Tuesday, July 15, 2014

OK Supreme Court Says Common Core Repeal Law is Constitutional

Sen. Josh Brecheen, Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick and
Rep. Jason Nelson
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement on the State Supreme Court's decision today that House Bill 3399 that repealed Common Core is constitutional. Following a public hearing this morning, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a "Memorandum Opinion" this afternoon confirming the constitutionality of HB 3399. In its brief opinion the court stated, "HB 3399 is not unconstitutional under either art. 13, §5 or art. 4, §1 of the Oklahoma Constitution." Nelson was the House co-author of House Bill 3399.

"The Supreme Court made the right decision today. I thought the justices asked great questions hitting all the salient points during the hearing this morning and I felt good about our case after the hearing. The arguments in favor of the constitutionality of the law are strong and left little doubt that the decision would be favorable. 

“I've believed from the beginning that this legal challenge was baseless and have said so since it was filed. The legal arguments against House Bill 3399 were thoroughly researched by the authors and determined to be baseless when the National Association of State School Boards, an out-of-state organization supporting the national implementation of the Common Core State Standards, first raised them in March. 

“I'm grateful to Attorney General Scott Pruitt and his staff, specifically Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick and Assistant Solicitor General Cara Rodriguez, for their outstanding legal defense of this legislative action. I'm also grateful to those individuals and organizations who voluntarily offered their perspectives to the Court by filing legal briefs in defense of the law. 

“The confusion caused by this lawsuit has been unfortunate as educators around the state have been busy preparing for the next school year, which is weeks away. The Court’s opinion today removes any uncertainty. Based on the many educators I know personally, I have no doubt that Oklahoma’s teachers are more than capable of making the necessary adjustments and will be more than ready when children, mine included, begin showing up after the summer break.”

State Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, Senate author of House Bill 3399, issued the following statement:

“The Court’s ruling today upholding the constitutionality of House Bill 3399 is a win for students, parents and teachers.  

“Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick masterfully relayed to the Court that the Board of Education, through Article 13, is given the authority to supervise instruction, emphasizing they may do so ‘as prescribed by law,’ akin to the way a construction project manager supervises an architect’s blueprints.  

“Today, the Court upheld HB 3399 on the grounds that the legislature can send the proposed new standards back with instructions to the board. HB 3399 will allow the board much more input into the education of Oklahoma’s children than the 2010 Common Core legislation did.  

“Further, one of the Justices correctly pointed out, that the authors of Oklahoma’s Constitution were concerned about the potential for abuse by non-elected, unaccountable appointees of the Executive branch, and so ensured the will of the people would be upheld through legislative oversight, which is exactly what HB 3399 will allow concerning education in our state.”

State Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, issued the following statement:

“I am pleased with today’s opinion in favor of House Bill 3399. The Oklahoma Constitution is abundantly clear in granting the Legislature the authority contained in HB 3399. The lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs is a textbook example of a “frivolous” lawsuit. I look forward to working further with Senator Brecheen, Representative Nelson and other like- minded conservative legislators in returning Oklahoma education to Oklahomans.”

Governor Mary Fallin issued the following statement: 

“Today the Supreme Court ruled that House Bill 3399, which repeals Common Core and directs the state of Oklahoma to develop new academic standards, is constitutional in its entirety. This bill has now been passed with large legislative majorities, signed by the governor, and reviewed by the courts. It is now time for parents, teachers, school administrators and lawmakers to work cooperatively to implement this law. We need all parties working together to ensure that Oklahoma's new standards are rigorous and can be realistically integrated into the classroom. Working together, I know that we can design Oklahoma standards that live up to a level of excellence our parents and students expect and deserve."

Related post: Lawsuit filed challenging Common Core repeal, Nelson responds

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Children the focus of many approved interim studies

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL — Ninety-three separate interim studies were requested by state representatives this year. House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved eighty-three studies this week. Sixty-one separate studies are available to be scheduled between August 5 and November 12 because twenty-two of the approved studies were combined with similar studies. Ten requests were not approved. 

One-third of the approved studies will address issues related to children. Studies of the repeal of the Common Core State Standards earlier this year and the potential benefits of medical marijuana for children are among the 28 studies approved that concern children. Below is a list of these interim studies:

Related to adoption and foster care: 
  • 14-047 requested by Rep. Ann Coody was combined with 14-054 seeks to explore “Reuniting foster children with biological families and other possible solutions in seeking their optimal welfare” including “the best possible solution in finding a permanent home environment for foster children.” 
  • 14-048 requested by Rep. Ann Coody will study “the necessity of an additional background check for certified educators who work in DHS before- and after-school programs.” Assigned to the Common Education Committee. 
  • 14-054 requested by Reps. Sean Roberts and Wade Rousselot will consider reforms to the state’s adoption laws. Assigned to the Human Services Committee.

Related to child trafficking and sexual abuse:
  • 14-014 requested by Rep. Lee Denney will examine Erin’s Law, a “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Education” program. Assigned to the Human Services Committee. 
  • 14-055 requested by Rep. Sean Roberts will study child trafficking by studying “ways to combat the crime of human trafficking and identifying services available to victims.” Assigned to the Public Safety Committee.

