Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nelson Comments on AG Opinion Regarding On-site Educational Services for Children in Mental Health Treatment

Nelson discussing status of resolving on-site educational services issue with
parents, providers and advocates at the Capitol earlier this month
OKLAHOMA CITY (May 20, 2016) – State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement today regarding the release yesterday of Attorney General Opinion 2016-4, which was issued in response to a request for an opinion by Nelson in December about the legality of Oklahoma City Public School's refusal to provide on-site educational services to children receiving treatment for severe mental illnesses at day treatment or partial hospitalization program facilities, which precludes attendance at school by the children. State law requires school districts to provide a minimum of three hours of on-site educational services per day and other related educational services to children in mental health treatment programs. Oklahoma City Public Schools is currently refusing to provide such services.

“This opinion is a big victory for children suffering from mental illness. The Oklahoma Constitution guarantees the right to an education for every child. State law protects children from being forced to choose between receiving treatment for mental illness and receiving an education. Oklahoma City Public Schools has willfully and systematically denied hundreds, if not thousands, of children the benefit of these laws for at least the past decade.

“Oklahoma City administrators and board members have been confronted several times over the District’s refusal to provide on-site educational services to children in a partial hospitalization program located inside the district boundaries, which is clearly required by law. I’ve personally discussed my concerns with District officials and have so far been ignored — with the former district superintendent storming out of a meeting when confronted.

"The opinion describes current state law as ‘plainly and unambiguously’ establishing residency for these children and by extension the responsibility of Oklahoma City Public Schools to educate these kids and describes as ‘nonsensical’ a key argument by the district as the basis for not doing so.

“I have asked the state Department of Education and the Attorney General to take aggressive action to immediately correct the harmful and illegal actions of Oklahoma City Public Schools and to hold accountable all administrators and board members who are responsible for or who have willfully ignored this massive, ongoing civil rights violation.

“District board member Bob Hammock misled the public in a November op ed writing, "It is a source of great pride for me that public schools accept all kids. We educate every child, from gifted pupils to children with learning, physical and often severe emotional disabilities." This is certainly not true in his district.

“District administrators and board members must be held accountable for their discrimination against these children. This district has a history of allegations of violating the civil rights of children. Unfortunately, the type of attitude and behavior that has resulted in federal civil rights investigations continues.

“I requested the opinion after Oklahoma City Public schools last June stopped providing on-site educational services to children receiving treatment at Positive Changes, a local mental health services provider.

“The district is also currently refusing to provide on-site educational services in at least two other treatment facilities located within the district’s boundaries. Former district superintendent Rob Neu bragged in a meeting that the district was providing an education to children at only one facility. Oklahoma City Public schools is not the only school district in the state that has at some point refused to serve vulnerable students in similar circumstances.

“With the clarity provided by this strong legal opinion I expect this type of hostility toward this group of kids to cease.”

(Note: Two new laws authored by Nelson and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin this legislative session are a result of his efforts to address issues he's discovered while helping these children and their families.)

Related news stories:

12/3/15 Health advocacy group files discrimination complaint with state agency against Oklahoma City school district

12/22/15 Attorney general is asked to rule on OKC school district program

12/17/15 AG Opinion Request Regarding On-Site Educational Services

5/13/16 National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrates passage of Oklahoma legislation

5/21/16 Oklahoma's attorney general says the Oklahoma City school district must provide services to kids getting mental health treatment

5/19/16 AG Opinion Regarding On-Site Educational Services for Children in Mental Health Treatment Programs



Sunday, March 20, 2016

4 percent is not enough


By way of Team McCoy-Daddy's page on Facebook. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Status of the New Okahoma Academic Standards

I'm excited the new academic standards for English language arts and mathematics were developed for Oklahoma students by Oklahomans. I support approval of the new standards during this legislative session. This is not inconsistent with the need to make some improvements first. 

The main goal of House Bill 3399 in 2014, was to repeal the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to put the responsibility for Oklahoma's academic standards back in the hands of Oklahomans and to put academic experts in Oklahoma together to write new English and math standards. 

I'm grateful that so many educators gave so much of their time to create the new standards. This was the first time that experts in Oklahoma from common education, career and technology education and higher education  came together to develop academic standards.

Some have suggested I've held myself out as an expert on academic standards because I have an opinion. The truth is, I've never held myself out as an expert on much of anything. However, regarding the new academic standards, I have read what experts in Oklahoma have to say and from this I have formed an opinion. 

From virtually everything I've read, the new standards are an improvement over our current standards. But a review and comparison of the new standards and the CCSS by experts at the University of Oklahoma suggests that some improvements may be warranted. 

The law passed two years ago calling for the creation of new standards also required the State Board of Education to provide a comparison of the new standards to the the CCSS. (70 O.S. § 11-103.6a (G.1))

The South Central Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma which is funded by the United States Department of Education was chosen by the state Board of Education to develop the comparison. The comparison was sent to state Supt. Joy Hofmeister on January 25, 2016. It was then provided, along with the new standards, to legislators on February 1, 2016, and posted on the state Department of Education's website.

The comparison indicates that the new academic standards are an improvement over Oklahoma's current standards and the CCSS. That said, the comparison does mention a few needed improvements. 

On page 7 of the comparison, in analyzing the progression and coherence of the English language arts standards for pre-K through fourth grade, it states there is an "assumption that the complexity of texts increases as students advance to later Grades." I have been told by knowledgeable educators in Oklahoma that this should not be left to assumption.

