certified educators while enrollment has increased by more than 39,000 students. Even with fewer educators, the state Education Department has issued 1,154 emergency teaching certificates – a record number — to fill vacancies among a historic teacher shortage.
Districts also were asked about how they are addressing current-year budget cuts. They reported:
Districts have worked with cities to reduce utility costs, pursued public-private partnerships, assigned janitorial duties to teachers and administrators, shifted costs to the building fund, outsourced child nutrition and other administrative services, relied on digital curriculum resources and hired retired teachers at reduced rates. Twelve districts are sharing superintendents.
More districts are weighing employee furloughs, and the number of districts that may pursue a reduction in force also may increase.
“We’re forced to do more with less, but that isn’t something to brag about,” said Colcord Superintendent Bud Simmons, noting his district’s state funding has dropped nearly $1 million since 2009. He’s also doubling as elementary school principal. “It’s unacceptable, and we must invest in our students.”
Statement from Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, regarding the state board of education’s approval of a Norman charter school:
“I am extremely disappointed that the state Board of Education blatantly ignored state law and the valid concerns of state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister in approving the LeMonde International Charter School application.
Norman Public Schools had identified 12 areas where the application fell short of charter school legal requirements. Furthermore, the state board unilaterally changed the opening date for the school, which the law doesn’t allow.
In voting to deny the charter school’s appeal, Hofmeister voiced strong concerns about the school’s ability to be successful and particularly to hire well-prepared teachers for a specialized program during a historic teacher shortage. She also questioned the state Education Department’s ability to oversee and support the charter amid continuing budget cuts.
This marks the second time the state Board of Education has approved a charter school appeal without close attention to whether the application complied with state law. In a letter to state board members earlier this month, OSSBA outlined its concerns with the board’s recent approval of a Seminole charter school. In both cases, the board did not dutifully address the reasons for denial or whether the application met the charter school law requirements.
The board needs to stop overturning valid decisions of local school boards and stop approving charter schools based on personal preferences while ignoring state law. The law is designed to ensure proposed charter schools are capable of providing a high-quality education for students. Failing to follow the law puts students and their education at risk.”
The state’s only online library of digital content teaching resources aligned to Oklahoma academic standards has expanded to include new resources and tools for elementary and middle school teachers.
The Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources, which first launched in August with resources for 10 high school courses, is an innovative, collaborative and cost-saving effort to help schools leverage technology to improve student achievement. It contains free and low-cost, high-quality content digital resources and tools for teachers and families to meet students’ individual academic needs at all grade levels in English language arts, math, science and social studies.
“Schools have left behind the one-size-fits-all approach to education,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which created and maintains the library. “As schools leverage technology to create individualized academic experiences for students, teachers need easy access to high-quality digital resources that are aligned to our state’s academic standards. The Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources helps fill that gap.”
More than 100 Oklahoma school districts already have one-to-one technology initiatives to make sure every student has a device, according to a state Education Department survey conducted last year. That number is expected to double over the next two years.
OSSBA launched the Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources in collaboration with Apple and with the support of corporate partners Express Personnel Services, American Fidelity and the Oklahoma Publishing Company/Anschutz Foundation. The library is housed in iTunes U and can also be accessed at www.okdigitalresources.com. All of the resources are accessible on any internet-connected device, including non-Apple devices.
More than 100 Oklahoma teachers have worked with OSSBA over the last year to collect the resources and match them with Oklahoma’s academic standards. The high school courses include algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, English 1, English 2, biology, chemistry, personal finance, Oklahoma history and United States history. Digital content resources are now available for grades prek-8 in math, English/Language Arts, science, and social studies.
OSSBA plans to expand the library again in August with resources for additional high school courses.
Statement from Shawn Hime, OSSBA executive director:
“I appreciate the Senate for not moving forward with a divisive bill that distracts from the most important issues facing Oklahoma’s nearly 700,000 public school students: a historic teacher shortage and severe budget cuts. I’m confident that a collective focus among legislative, business and education leaders and parents will help bring us closer to ensuring every child has a high-quality teacher in a classroom with the resources necessary to ensure a rich, full educational experience.”
A proposed law to establish a voucher program in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties could divert available funding for Oklahoma public schools by as much as $30 million next year and $1.6 billion over the next decade, according a projected financial analysis from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
This week, the Senate Education Committee passed an amended version of Senate Bill 560 by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. The bill calls for vouchers to be made available to as many as 6,900 new students each year for the next decade, at which time the cap on the number of participating students would be eliminated.
SB 560 would establish a sliding scale for the value of the voucher dependent on the family income of the voucher recipient. The average annual amount of the voucher would range from $1,473 to $4,419 per recipient, according to the analysis. The analysis, which also includes a district-level breakdown of the potential cost, assumes state aid appropriations to schools and enrollment remain at 2016-2017 levels.
Standridge told committee members his intent was to protect rural schools from funding loss. However, because the bill funds voucher students before state aid is distributed to public schools, it would reduce available funding for all Oklahoma school districts.
“The bottom line is that vouchers are a funding cut for public schools and will result in fewer resources with which to serve the nearly 700,000 children in public schools,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said. “It’s unbelievable that in a time of severe budget cuts for public schools that legislators would seriously consider diverting money from public schools to private schools with virtually no accountability for taxpayer dollars.”
Schools have sustained millions of dollars in budget cuts the last few years. This week, the state’s declaration of a revenue failure and a shortfall in the House Bill 1017 fund has resulted in $50.2 million in budget cuts.
To cope with cuts, a historic teacher shortage and growing enrollment, districts have hired a record number of emergency certified teachers, eliminated administrative positions, increased class sizes, reduced course offerings and extracurricular activities and resorted to four-day school weeks. Oklahoma has nearly 1,500 fewer teachers compared to 2010 despite having 39,000 more students, according to preliminary data from the state Education Department presented to legislators last month.
The bill contains no limits on how the voucher money could be spent. Instead, it would leave the decision on what qualifies as an eligible voucher expense to the state Board of Education. Public schools must code and track every penny received and must comply with myriad mandates on how money must be spent, including a cap on administrative costs.
Also of concern, Hime said, is that the bill requires no reporting on the academic achievement on students who receive vouchers.
“Oklahoma’s children need lawmakers to focus on a long-term funding plan for education so every student is taught by a highly qualified teacher who has the resources available to provide the best possible education for every child,” Hime said. “It’s time to stop creating unnecessary and harmful distractions and work together to quit shortchanging our children.”
Statement from OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime regarding the revenue certification at today’s Board of Equalization meeting:
“Today’s budget news caps what has been an extraordinarily difficult budget year for schools. The need for a long-term funding plan for public education isn’t just a wish-list item — it’s an absolute necessity that should be a top priority item when the legislature reconvenes in February.
“Just last week, Oklahoma surpassed last year’s record for emergency teacher certifications. Class sizes are growing, and educational opportunities for children are shrinking. A teacher pay raise is badly needed to keep our great teachers in the state and in the profession and to attract new teachers to the profession.
“State leaders have a tough session ahead of them, and I look forward to working with them to develop a long-term education funding plan to ensure schools have the resources needed to provide all students the high-quality education they deserve.”