Related to Common Core and academic standards:
  • 14-049 requested by Rep. Ann Coody will consider the question, “After Common Core – what next? A study of the possible solutions in developing and implementing rigorous educational standards for Oklahoma’s students.” Assigned to the House Common Education Committee. 
  • 14-059 requested by Rep. Ann Coody was combined with 14-049 and will explore the “impact of HB3399 on Oklahoma’s schools and steps which should be taken to mitigate the concerns of Oklahoma’s schools, administrators, teachers and students.  Costs and process for writing new standards.” 
  • 14-064 requested by Rep. David Brumbaugh was combined with 14-049 and seeks to study “Common Ed testing.” 
  • 14-076 requested by Rep. Jadine Nollan will study “The Transferability of High School Credits between Schools and its Effects on Student Graduation. The study would examine the standards and procedures for which public high schools accept transfer credits, as many transfer students fail to graduate on time due to insufficient credits.  A review of the different graduation credit requirements by school district should be included in the study.” Assigned to the Common Education Committee. 
  • 14-092 requested by Reps. Joe Dorman, Donnie Condit, Curtis McDaniel and Dustin Roberts was combined with 14-049 and seeks to study “Education Standards, Assessments and Testing” including “Developing Age-appropriate Oklahoma Standards, Reviewing Standards Associated with Common Core, NCLB, and other Programs; What is Necessary to keep NCLB Waiver.”

Related to student testing: 
  • 14-025 requested by Rep. Leslie Osborn was combined with 14-049 will study state and federal student testing policies. Specific issues to be reviewed include: “duplicative testing, testing alignment status, costs, use of tests to evaluate teacher effectiveness, testing special ed students, test results as a true criterion result, possible other testing options to meet career & academic guidelines, testing vendors and accountability on the product.” 
  • 14-068 requested by Rep. Ann Coody will study “Proper Transition from K-12 to Higher Education / Career Technology” including “End of Instruction Exams” and “Alabama’s Experiment with ACT Aspire.” Assigned to the Higher Education Committee. 
  • 14-070 requested by Rep. Jadine Nollan will study the “Implications of High-Stakes Testing for Students with Learning Disabilities. The study would address the most significant risks posed by high-stakes for students with learning disabilities, as well as the barriers to success on high-stakes testing for students with learning disabilities.” Assigned to the Common Education Committee.

Related to education funding:
  • 14-004 requested by Rep. Dan Fisher will study “Funding for schools that find themselves surrounded by federal property and thus have their tax base greatly reduced and suffer from reduced operating funds to no fault of their own. We would like to add the 12 districts / schools that are affected by this issue at a later date.” Assigned to the Appropriations and Budget Committee. 
  • 14-067 requested by Rep. Ann Coody will study the “State Funding Formula Weights for Special Education. What state/federal legal hurdles stand in the way of necessary data collection? How would Oklahoma update its school funding formula for special education weighting?” Assigned to the Appropriations and Budget Committee. 
  • 14-089 requested by Reps. Joe Dorman, Donnie Condit, Curtis McDaniel and Dustin Roberts was combined with 14-004 and seeks to study “Education Funding for Per Pupil Spending and Adequate Resources for Classrooms.” 

Related to schools:
  • 14-016 requested by Rep. Lee Denney will explore the future of K8 school districts. Assigned to the Common Education Committee. 
  • 14-069 requested by Rep. Ann Coody will study the “Effectiveness of Oklahoma’s Public Charter Schools” and “What effective strategies are taking place in Oklahoma’s public charter schools that can be replicated in the k-12 setting?” Assigned to the Common Education Committee.

Related to student support: 
  • 14-071 requested by Rep. Emily Virgin will study “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and CareerTech.” Assigned to the Higher Education Committee.

Related to teachers:
  • 14-046 requested by Rep. Ann Coody will explore preparing teachers and prospective teachers to recognize symptoms of dyslexia in students including the “role of higher education teacher preparation programs and professional development.” Assigned to the Common Education Committee.

Related to health:
  • 14-043 requested by Rep. Dan Kirby will consider the “benefits of Athletic trainer required at youth sporting events in Oklahoma.” Assigned to the Public Health Committee. 
  • 14-063 requested by Rep. Jon Echols will study “Allowing medical trials in the state of Oklahoma for the use of non-intoxicating CBD Oil for severe seizure disorders in children.” Assigned to the Public Health Committee.  
  • 14-085 requested by Rep. Todd Thomsen was combined with 14-063 and seeks to study “Medical Marijuana for Children. The study would take a narrow look at the medical use of marijuana in childhood disorder; seizures, etc. Included would be experts in the field, parents, law enforcement, and pediatricians.”  
  • 14-091 requested by Rep. Joe Dorman was combined with 14-063 and seeks to study “Medical Treatments for Children with Seizures & Regulation of Experimental Medicines.”

Related to Marriage and Families:
  • 14-012 requested by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel was combined with 14-023. Rep. McDaniel seeks to “examine the cost and benefit to the state and its citizens concerning the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.”  
  • 14-023 requested by Reps. Mark McCullough, Lee Denney, Jason Nelson and Jadine Nollan will examine “Effective Interventions for the Potential Negative Impacts on Learning in Children from Single Parent, Divorced and Dysfunctional Homes.” Combined with 14-012 and assigned to the Human Services Committee.