Supt. Hofmeister has stated that exemplars were not included in the new English standards because the law prohibited text exemplars. This is not true. The law does say "reading lists" shall be determined by school districts. However, the law doesn't prohibit exemplars which are not considered a reading list by practice or by law.

On page 15, the comparison states both the new standards and Common Core, "Would benefit from minor revisions (Including some confusing terminology) to enhance clarity and coherence and to balance rigor with developmental appropriateness." Specifically regarding the new standards, the report points out that the new math standards, "Do not explain relationship between standards and objectives."

Also on the new standards, the comparison mentions the following:

On page 17, regarding the general analysis of the rigor of the new math standards, "Level of rigor is not consistent across grade bands."

On page 18, "While the content expresses intent to find a balance between rigor and developmental appropriateness, this is not always accomplished."

On page 18, "the default minimum could leave students unprepared for later learning."

On page 18, "Some standards and objectives lack rigor, which could limit potential of students."

On page 20, "Verbs are used to clarify the level of rigor expected at each grade level with similar content; occasionally, the verbs for one Grade seem lower level than the verb used in the prior Grade or course."

On page 21, "The standards convey a unified vision of mathematics and attempt to show the connections between number sense & operations, algebraic thinking & algebra, geometry & measurement, and data & probability. For the most part, this attempt is successful; however, there are a few examples provided below where the connections are unclear. In these cases, the disconnectedness creates a feeling of 'piecey-ness' of the standards and their objectives, as well as between standards within a grade level and across grade levels within a grade band. Occasionally, objectives of the standards are duplicative. Although it appears that choices have been made about what content is most important at each grade level, an introductory statement for each grade level would make this more explicit."

Pages 21-22, "Some objectives seem duplicative or overlapping, which will likely cause some confusion … same task of sorting in both with potentially different levels of student performance expected."

Page 22, "Some objectives do not link directly to their associated standard, but rather indicate skills leading up to the standard."

Page 24, "Ancillary documents, such as expanded glossaries, examples, counterexamples, and philosophical statements about the connections between standards and objectives, would improve the clarity of the standards themselves."

Page 24, "Some standards and objectives use words and phrasing that may lead to imprecise mathematical terminology ... . Some standards and objectives will require additional explanation and support for teachers to understand the depth of student performance expected."

Page 25, "Some standards and objectives will require additional explanation of terminology and/or expectations for student performance."

Page 25, "Some standards and objectives use words and phrasing that may lead to imprecise mathematical terminology or understanding."

Page 26, "Some standards and objectives could be more meaningful to classroom instruction if the focus were on formative and/or classroom level assessments."

Page 28, "Similar objectives within the same Grade may cause confusion on the level of student performance expected."

These are a few of the issues I believe should be reviewed by the state Board of Education and addressed before the standards are finally approved and fully implemented. 

It is my understanding that these changes could be made within a few days to a few weeks and returned to the Legislature for final approval this session. It is difficult to understand why anyone would oppose making these improvements before final approval and implementation. 

Some have criticized the Legislature for not acting on the standards sooner. The state Board of Education was required by law to begin the process of developing the new standards in June, 2014. (70 O.S. § 11-103.6a (B.2)). The Board did not begin until March, 2015. The Legislature received the new standards February 1, 2016, the first day of session, due to the 10 month delay. 

If the Board had followed the timeline set by the Legislature, the new standards would have been ready for review by everyone 10 months earlier. The Legislature would have had ample time to consider the new standards and act on them much earlier this session. 

I understand from conversations with some of the experts involved in writing the standards and the development of the comparison that some of these improvements have already been made. There is no reason of which I'm aware that these improvements could not be completed and the standards approved during this session. To not  do so would be to let up just before the finish line. 


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Childhood Cancer Research Measure Passes First of Many Votes

Childhood Cancer Research Measure Passes First of Many Votes: A proposed amendment to the State Constitution setting aside funds for childhood cancer research passed the House Rules Committee February 1...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bipartisan Autism Insurance Reform Bill Heads to Full House

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bipartisan measure authored by more than 30 House Republicans and Democrats that would require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children cleared a House committee today.

House Bill 2962, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would require a health benefit plan offered in Oklahoma to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of an autism spectrum disorder in children. The bill would limit the yearly maximum benefit to $25,000, but would place no limits on number of visits.

“I am pleased that many families are one step closer to receiving the same benefits from their health insurance policies that parents of children who suffer from very similar disorders currently receive,” said Rep. Nelson, R-Oklahoma City “I’m grateful that we were granted a hearing in committee and that the many supporters of this important bill have the opportunity to continue working for its passage this year. We certainly recognize the sincere concern held by many members of the Insurance Committee regarding the potential cost. We have pledged to work with insurance companies, families, physicians and therapists to find ways to address the concerns about cost and still provide a meaningful benefit to children.”

The Legislature last considered an autism insurance reform bill in 2008. Nelson said since then 43 states have implemented some form of reform to health plans to provide treatment for autism disorders.

“Seven or eight years ago, we were one of only a handful of states that were considering this issue, and there simply wasn’t enough claims data available for the Legislature to accurately gauge how much the reform would cost,” said Nelson. “Now there are only a handful of states that have not enacted some form of autism insurance reform, and there is plenty of information available to help us determine what the cost impact would be if we were to move forward.”   

House Bill 2962 passed out of the House Insurance Committee by a vote of 6-4 and now heads to the full House for consideration.

Authors of HB2962:

Rep. Jason Nelson - R
Sen. A.J. Griffin - R
Rep. Lee Denney - R
Rep. Chris Kannady - R
Rep. Jason Dunnington - D
Rep. Katie Henke - R
Rep. John Montgomery - R
Rep. Mike Brown - D
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel - D
Rep. Steve Kouplen - D
Rep. Ben Sherrer - D
Rep. Ed Cannaday - D
Rep. Dennis Casey - R
Rep. Bobby Cleveland - R
Rep. Donnie Condit - D
Rep. Marian Cooksey - R
Rep. Claudia Griffith - D
Rep. Elise Hall - R
Rep. Scott Inman - D
Rep. Dan Kirby - R
Rep. James Lockhart - D
Rep. Mark McBride - R
Rep. Casey Murdock - R
Rep. Pat Ownbey - R
Rep. David Perryman - D
Rep. Dustin Roberts - R
Rep. Wade Rousselot - D
Rep. Mike Shelton - D
Rep. Shane Stone - D
Rep. Steve Vaughn - R
Rep. Emily Virgin - D
Rep. Kevin Wallace - R
Sen. Randy Bass - D
Sen. Larry Boggs - R
Sen. Roger Thompson - R


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rep. Nelson Praises Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Ruling

OKLAHOMA CITY –State Rep. Jason Nelson issued the following statement after the Oklahoma Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act in 2010 does not violate Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, also referred to as Blaine Amendment. Rep. Nelson was the House author of House Bill 3393 that created the scholarships in 2010.

“I’m relieved and excited for the students and families who now have certainty about the program. I know that they have worried that they would wake up to learn that the law had been struck down but they don’t need to worry any longer. The nearly six year old question has been answered.

“We have always known that we are on the right side of the law, and this ruling today confirms what we have always believed. It is a wonderful program that hurts no one but one that has changed lives for the better. Some parents have told me that it saved their child’s life. They’ve told me that their children were bullied without mercy at school and nothing was being done to stop it. Some of them even feared their children would take their life as a result.

“I am very grateful for the many people who have supported this policy and also those who fought for it in court. In particular, I am grateful to former Governor Brad Henry, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick, Assistant Solicitor General Sara Greenwald and my colleague Senator Patrick Anderson, along with a host of associations and organizations who helped along the way. Finally, I am certainly thankful for the justices of our Supreme Court for their faithfulness to the Constitution in their decision today.”

Pruitt Successfully Defends Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Case

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program, overturning a district court ruling that held that the program violated Oklahoma's Constitution.

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Act established a scholarship fund for parents of disabled children to receive scholarship money to send their children to a private K-12 school. The scholarships must be used at one of more than 50 participating schools, some of which, but not all, are religious. 

“I have always contended that the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program is constitutional, and with the decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, parents of students with disabilities will once again be empowered to seek educational opportunities to help their students learn and succeed,” Attorney General Pruitt said. “The Court’s decision was appropriate to ensure that parents in Oklahoma are given the opportunity to choose a school for their children based on the educational needs of their child, a decision that I firmly believe should be made by parents, and not bureaucrats. I hope that today's ruling, the second time that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected these attacks on the program, will finally put an end to these shameful attacks on a wonderful program.”

Click here for a copy of the Court's opinion. Click here for a copy of the concurring opinion.

Fallin Issues Statement in Response to Oklahoma Supreme Court RulingUpholding Scholarship Program

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today issued this statement after the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act, which is a scholarship program intended to provide educational options for children with disabilities who live within the state:

“This program saves money for the public school system, while benefiting children with special needs by allowing them to select the educational options that best suits them. This is a victory for students with disabilities across our state and for their families. This also is a victory for education in Oklahoma. All students learn differently, so each of them should have the opportunity to attend a school that offers the best environment for success. This can be accomplished through Education Savings Accounts, which I encourage legislators to approve this session, while still protecting school finances.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Despite age restriction, pot use by kids increases in Colorado

Youth past month marijuana use in Colorado increased 20 percent compared to the two year average prior to legalization according to a new report: "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact."

Nationally youth past month marijuana use declined 4 percent during the same time.

Colorado youth ranked #1 in the nation for past month marijuana use. 


The Colorado law passed two years ago permits adults 21 years of age or older to posses one ounce of marijuana or THC.

Link to report: http://www.rmhidta.org/html/FINAL%20NSDUH%20Results-%20Jan%202016%20Release.pdf

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cimarron County, Schools Make Case for Ad Valorem Fix

OKLAHOMA CITY – Cimarron County has more than twice the land owned by the Commissioners of the Land Office than any other county in Oklahoma, participants noted in a legislative study today.

A large portion of that approximately 225,000 acres provides funding for several of Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, according to Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office Harry Birdwell. There is a total of 236,000 acres in land owned by the state in Cimarron County, according to county officials.

State Rep. Casey Murdock said he requested the study to provide his colleagues with insight into how that land lowers the amount of ad valorem taxes available to Cimarron County and its school districts. There is also a significant negative impact on the local millage rate and bonding capacities of the school districts and county.

“For the cash-strapped school districts in that county, ad valorem tax revenues are a big deal,” said Murdock, R-Felt. “The residents and county and school officials of Cimarron County would like to see some way for them to recover that lost money. After working with the Commissioners of Land Office, I think we have several ideas, but have not yet fully vetted them.”

It is unlikely that the Commissioners for Land Office could simply remit the money lost, because of laws regarding how they operate their trusts. Other states have dealt with the issue though.

“Any solution we choose would not just be for Cimarron County, but we are using them as our example because the impact is so much higher there,” Murdock said. “We have to explore if some of the options we are discussing meet state constitutional standards, but if they do, we will pursue them in the upcoming legislative session.”