Related to juvenile justice: 
  • 14-065 requested by Rep. Todd Thomsen will study “Juvenile offender rehabilitation programs and incarceration options with low recidivism rates. The goal is to take a long term view of where we are currently in dealing with Juvenile offenders and evaluate effective options to be considered for the future.” 
  • 14-075 requested by Reps. Seneca Scott and Kevin Matthews was combined with 14-065 and will explore “Ongoing data collection in Juvenile Justice and effective use of research and evaluation findings.” The study will “Gather and analyze data to document system problems and identify potential solutions based on available research regarding what may and may not work to reduce Disproportionate Minority Contact.” 

A study of “Educational Benefits of a Broad Education Focus” requested by Rep. Todd Thomsen was one of the ten requests not approved. The request described the study as, “an in-depth look at all programs including extra-curricular activities and elective classes such as music, art, sports that strengthen the education of a child.  Is the current direction of education promoting these important components of education?  What can be done to improve these aspects in the focus of education.  To include art educators, music educator, coaches.” 

Each approved interim study was assigned to a standing committee. The chairpersons of the committees to which studies were assigned will work with the requesting members to schedule hearings for each interim study. Questions about specific interim studies should be directed to the members requesting the study.  

Link to list of all approved studies: http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/ShowInterimStudies.aspx

Link to related story: 2014 House Interim Studies Announced

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 House Interim Studies Announced

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL — House Speaker Jeff Hickman today posted the list of approved 2014 Interim Studies.

Interim studies will be held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this year. Interim Studies can begin August 5th and must end no later than November 12th.

In an effort to keep permanent records of the important work that is conducted for current and future legislators, the author of each study will be required to file a report for each interim study that is conducted. Reports should include the date, time and location of the hearing/hearings and should also include contact information for any outside presenters or participants. A brief summary of the topics discussed by the author of the study and presenters should be included in the report. All handouts, PowerPoint presentations or documents used at the hearing/hearings should also be included. Interim Study Reports will be posted online on the House Website.

In a continued effort to increase transparency in the Interim Study process, reports will be archived with supporting documents so legislators, staff and the public can review in future years.

“This interim study period serves as one of our most important periods in the legislative process,” Speaker Jeff Hickman said. “The ability to meet, gather data, and query experts on matters that are important to the state is an invaluable tool.”

Link to 2014 Interim Studies: http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/ShowInterimStudies.aspx

Related post: Children the focus of many approved interim studies

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Updated: Lawsuit filed challenging Common Core repeal, Nelson responds

(Updated June 26, 2014 at 9:27 a.m.**) Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, a coauthor of House Bill 3399, issued the following statement regarding a lawsuit filed Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of HB3399, the repeal of the Common Core State Standards from Oklahoma law. Attorney Robert McCampbell filed the lawsuit on behalf of ten plaintiffs, including four members of the State Board of Education. The plaintiffs are challenging provisions found in Section 4 of HB3399 that establish an alternative process for legislative review of new academic standards. The plaintiffs’ challenge is related to Section 4 of HB 3399 that gives the Legislature the ability to review and approve, disapprove, disapprove in whole or in part, amend or return to the Board with instructions all new standards created by the State Board of Education.

“Common Core will be reinstated if this lawsuit is successfulThis would result in even greater logistical challenges for schools that need certainty now -- the next school year begins in two months. A better course of action would have been for the plaintiffs to work with the Legislature next session to amend the provisions of Section 4 to address their concerns. It's very unlikely that new standards would be ready by next session, and certainly not before then, so Section 4 would likely not come into play until the 2016 session leaving more than enough time to address any legitimate concerns.

"The language in Section 4 was requested by grassroots opponents of Common Core because Oklahoma's Board of Education is not an elected body. 

“This lawsuit is part of an effort by an out of state, national organization with a history of promoting Common Core. The same attorney who filed the lawsuit wrote a letter in May on behalf of the National Association of State School Boards raising these same issues. Everyone needs to know that this is really an effort instigated by a national group coming into the state to stir up a legal challenge to our efforts to repeal Common Core. I was made aware of this group’s opposition to House Bill 3399 and these same constitutional issues earlier in session during a meeting with the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA) and the Oklahoma State School Boards Associaton (OSSBA) when they provided a letter from NASSB.** Every effort was made to ensure the legislation was constitutional. Staff attorneys and others reviewed the group’s concerns and, based on those reviews, I don’t believe the challenge has any merit.

“No one raised these constitutional objections or filed a lawsuit when the Legislature directed the State Board to adopt a very specific set of standards back in 2010 called Common Core that did everything that the plaintiffs now claim is unconstitutional. The Oklahoma Constitution, Article 13, Section 5, clearly states that the powers and duties of the State Board of Education are subject to provisions of law passed by the Legislature. HB3399 merely modifies those provisions of law related to legislative review of academic standards. The State Board will still develop the new standards. I find it strange the plaintiffs are not challenging the part of the law that requires the State Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, the Regents for Higher Education and the CareerTech Board to be a part of the process of developing the new standards. The same argument should apply to this provision as well.

“Section 4 is nothing more than a rule-making process for administrative rules. The State's academic standards are considered administrative rules that, when approved, have the force and effect of law. I believe it is constitutionally appropriate for the Legislature to have this level of review of something that will have the force and effect of law and will affect hundreds of thousands of children.

“The argument that it is unconstitutional to grant an agency in another branch of government authority and then retain the power to reject or amend the resulting product is not unique to Section 4 of HB 3399. For example, Section 3.2 of Title 20 of the Oklahoma Statutes created the Board on Judicial Compensation which sets the salaries for justices and judges. The section grants the Legislature the authority to reject or amend the salaries established by the Board. The Legislature did amend the Board’s action in HJR 1096 signed by the Governor on June 14 of this year.”

Here is a link to a scanned copy of the lawsuit and talking points: http://www.scribd.com/doc/231358549/Pack-v-State-of-Oklahoma-Regarding-Constitutionality-of-HB3399-Common-Core-Repeal

**Updated June 26, 2014 at 9:27 a.m. to include a link to a March 2014 letter from the National Association of State School Boards opposing HB3399: http://www.scribd.com/doc/231422473/National-Assoc-of-State-School-Boards-March-2014-Letter-on-HB3399

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Nelson, Brecheen, Sykes Comment on Gov. Fallin Signing Common Core Repeal, Replacement

The following are statements from Rep. Jason Nelson, Sen. Josh Brecheen, and Sen. Anthony Sykes on the signing of House Bill 3399.

Statement from Rep. Jason Nelson, House coauthor:

“I’m grateful to Governor Fallin for signing House Bill 3399 today. Clearly Governor Fallin gave careful consideration to the concerns of so many Oklahoman’s on both sides of the debate, and made the right decision. Gov. Fallin has been a champion of high academic standards and from her comments after signing the bill she continues to be as dedicated as ever. 

HB3399 repeals Common Core State Standards in Oklahoma and establish a process to develop new, superior standards for English and math. HB3399 has made national news because, while Oklahoma is only one of three states to reject Common Core of the 45 states that adopted it, this measure is the most comprehensive. 

A lot of work went into developing this legislation over the course of this past session. I appreciate the commitment and hard work of principle House author Speaker Jeff Hickman and Sen. Josh Brecheen, the Senate author, and coauthor Sen. Anthony Sykes. Every effort was made to address legitimate concerns raised by Oklahomans on both sides of the debate over Common Core. The Common Core academic standards have become increasingly controversial since they were adopted in Oklahoma in 2010. With the governor’s signature, the law becomes effective immediately. We can now begin the process of developing new, superior standards.”

Statement from Sen. Josh Brecheen, Senate principle author:

In standing firm on the 10th Amendment, Oklahoma is leading with the first true repeal of common core and thereby emboldening other states to follow suit.  In safeguarding our educational system from federal overreach, we are pressing the pause button and guaranteeing that our teachers will be able to teach the same math and English content they taught this year, until new standards are established in 2016. Those new standards will have to be approved by the Legislature thus bringing representative government into the process to ensure they won't be a ‘copy and paste’ version of Common Core under a new name. 

Statement from Sen. Anthony Sykes, Senate coauthor:

"HB 3399 returns Oklahoma education to Oklahomans.  I thank Governor Fallin for signing this historic piece of legislation."

Speaker Jeff Hickman Comments on Gov. Fallin's Signing of HB3399

The following is a statement from House Speaker Jeff Hickman on the signing of House Bill 3399

"With Governor Fallin's signature on House Bill 3399, we now begin the process of drafting superior education standards for Oklahoma schools. We also must monitor reaction by the federal government and the possible loss of our waiver from federal education laws resulting from the repeal of Common Core standards from Oklahoma law. Going forward, I am hopeful that we are moving in a direction of Oklahoma education decisions being made more by Oklahomans and less by those outside our state and in Washington, DC. While this issue generated a hearty debate around our state, what all Oklahomans agree on is wanting a better future for our most precious asset, our children. The journey to develop a better education and that brighter future for all Oklahoma children begins today."

Governor Mary Fallin Signs HB 3399 to Repeal and Replace Common Core Standards

New Standards will be developed in Oklahoma and Increase Academic Rigor

OKLAHOMA CITY—Governor Mary Fallin today signed HB 3399, a bill that replaces the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English and math with academic standards to be designed by the state of Oklahoma. 

HB 3399 repeals the adoption of CCSS and directs the State Board of Education to create new, more rigorous standards by August 2016. For the first time in state history, the State Regents for Higher Education, the State Board of Career and Technology Education, and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce will be asked to formally evaluate those standards to determine they are “college and career ready.”  While those new standards are being written, the state standards for English and math will revert to the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards used from 2003 to 2010. 

HB 3399 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers, 71-18 in the House and 31-10 in the Senate. 

Fallin signed the bill, stating:

“We are capable of developing our own Oklahoma academic standards that will be better than Common Core. Now is the time for Oklahomans – parents, citizens, educators, employers and elected officials – to unite behind the common goal of improving our schools. That begins with doing the hard work of building new, more rigorous Oklahoma standards. 