Although the Commissioners of Land Office provides revenues for schools and higher education, not all institutions receive funds equally, according to Birdwell. The agency owns 224,993 acres, of which 62,801 acres are set aside for school districts.

###

Additional information:
The three counties containing the greatest proportion of CLO land are Cimarron County (19.78% of the county is CLO land), Pawnee County (7.07%) and Kay County (6.4%), according to the CLO Real Estate Division)
CLO distributes to school districts based on their average daily attendance, a figure provided to them by the state education department
The estimated impact of CLO on Cimarron County includes about $72,897 in ad valorem taxes, a reduced bonding capacity of about 20 percent and reduced millage rates


Rep. Mark McCullough Will Not Seek Re-election

OKLAHOMA CITY –State Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa, District 30) announced his intention to not seek re-election in 2016 and to retire from the House of Representatives after serving out the remainder of his current term. District 30 includes the communities of Sapulpa, Glenpool, Kiefer, Mounds, Liberty, Oak Ridge and Bixby.


“It has been the honor of a lifetime to represent the area where I grew up and where my family is from. I am very humbled that my friends and neighbors saw fit to allow me to serve them in the Legislature these ten years. I am grateful.” McCullough said.

McCullough entered the Legislature in 2006, winning a highly competitive election, and again in 2008 in another very competitive election year. He faced token opposition in 2010 and ran unopposed in the last two elections. 

Reflecting on his motivation for running for office, and now choosing to leave after his current term is up, McCullough stated: “The Lord put it on my heart to run for office, and now I believe He’s telling me its ok to step away. There will always be another battle to fight at the Capitol, and I’ve fought my share – and maybe a few more,” he added with a grin. “I’ve tried to be a good steward with my time in office, and now it’s time for the people of District 30 to begin the process of choosing who that new steward should be.”

When asked to comment about the impending legislative session and what he might do after leaving office he stated: “It’s definitely the budget. We are really in the hole this year, and I imagine most of my time will be spent on that.” I’m going to work until the bell, though, that’s how my parents taught me. After next November? Just keep practicing law and be a husband and dad. My family was very patient to share me with the state for a while and now I just want to try and spend more time with them.”

McCullough has been in solo law practice in Sapulpa for nine years where he focuses on Probate and Estate Planning. He is assisted in his practice by his highly effective legal secretary, office manager, and wife of 17 years, Charlotte McCullough. His son Everett is in sixth grade at Sapulpa Middle School and his son Clayton is in fourth grade at Freedom Elementary.

While in the Legislature, Rep. McCullough was involved in several major policy initiatives including pension reform, lawsuit reform, criminal justice reform, improvements in Medicaid and perhaps most significantly, worker’s compensation reform.

McCullough was an early – and sometimes lonely – voice in the Legislature for comprehensive worker’s compensation reform, ultimately being asked to serve on the House legislative team responsible for writing and guiding the final reform bill through in 2013.

When asked to reflect on that experience, he said, “Years back, I’d get asked to speak at worker’s comp conferences as the ‘other guy.’ I’d speak on the huge problems facing our system and the possibility of switching to a modern administrative system. I remember having the trial lawyers in the back of the room snicker loudly and otherwise express a lot of hostility.” He continued: “Well, a few of us never quit studying and preparing, so we had all the elements ready to go “off the shelf” when leadership decided to run the bill. And now we finally have a model administrative system based on best practices. A system that I believe is serving our workers much better than the old adversarial one, and is sending insurance premium rates through the floor, which helps businesses stay competitive – just like we thought it would.” 

In addition to policy work, McCullough has also served as Chairman of Judiciary Appropriations and Budget Committee for the last several years where he is responsible for evaluating and meeting the budget needs for several state entities including the Courts, the District Attorneys and the Attorney General’s office. He also serves on the full Appropriations and Budget Committee, and as such is on the Budget Team, where he has focused the bulk of his time and efforts in the Legislature the last few years. 

“The budget is a jealous and fickle mistress.” McCullough said. “It takes a ton of time and you don’t know which way it’s going to toss you at any given moment during session. You have to keep a lot of Alka Seltzer handy. The yearly budget is a big, very real, fight between competing priorities – with well represented advocates. One positive aspect of earning a spot on the Budget Team has been the opportunity to strongly advocate – year after year  – for the Common Education budget: either for a bigger slice of the pie or a lesser cut if times were tough. When it comes to the eight schools districts in District 30, it has always been an easy choice of what to fight for.”

Finally, Rep. McCullough has had a career long focus on the importance of preserving the traditional, nuclear family. “I just sensed early on that this was something that the Lord wanted me to focus on, and the message is this: The family is desperately important, especially to the well being of children. All the research tells us, the Scriptures tell us and common sense tells us that kids do better with mom and dad. We shouldn’t vilify single parents, we should help them, but we should do everything we can to keep couples healthily, happily married.”

McCullough held numerous studies on this issue of family fragmentation and its negative effects on society, its costs to government and how to prevent it. He also held press conferences raising awareness of the issue and ran several bills aimed at chipping away at the problem. One major success came two years ago when, working with Rep. Jason Nelson and many others, a bill passed bringing the first substantive change in Oklahoma’s divorce laws since the late 1950s. The bill required a statewide, pre-divorce class that included topics such as substance abuse, co-parenting, domestic violence and potential reconciliation. The bill was based on Tulsa District Court’s highly successful model.