“All Oklahomans want our children to get a quality education and to live the American Dream. To ensure our children have that opportunity, Oklahoma – and every state—must raise the bar for education standards so that our children can compete worldwide. 

“Common Core was created with that well-intentioned goal in mind. It was intended to develop a set of high standards in classrooms across the nation that would ensure children graduated from high school prepared for college and a career in an increasingly competitive workforce. It was originally designed as a state-lead – not federal – initiative that each state could choose to voluntarily adopt. 

“Unfortunately, federal overreach has tainted Common Core.  President Obama and Washington bureaucrats have usurped Common Core in an attempt to influence state education standards. The results are predictable. What should have been a bipartisan policy is now widely regarded as the president’s plan to establish federal control of curricula, testing and teaching strategies. 

“We cannot ignore the widespread concern of citizens, parents, educators and legislators who have expressed fear that adopting Common Core gives up local control of Oklahoma’s public schools. The words ‘Common Core’ in Oklahoma are now so divisive that they have become a distraction that interferes with our mission of providing the best education possible for our children. If we are going to improve our standards in the classroom, now is the time to get to work.  

“For that reason I am signing HB 3399 to repeal and replace Common Core with Oklahoma designed and implemented education standards. I am committed, now more than ever, to ensuring these standards are rigorous. They must raise the bar – beyond what Common Core offers – on what we expect of our students. Above all, they must be developed with the goal of teaching children to think critically and creatively and to complete high school with the knowledge they need to succeed in college and in the workforce. I also ‘get it’ that Oklahoma standards must be exceptional, so when businesses and military families move to Oklahoma they can rest assured knowing their children will get a great education. 

“The process of developing new, higher standards will not take place overnight, nor will it be easy. It will require hard work and collaboration between parents, educators, employers and lawmakers. Developing these standards is worth the effort; because our children’s education is that important to our state. Their futures, as well as Oklahoma’s future prosperity, depend on our ability to write and implement education standards that will prepare our children for success. I know Oklahoma is up to that challenge.

“My thanks go out to the educators and schools that have already worked hard to raise expectations and standards for our children. I know they will continue to build on those efforts as we move forward together as a state.” 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bill to protect foster parents signed by Fallin

Senate Bill 1793 by Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, and Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, allows the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth to provide training programs regarding child abuse and multi-disciplinary teams that were previously administered by the Child Abuse Training and Coordination Council, which was abolished by HB 1467 in 2013. Engrossed SB 1793 allows the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth to provide training programs regarding child abuse and multi-disciplinary teams that were previously administered by the Child Abuse Training and Coordination Council.

SB 1793 also gives the Office of Juvenile System Oversight within the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth the responsibility to investigate allegations that a DHS employee retaliated against a foster parent for filing a grievance or making a complaint against the Department. The Office of Client Advocacy within DHS will retain responsibility for investigating allegations of retaliation made by relative kinship foster parents against the Department.

Link to legislation: http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=SB1793

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Senate Committee Amendment Could Extend School Year, Cut Transportation Funding

A bill aimed at providing more resources for Oklahoma schools could extend the school year. The amended legislation has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. In its current form, House Bill 2642, also known as the “Securing Educational Excellence Fund,” by Sen. Jim Halligan in the Senate and Rep. Lee Denney in the House, would divide current “off the top” funding that now goes to transportation and give half of that amount to public schools.
Halligan, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said the national recession resulted in decreased funding for schools in recent years, while student enrollment has increased. Lawmakers are also dealing with a shortfall of $188 million for the coming fiscal year.
Halligan said in the bill’s current form, for every $60 million provided to education, one additional instructional day would be added, up to a total of 10 days.
Currently, $357 million comes off the top of the state budget annually and is earmarked for a fund to repair or replace aging bridges and roads. That fund automatically increases by approximately $60 million a year until it reaches a cap of $575 million, and the state is currently projected to meet that cap by fiscal year 2018. Under HB 2642, education would receive half of the $60 million annual increase, but Halligan says that would only result in a three and a half year delay before the roads fund hit its maximum cap.
The measure, which was approved Wednesday on a vote of 20-3, will next be considered by the full Senate.
“It’s certainly possible we’ll see more changes in this bill, but this is something we’ve got to keep working on,” Halligan said.

Denney chairs the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Common Education. She said lawmakers value the work of educators in their districts.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Barresi: bill will weaken third-grade reading law

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 28, 2014) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi made the following remarks concerning House Bill 2625. Slated for a vote Monday in the state Senate Education Committee, the measure would repeal automatic retention of students who score Unsatisfactory on the third-grade reading test and who don’t meet a good-cause exemption.

“To deny children the opportunity to learn how how to read is to deny them an opportunity for success. Reading is the most fundamental aspect of an education. It is unconscionable that anyone would think it’s too much to ask that a school teach a child to read.

“Extensive research shows that moving children forward in school without the ability to read proficiently sets them on a course of falling further and further behind. It condemns them to frustration and failure. But there are also severe consequences for the students who are able to read proficiently, as fourth- and fifth-grade teachers must increasingly spend their time in remediation with the struggling readers.