McCullough went on to state that this accomplishment, like every major achievement in the Legislature, was a team effort, requiring seriousness of purpose and a focus on eternal principals. “If you hang around me down at the Capitol very long, you’ll hear a few saying bounce around the office with some regularity: 1) There is no “I” in Team, 2) I take the job seriously… but I hope I don’t take myself too seriously, and 3) If its not about God, what are we doing here?” He concluded: “I’m not the best Christian sometimes. Just ask the people that have to work with me. We all need Christ’s grace. But I do sincerely attempt to seek the Lord in all that I do in this job, while trying to weave Biblical principles into every bill and every transaction over which I have influence. And I pray in some small way, that has made a difference.”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fallin Names Former Oklahoma First Assistant AG as Special Adviser on Child Welfare and Pinnacle Plan Implementation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced she has named Tom Bates, who was a longtime assistant in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, as her special adviser on child welfare and Pinnacle Plan implementation.

Bates served 15 years in the attorney general’s office, mostly recently from 2012-14 as first assistant to Attorney General Scott Pruitt. His responsibilities included overseeing the more than 90 civil and criminal attorneys and 40 agents employed by the attorney general's office.

As the governor’s special adviser, Bates will primarily be responsible for overseeing implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) ongoing effort to reform the state's child welfare operations.

“Tom is knowledgeable about the Pinnacle Plan and the legal process surrounding the plan,” said Fallin. “I look forward to having his expertise on this priority issue and to ensure the Pinnacle Plan is being implemented effectively.”

Bates joined the attorney general's office in 1999. While there, he litigated and prosecuted a number of high profile cases. He served the office as Don't Call Registry administrator, lead assistant attorney general for consumer protection litigation, chief of the multicounty grand jury unit, chief of the public protection unit, and as first assistant.

"Having worked with Tom in his previous capacity in the attorney general's office, I am excited that he will be working with us on the Pinnacle Plan,” said DHS Director Ed Lake. “We appreciate Governor Fallin selecting high-quality appointments to fill the role of special adviser and we know Tom will bring valuable perspective and experience to our efforts."

A native Oklahoman, Bates graduated from U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, and earned a bachelor’s degree and his juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University.

Bates is an active member of Putnam City United Methodist Church and has served the congregation in a variety of leadership roles. He is a graduate of Leadership Bethany and has served on the board of directors for the Bethany Chamber of Commerce. He is also a graduate of the Oklahoma Bar Association's leadership academy and Leadership Oklahoma Class 28.

He and his wife, Kellye, have been married for 26 years. They have two sons, Andy and Billy, who are both students at the University of Central Oklahoma.

More about the Pinnacle Plan

The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan is a five-year improvement plan for the state’s foster care system. The plan was developed in 2012 as a result of a settlement agreement in a class-action, civil rights lawsuit. DHS agreed to make improvements in several key areas of the foster care system including increasing the recruitment of foster homes, reducing the use of emergency shelters, and lowering workloads for child welfare specialists.

In recent months, DHS has announced the closing of its two state-run emergency children’s shelters, child welfare workers have greatly reduced the number of backlog cases, and the department and its contract foster care agencies have recruited hundreds of new foster homes. DHS has increased in-home services to families in an effort to keep children out of state custody and worked to help children reunite with their families or reach adoption faster. Thanks to these efforts, the numbers of children in care has been steadily dropping which is positively impacting all the goals in the Pinnacle Plan.



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Lawmakers to Study Student Data Privacy Issues

OKLAHOMA CITY –The House Common Education Committee will hold an interim study this week on privacy issues related to student data.

The study will be held on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, from 9:00 a.m. to noon in room 412C of the state Capitol.

The study will explore the competing interests surrounding the collection and use of student information in public schools. The study will provide a broad overview of the many areas of consideration as the Legislature seeks to strike an appropriate balance between the need for student data for legitimate educational purposes and the need to protect student privacy through responsible limits on the nature and use of student information.

"This interim study is only the beginning of a thoughtful effort to draft important student privacy legislation for consideration during the next legislative session," said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who requested the interim study. "From now through next session while work on this legislation continues I will be meeting with organizations and individuals interested in this issue. It is important that all sides are heard."

The interim study is open to the public. The study will be streamed live through the Oklahoma House of Representatives website,www.okhouse.gov. A link to a recording of the study will be posted on the website later in the day after the conclusion of the study.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fallin: Workplace Silence Leads to Violence

By: Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Verizon President Kristi Crum

Domestic violence affects one in four women. Sadly, Oklahoma is ranked sixth in the nation in the number of women murdered by men. This epidemic affects people of all demographics and communities, extending from the home to the workplace.

Statistics like these are why the state of Oklahoma and Verizon have participated in raising awareness on these issues year after year in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Oklahoma recently dropped from third to sixth in the national ranking, but domestic violence is still prevalent. Employers, including both the state of Oklahoma and Verizon, have a very real stake in protecting their employees from this scourge. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the annual cost of lost productivity in the workplace from domestic violence at more than $7 million. More than 74 percent of employed battered women were harassed by their partner while at work. The side effects of domestic violence in the workplace alone translate to 8 million days of paid work lost each year.

Everyone can help change the current path of domestic violence in the workplace by simply discussing domestic violence among coworkers, friends and family. Businesses should be encouraged to recognize signs of domestic violence, have programs in place or partner with an advocate agency for resources.

The governor has named October “Domestic Violence Awareness” month in Oklahoma, and October 8 will be “Wear Purple Day” to raise awareness for domestic violence victims. All Oklahomans are invited to not only wear purple on that day, but to talk about the issue with friends and coworkers.

For Verizon, preventing domestic violence is a cause that hits close to home. The company lost three employees this year due to domestic violence.

It’s important that we have resources for victims. That is why Verizon created its HopeLine program long ago. HopeLine puts Verizon technology and its substantial wireless network resources to work in communities by collecting no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories, from any carrier, and repurposing them as a safe line for victims.

Since HopeLine was founded in 2001, Verizon has distributed more than 190,000 phones with more than 543 million free wireless minutes and 298 million texts as a safe backup to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, Verizon has awarded more than $29 million in grants to domestic violence agencies and organizations throughout the country, several of which are here in Oklahoma.

For the month of October, please consider participating in promoting awareness in your workplace by donating used cell phones and accessories to one of the multiple HopeLine drives. Contact your local district attorney or domestic violence agency to learn more about resources for victims or to view a screening of Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary that details the life of a Verizon employee who was killed as she tried to leave her abusive relationship.

Mary Fallin is the Governor of Oklahoma and Kristi Crum is the president of Verizon Oklahoma

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

House Committee Unanimously Agrees to Advance Bill Lessening National Teacher Shortage Impact on Oklahoma Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Business, Labor & Retirement Laws Committee today unanimously voted to send to the state actuary for review a plan to help reduce the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma classrooms. House Bill 1061, authored by Rep. Randy McDaniel, will allow school districts to pay up to $18,000 annually to teachers for the first 36 months after they begin collecting their retirement benefits.

“I am pleased that the members of the committee were willing to discuss this idea and debate its merits,” said McDaniel, R-Edmond, chairman of the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. “All but one other state is currently dealing with a teacher shortage which is exacerbated by the retirement of many of our best and most experienced educators.”

The current annual salary cap for retired teachers in Oklahoma is $15,000 for the first three years. House Republican leaders said they hope the additional $3,000 might allow recently retired teachers to return to the classroom or encourage other teachers who are considering retirement to keep teaching while receiving their retirement benefit and up to $18,000 in salary for three years.

“We have reduced unfunded liabilities in OTRS by more than $6 billion during the past six years, and we continue to prove our commitment to education by proposing ideas to strengthen our system and improve educational outcomes for Oklahoma students,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “This plan builds on the commitment we made to retired teachers, while also keeping or bringing back quality, experienced educators to Oklahoma classrooms.”

The Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAA) prohibits the Legislature from passing measures that increase the unfunded liabilities of the state’s public pension system. OPLAA requires an independent analysis of pension bills by the state’s contracted actuary. If the actuary determines that the legislation will increase liabilities, OPLAA requires the proposal to be concurrently funded with additional resources, instead of raiding the principal of the retirement funds as had been done prior to 2004 when Republicans gained a majority in the Oklahoma House.

After 36 months, there is no cap on what a retired educator can be paid while also receiving pension earnings. The state-contracted actuary must now review HB1061 to determine if it will increase liabilities to the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS). Under the proposal, in order to offset the negative fiscal impact to OTRS of raising the cap by $3,000, the employer contribution rate would be increased from 9.5 percent to 11 percent for retirees who are rehired.

“Our goal is to provide an incentive to keep our best teachers in the classroom and bring some of our retired teachers back, while keeping costs low for our schools,” McDaniel said. “We believe this is another way to deal with the national shortage without harming the financial strength and security of the OTRS, which House Republicans have worked hard to improve during the last decade.”

The committee also approved an amendment today to the measure that would include higher education employees in the actuarial study.

“Our teachers retirement system is stronger than it has been in decades,” Hickman said. “The strength of OTRS today and our ability to perhaps adjust this cap is primarily because of the reform efforts of House Republicans.”

The return-to-work issue was a major point of discussion last session and numerous bills were filed on the topic. Most of those differently designed bills either greatly increased the income cap or removed the cap altogether, but McDaniel said they were not considered by his committee because of their adverse fiscal impact to the retirement system for Oklahoma’s teachers.

McDaniel said the actuary should have his review completed by the end of the year, allowing the Legislature time to consider the bill during the 2016 legislative session.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

House Republicans Offer Plan to Reduce Impact of National Teacher Shortage on Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Business, Labor & Retirement Laws Committee will consider sending a plan to help reduce the statewide teacher shortage to the state’s actuary for analysis when they meet at the state Capitol tomorrow. The plan developed by Republican leaders in the House provides an additional $3,000 incentive for retired educators to return to teaching.

“Like every state except Pennsylvania, Oklahoma faces a significant teacher shortage,” said Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond, chairman of the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. “Demographics are impacting the situation causing record numbers of the most experienced teachers to retire. We want to provide an additional incentive for valued teachers to stay in the classroom, but the plan must also be affordable. Continuing our commitment to improving the financial strength and security of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System remains a core priority.”

Under current law, a teacher who retires from the public school system may earn up to $15,000 from a school or school district during the first 36 months after retirement and still receive full retirement benefits from the state. After 36 months, teachers may earn an unlimited amount from a school or school district without a reduction in OTRS benefits.

McDaniel is the author of House Bill 1061, which will increase the maximum amount that a retired teacher may earn during the first three years after retirement from $15,000 to $18,000. In order to offset the negative fiscal impact to OTRS of raising the cap by $3,000, the employer contribution rate will be increased from 9.5 percent to 11 percent for retirees who are rehired.

After Republicans took over the majority in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2004, they pushed for the enactment of the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAA), which prohibits the Legislature from passing measures that increase the unfunded liabilities of the state’s public pension system. OPLAA requires an independent analysis of pension bills by the state’s contracted actuary. If the actuary determines that the legislation will increase liabilities, OPLAA requires the proposal to be concurrently funded with additional resources, instead of raiding the principal of the retirement funds as had been done prior to 2004.