“The Reading Sufficiency Act has been in existence for 17 years to identify and provide intensive remediation for struggling readers as early as kindergarten. And yet after 17 years and more than $80 million in funding, the percentage of Oklahoma students reading below grade level has remained flat. We cannot allow this to continue. We cannot continue sabotaging the promise of future generations.

“I urge Senate Education Committee members to continue to support high standards by ensuring that our children can read. I would ask that they let the RSA work. There already are good-cause exemptions to address an array of special circumstances. Predictions of catastrophe are simply incorrect. When the State of Oklahoma mandated end-of-instruction exams as a condition for high school graduation, critics made similar predictions that the sky would fall. Instead, Oklahoma’s young people rose to the occasion, with the passage rate at 99 percent.

“The good news is that RSA already is working. It is igniting attention and innovation in reading instruction. We see school districts in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Putnam City and elsewhere making impressive gains in reducing the numbers of children with reading difficulties. It would be a mistake to start weakening the law just as it begins to show glimmers of its anticipated positive impact.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Governor Mary Fallin Statement on Upcoming Education Rally

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today released the following statement regarding the upcoming March 31 education rally to be held at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

"I support more funding for common education and I appreciate teachers, parents and students being engaged on this issue. Last year I signed into law a budget that delivered over $120 million in new education money, by far the biggest increase in resources to any area of government.

“This year I proposed another increase of $50 million in K-12 education funding increases, despite a $190 million budget shortfall that will lead to spending cuts at most agencies.

“Providing adequate funding is vital to increasing educational attainment and student performance in Oklahoma. Equally important are the careful implementation and funding of education reforms focusing on accountability in schools, child literacy, and the creation of more rigorous standards in the classroom. Giving our teachers, administrators, parents and students the tools they need to succeed continues to be a top priority of mine."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Senate Committee Passes Common Core Replacement 11-0

The Senate Education Committee passed by a vote of 11-0 an amended version of House Bill 3399 this morning. HB 3399 will next be considered by the full Senate.

The measure would replace the Common Core English and Math standards with new, rigorous standards designed by the Oklahoma State Board of Education. It also protects against federal interference or control by prohibiting the state Board of Education from entering into any contract or agreement with any federal agency or private entity that would cede or limit state control.

Speaker Jeff Hickman
House Speaker Jeff Hickman, the author of HB3399, issue the following statement following the Senate Committee vote this morning.

“Our children are our most precious resource,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “The language adopted today sends a clear message that Oklahomans can and will guide the standards to prepare Oklahoma children for higher education and career success.”

Sen. Josh Brecheen and Sen. Anthony Sykes issued the following statement after Monday’s unanimous vote in favor of HB 3399.  The two lawmakers are Senate co-authors of the measure.

“Again, I want to commend Governor Mary Fallin, Superintendent Janet Barresi, and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Ford who’ve understood the need for higher standards for Oklahoma students.  HB 3399 will enable us to actually exceed Common Core, while making sure that those standards are developed and implemented by Oklahomans.  I think Monday’s vote shows this was very important to the members of the Senate Education Committee as well.”—Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate.

“The unanimous vote on House Bill 3399 sends a strong message that the concerns of our citizens have been heard.  This legislation makes sure Oklahomans are developing the standards and assessments we need for our children’s success, while preventing unwanted and unneeded intrusion by the federal government.”—Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore.

Rep. Jason Nelson, R- Oklahoma City, coauthor of HB3399 issued the following statement following the vote in the Senate Education Committee Monday morning.

“The latest version of House Bill 3399, which passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously this morning, is a significant step forward for the academic expectations of school children in the state. 

“The Senate Committee Substitute for House Bill 3399 requires Oklahoma to develop its own independent college- and career-ready standards and assessments and protects the state’s sovereignty over our education system from outside control.

“Some have criticized the legislation as a step back from higher standards and suggested that it puts federal funds in jeopardy. There is no basis in the bill for these concerns.

“The principles that have guided the drafting of HB3399 are protecting the state’s sovereignty over our education system, setting academic standards that exceed all previous standards - including Common Core State Standards, protecting the state’s NCLB waiver, and establishing a process for public comment during the development of new standards including comments from parents, educators, representatives of the business community and many others. 

“The bill is designed to protect Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver which provides greater flexibility in the use of federal Title I funding. NCLB waivers allow for state development of independent standards and assessments. HB3399 allows Oklahoma to take advantage of this option. The suggestion that Oklahoma will lose the NCLB waiver because of HB3399 ignores the fact that Oklahoma is currently not in compliance with the waiver because we have already pulled out of the PARCC testing consortium and TLE won’t be fully implanted on the timeline set in the waiver.

“This legislation will lead to true college and career ready standards. To my knowledge there is no objective proof that Common Core State Standards are college- and career-ready. Documentation of the college- and career-ready nature of the new standards is provided for in the bill through a comparison of the new English and math standards with the Common Core State Standards. The state Department of Education, the Regents for Higher Education and the State Board of Career and Technology Education in Oklahoma - not a national consortium - will evaluate the new standards to ensure they will lead to a reduction in college remediation rates and an increase in the completion rate of post-secondary education.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman issued the following statement after Monday morning’s vote, calling for the adoption of new English and Math standards.