“Through conservative reforms, House Republicans have led the way in stabilizing OTRS, reducing unfunded liabilities by more than $6 billion,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “With the tremendous progress we have made, we must be careful to ensure future policy changes are paid for, so not to increase unfunded liabilities and jeopardize the long-term health of our teachers’ retirement system. Our plan maintains that commitment to our retired teachers while also looking at all fiscally prudent options to improve our education system and help address the impact of the national teacher shortage on classrooms in Oklahoma.”

The return-to-work issue was a major point of discussion last session and numerous bills were filed on the topic. Most of those bills either greatly increased the income cap or removed the cap altogether, but McDaniel said they were not considered by his committee because of their adverse fiscal impact to the retirement system for Oklahoma’s teachers. The Business, Labor & Retirement Laws Committee meets at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow in Room 432A at the state Capitol.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Speaker Appoints McCall Revenue and Taxation Chairman

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman appointed Rep. Charles McCall to serve as the chairman of the House Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation.

Rep. McCall previously served as vice-chairman of the subcommittee under late Rep. David Dank, who passed away in April. McCall has a strong background in banking and finance, currently serving as CEO and Board Chairman of AmeriState Bank in Atoka.

“Rep. McCall has the experience, knowledge and temperament to succeed as chair of this important House committee,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “As we continue to review tax incentives and credits, and discuss reforms to our tax system, and particularly as we work through these challenging economic times for our state, I feel fortunate to have a Revenue and Tax chairman with Rep. McCall’s financial expertise.”

“I am very thankful that Speaker Hickman has trusted me to lead this committee,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Rep. Dank gave this committee his full attention, and he served with distinction. I plan on doing the same, and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues as we develop policies that will move our state forward and make all Oklahomans more prosperous.”

McCall also currently serves as a member of the House Appropriations & Budget Standing Committee, the Banking & Financial Services Committee and the Economic Development, Commerce & Real Estate Committee.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hofmeister fills three leadership posts at OSDE

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 27, 2015) -- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced the fulfillment of two leadership positions today, the same day the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved the hiring of a new board attorney.

David L. Kinney was named general counsel for the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), and Phil Bacharach advanced to chief of communications and public affairs for the OSDE. Brad Clark was named general counsel to the State Board of Education.

“David, Phil and Brad are exceptional leaders devoted to the advancement of education in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said. “They are true specialists in their professions, and with their expertise, we have an opportunity to make great strides in improving the lives of Oklahoma schoolchildren.”

Kinney takes over the position after serving 13 years as an assistant attorney general in the state’s general counsel section. There, he was responsible for advising boards and agencies on a wide variety of subjects, including open records, administrative procedures, contracts and personnel issues. In addition to representing the OSDE, he has also represented the Office of State Finance, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission and the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System.

Kinney spent 6 years as assistant general counsel for the Oklahoma Tax Commission. He holds a law degree from the University of Oklahoma, and is an Oklahoma certified public accountant. He grew up in Cashion and resides in Norman.

Bacharach has served as the executive director of communications at the OSDE since 2013. The award-winning journalist has more than 25 years of experience in news, communications and public relations, including leadership positions at Oklahoma Gazette and KWTV Channel 9.

In addition to serving as director of corporate communications for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bacharach was deputy press secretary for Gov. Frank Keating and press secretary for his successor, Gov. Brad Henry. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.

Clark served as general counsel and director of legal services and policy at the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) and previously dedicated nearly 5 years at the OSDE, working in the legal services division and as special assistant to then-state superintendent Sandy Garrett. While at OSDE, Clark focused on Oklahoma’s education policies, laws and regulations, and government contracting. Clark is originally from Oklahoma City and now resides in Midwest City.

"The OPSRC team is extremely proud of Brad's accomplishments, and we look forward to continue collaborating with him through the OSDE," said Brent Bushey, OPSRC executive director. "I know Brad will use his talents to the benefit of both the OSDE and public education in Oklahoma as a whole."

Clark received his law degree from Oklahoma City University. He is a board member for various local foundations and state boards, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Oklahoma Community Service Commission.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

State Reps address national teacher shortage, ACT pilot program

OKLAHOMA CITY –House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House Republican education leaders called for a more cooperative approach to address the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma school districts. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) announced results Monday of their survey of the impact in Oklahoma of a challenge most schools across the U.S. continue to face: finding enough certified teachers to fill classrooms across the country.

The OSSBA survey showed approximately 1,000 teaching jobs still open in Oklahoma because school districts are unable to find qualified applicants. The situation is not unlike most other states, many of which have higher costs of living than Oklahoma and pay teachers higher salaries than the mandated minimum wage for Oklahoma teachers. State lawmakers said they remain ready to work together creatively with school districts here to meet the needs of Oklahoma students.

“Significant signing bonuses might very well have helped our school districts fill those 1,000 teaching jobs this summer and it is still an idea worth exploring by the state superintendent,” said Hickman (R-Fairview). “Last week, paying for the ACT test for all 11th grade students was a higher priority than our teacher shortage. I believe the state superintendent should reconsider the priorities and allocate the $1.5 million in excess funding she said she received in this year’s state budget to provide a $1,500 signing bonus for those 1,000 Oklahoma classrooms in need of teachers.”

An announcement last week by the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction of a new state program to spend $1.5 million for all 11th grade students to take the ACT exam while new state education standards are still in development and when the state faces a potential budget shortage as low oil prices impact the Oklahoma economy met questions from many House Republican legislators.