“Our challenge is to ensure Oklahoma students complete their education with the English and math skills they’ll need for college, Career-Tech or to go directly into the workforce. House Bill 3399 ensures Oklahomans will be the ones to create the rigorous academic standards necessary so our children can compete in the 21st century without federal interference. This puts control squarely in the hands of Oklahoma and our local districts, helping make sure our students will receive the education necessary to succeed.”

Governor Mary Fallin also released a statement following today's vote.

“Raising education standards and increasing classroom rigor are essential to ensuring our children are prepared for college or to begin their careers when they graduate from high school,” said Fallin. “As we work to raise the bar in our schools, it is essential that higher academic standards are developed and implemented by and for Oklahomans. We have no interest in relinquishing control over education to the federal government or outside groups.

“I support passing legislation that increases classroom rigor and accountability while guaranteeing that Oklahoma public education is protected from federal interference. While House Bill 3399 is still a work in progress, my hope is that it will accomplish these goals and ultimately be signed into law. I appreciate our legislators working diligently and carefully on this important matter.”

Fallin had already taken action in 2013 to protect Oklahoma schools from federal intrusion, signing an executive order explicitly outlining Oklahoma's independence in implementing higher standards and student assessments (Read More: Governor Mary Fallin Issues Order Barring Feds from State’s Academic Standards).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Governor Mary Fallin Comments on Common Core Legislation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today commented on plans by the Oklahoma Senate Education Committee to consider House Bill 3399 on Monday. The measure’s intent is to provide for the development and adoption of new English and math standards and assessments while prohibiting the state Board of Education from entering into any contract or agreement with any federal agency or private entity that would cede or limit state control.

“As a state, we must continue to raise education standards and increase accountability in public schools. Nothing is more important to the long term success of our children, nor as essential to our ability to compete in a competitive global economy that demands a highly skilled, highly educated workforce,” said Fallin.

“As we work to increase classroom rigor and raise the academic bar in our schools, I have been clear that Oklahoma must take the lead in developing and implementing our own standards and assessments. To protect the principle of local control, and to resist federal overreach from Washington and the Obama administration, I signed last year an executive order outlining Oklahoma's independence in implementing higher standards and student assessments.

“Since then, I have listened to growing concerns from parents across the state concerning Common Core, the standards currently in the process of being implemented. In light of these concerns, I have worked directly with our legislators to accomplish the goals of increasing classroom rigor and accountability while guaranteeing that Oklahoma public education is protected from federal interference. My hope is that House Bill 3399, which is soon to be heard by the Senate Education Committee, will accomplish these goals. If it does so, without creating unintended consequences that would hamstring educators or invite more federal influence in education, it will have my support.”

Senate Ed Committee to hear bill assuring higher standards/complete state control

The Senate Education Committee will consider House Bill 3399 on Monday. The measure provides for the development and adoption of new English and math standards and assessments while prohibiting the State Board of Education from entering into any contract or agreement with any federal agency or private entity that would cede or limit state control.

Sen. Josh Brecheen, R- Coalgate, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, are Senate co-authors of the measure.

"Governor Fallin and Superintendent Barresi are to be commended for their leadership and insistence in higher standards,” Brecheen said. “With the committee substitute to HB 3399 we are ensuring Oklahoma's standards can exceed those of Common Core without surrendering state control through a well-written firewall that safeguards our students.”

Brecheen said the goal is to reduce the need for remedial classes after high school, helping more students successfully complete a college degree or Career-Tech certification.

"I am glad that we are responding to the people and moving forward on this issue. It is time we put Oklahomans back in charge of educating our children,” Sykes said.

Under the committee substitute for HB 3399, the State Board of Education would work with higher education and Career-Tech officials to adopt new English and mathematics standards by August 1, 2015.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman is the principal author of HB 3399.

“It is essential that we create standards that push our children to achieve in the 21st century,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “This option gives Oklahoma the flexibility to establish quality standards aimed at success and resist any overbearing federal intrusion into decisions that should be made by the states. We have proven Oklahoma can be an economic leader, and we can prove that Oklahoma can also lead the way in student achievement.”

House co-author of the measure is Rep. Jason Nelson.

“This respects local control by placing decision making authority regarding curriculum, textbooks, learning materials, and reading lists with local school districts,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “We all want high standards which are developed and controlled by Oklahomans and that prepare our students for active citizenship.”

Under the legislation, school districts will have the exclusive right to determine instructional materials, curriculum, reading lists and textbooks.

Jenni White is the president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education.

"We are thankful to the bill's authors for their tireless work on HB 3399, and are truly grateful to House and Senate leadership for soliciting our input,” White said. “It will be a great relief to finally repeal the Common Core State Standards from Oklahoma law."

Carolyn L. McLarty, Republican National Committeewoman for Oklahoma, joined White in her support of the legislation.

"In supporting the Senate committee substitute to HB 3399, I am very pleased that our legislators have found a constructive way to come together, listen to input from the people, follow the intentions of the Governor’s executive order, and act to help protect Oklahoma students, teachers and parents from federal control of education,” McLarty said.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 24, in room 535 of the state Capitol. The Senate live-streams all floor sessions and committee meetings at www.oksenate.gov.