Approximately 75 percent of Oklahoma high school students already register on their own to take the ACT before graduation and ACT offers financial assistance to students who may not be able to afford the roughly $40 cost for the exam.

Lawmakers now have more questions about why that $1.5 million would be directed to start a new state program when it could be used as an incentive to help with the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma schools.

“I understand that we want more college graduates, but we need to make sure we have the teachers to ensure our children receive the education needed to succeed in college,” said Rep. Dennis Casey (R-Morrison), a former teacher and school superintendent who is now vice chairman of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee. “A test doesn’t do that but an incentive to hire more teachers just might.”

House legislative leaders also expressed their desire to develop a long-term solution to teacher compensation in Oklahoma by looking at reallocating the billions of dollars the state now spends on public schools.

Despite the false rhetoric of political education groups recently claiming Oklahoma schools faced greater cuts than other states, revenue for Oklahoma’s pre-K through 12th grade schools was greater than ever for the 2013-14 school year, almost $5.5 billion dollars. Examining expenditures and reprioritizing how the taxpayers’ dollars are spent by school districts could be the quickest way to boost classroom teacher salaries in Oklahoma.

“Our teachers need competitive wages,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid), a member of the House Education Committee. “The 33 percent increase in the number of non-teaching staff members in Oklahoma schools from Fiscal Year 1992 to FY2013 when our enrollment grew by 14 percent and the number of teachers only grew by 11 percent is concerning at the least and merits a legislative review. If the growth of non-teaching staff had even been equal to the 14 percent increase in the number of students, it would mean roughly $294 million dollars would be available annually to significantly raise the salaries of our classroom teachers. These are dollars that could have addressed teacher compensation but instead the education lobbyists would have everyone believe that the legislature is the only group responsible for being efficient with state tax dollars when we should all share in that responsibility.”

House education leaders said they believe there is a way to find solutions to the teacher shortage and increase compensation for Oklahoma classroom teachers, but it will require new approaches and a willingness by the education lobbying groups, like OSSBA, to work with lawmakers instead of continuing their partisan attacks.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Speaker Hickman Comments on New Program to Pay for ACT in State Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman released the following statement in response to Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s announcement of a new state program to pay for all Oklahoma school districts to provide the ACT test to 11th grade students:

“Only in the past week did legislators learn of the state superintendent’s plan to spend $1.5 million on a new program to pay for all 11th grade students to take the ACT test. I and many members of the House of Representatives have expressed numerous times that the first priority must be the completion of new academic standards for our schools and submission of those new standards to the Legislature as soon as possible. Adoption of our new academic standards should be the starting point to the discussion and future decisions on state testing, not the other way around.

“Last session, the House developed House Bill 2088 which would have reduced state-mandated tests and protected the standards development process by ensuring adoption of certain standards before making any further testing decisions. This position has not changed. This new state program announced today takes another instruction day for testing and adds another test, which is contrary to the direction we hoped to take with House Bill 2088.

“With the continued pressure on state revenues from the decline in oil prices and the layoffs of thousands of Oklahomans, every education dollar should be spent to support the classroom, ensuring Oklahoma students are college and career ready. While the goals of this new state program are noble, we have numerous challenges facing us within our existing education programs on which we must stay focused.”

See also: STATEMENT: Rep. Nelson Comments on ACT Pilot Program

STATEMENT: Rep. Nelson Comments on ACT Pilot Program

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement today regarding an Oklahoma State Department of Education press release announcing a pilot program that will pay for ACT testing for as many as 22,000 juniors:

“I’ve always believed that financial savings could be found within existing education programs. That Superintendent Hofmeister has identified a surplus of $1.5 million proves this. But how she proposes to spend this extra money signals a shift in her priorities and a lack of appreciation for the looming revenue challenges the state is likely going to face next year.

“There are important existing programs like the Reading Sufficiency Act where this money could be better spent. School districts have been requesting more money to help cover the cost of reading programs to help ensure third graders can read well enough to be successful when entering the fourth grade.

“To my knowledge, the State Department of Education never requested funds for a voluntary pilot program to pay for college entrance tests for high school students— many of whom may not even be planning to attend college. School districts may have more pressing needs where these limited resources could be better used to enhance student learning.

“The most recent numbers I’m aware of show that seventy-five percent of Oklahoma high school students already take the ACT college entrance exam. Starting a new pilot program to do something that is largely already happening is not the highest priority facing education in Oklahoma.

“That the Department was able to identify a surplus of $1.5 million with which to begin a new pilot program is surprising considering the state superintendent expressed ‘severe disappointment’ over the level of appropriations to education last session. 

“I certainly think, as a general rule, that education funds are best allocated through the state per pupil funding formula to follow students to their local school districts and student choice programs. If there are savings to be found in the state’s testing program it would seem to make sense to push that money to the students through the formula.

“In February, Superintendent Hofmeister seemed to agree when she talked about strategies to achieve ‘an increase in classroom instruction and a reduction of time spent testing.’ She said, the ‘savings of time and resources could be redirected for support of higher student achievement.’

“Everyone agrees that learning happens when students and teachers are engaged in the classroom.

“There was a discussion during the last legislative session about replacing the current high school end of instruction exams, or EOIs, with the Iowa Basic or ACT exams but the decision was made to wait until the new standards for English language arts and math are adopted early next year. The new standards should be adopted before the State Department of Education establishes a new program on student testing. 

See also: Speaker Hickman Comments on New Program to Pay for ACT in State Schools 
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