Monday, March 3, 2014

House chair, vice chair, leadership for remainder of 2014

Administrative Rules, Government Oversight and Repealer Committee:
Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, Chair
Rep. Dan Fisher, R-El Reno, Vice Chair

Agriculture and Wildlife Committee:
Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, Chair
Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, Vice Chair

Appropriations and Budget Committee:
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, Chair
Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, Vice Chair

Common Education Committee:
Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, Chair
Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, Vice Chair

Economic Development and Financial Services Committee:
Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Dustin Roberts, R-Durant, Vice Chair

Energy and Aerospace Committee:
Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, Chair
Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

General Government Committee:
Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Midwest City, Chair
Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, Vice Chair

Government Modernization and Accountability Committee:
Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, Vice Chair

Higher Education and CareerTech Committee:
Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, Chair
Rep. Justin Wood, R-Shawnee, Vice Chair

Human Services Committee:
Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, Chair
Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, Vice Chair

Insurance Committee:
Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, Chair
Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, Vice Chair

Judiciary Committee:
Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, Chair
Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, Vice Chair

Long-term Care and Senior Services Committee:
Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, Vice Chair

Public Health Committee:
Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, Chair
Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

Public Safety Committee:
Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, Chair
Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

Rules Committee:
Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, Chair
Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, Vice Chair

States’ Rights Committee:
Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, Chair
Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, Vice Chair

Tourism and International Relations Committee:
Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, Chair
Rep. R.C. Pruett, D-Antlers, Vice Chair

Transportation Committee:
Rep. Charlie Joyner, R-Midwest City, Chair
Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, Vice Chair

Utility and Environmental Regulation Committee:
Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, Chair
Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, Vice Chair

Veterans and Military Affairs Committee:
Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, Chair
Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, Vice Chair

Appropriations Subcommittees:

CareerTech Subcommittee:
Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, Chair
Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, Vice Chair

Common Education Subcommittee:
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, Chair
Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

General Government Subcommittee:
Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, Vice Chair

Higher Education Subcommittee:
Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, Chair
Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, Vice Chair

Human Services Subcommittee:
Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, Chair
Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, Vice Chair

Judiciary Subcommittee:
Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, Chair
Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, Vice Chair

Natural Resources and Regulatory Services Subcommittee:
Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, Chair
Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, Vice Chair

Non-Appropriated Subcommittee:
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, Vice Chair

Public Health and Social Services Subcommittee:
Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, Chair
Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Ft. Gibson, Vice Chair

Public Safety Subcommittee:
Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, Chair
Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Norman, Vice Chair

Revenue, Taxation and Employee Compensation Subcommittee:
Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, Chair
Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, Vice Chair

Transportation Subcommittee:
Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, Chair
Rep. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, Vice Chair

Special Committees:

Pension Oversight Committee:
Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, Chair

Tax Credit & Economic Incentive Oversight Committee:
Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, Vice Chair

Floor Appointments:

Majority Floor Leader:
Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa

Deputy Majority Floor Leader:
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City

Majority Leader:
Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan

Majority Leader:
Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Tulsa

Majority Whip:
Rep. Todd Thompson, R-Ada

Monday, February 10, 2014

DHS concludes Quinten Wood investigation

Initiates disciplinary actions, efforts to improve collaboration of services

Ed Lake
Director of OKDHS
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) has completed its internal investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Quinten Wood, a 15-year-old boy with disabilities who died in his home over a year ago from complications of pneumonia.  While the criminal investigation is ongoing and the agency’s child death summary is pending, DHS is taking actions based upon the information obtained through the internal investigation. 

“Quinten’s death has been heart-wrenching for all of us at DHS and our deepest sympathies go out to his sister, Valerie Wood-Harber, and his brother,” said Ed Lake, DHS Director. “Ms. Wood-Harber deserves full credit and our appreciation for pushing the system--our agency, law enforcement, the school, and health care officials--to investigate the circumstances that led to Quinten’s death.

Ms. Wood-Harber refused to let her brother’s death be accepted as something unpreventable that occurred as a result of his disability,” said Lake.  “Had it not been for her advocacy and persistence, the truth about what Quinten and his brother endured might never have been fully investigated. We hope that through discovery of the facts and the actions we are taking, they will have some peace going forward.”

Quinten’s death should not be in vain,” said Lake. “Just as we have done, we encourage every entity involved in this case to evaluate its response to children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who may be vulnerable to abuse and neglect. DHS has an important role to play in the child protection system, but not the only role.”

Upon reviewing child death cases, the agency takes into account all of the facts and the full context of cases, including the responsibility and the involvement of staff members. 

“This agency will not rush to blame or scapegoat front-line staff when the facts show they have performed appropriately and have acted in good faith.  We will not punish staff for system failures that are beyond their ability to control,” said Lake.

“Unfortunately in this case, a thorough and comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances of Quinten’s death led us to the difficult and sad conclusion that the individual actions of two employees associated with this case clearly violated agency policies and reasonable child protection practices,” Lake said. “Based upon the information that has been obtained, the decision has been made to initiate steps to terminate those employees.”

“Despite this instance, we have confidence in our child welfare workforce,” said Lake. “Child protection is anxious work.  Our workers are making life and death decisions every day under tremendous pressure never to err. Given the nature of our work, the fragility of the families we serve, and daunting caseloads, we know that tragedies may occur despite our best efforts.  When our people are acting in good faith, doing everything they know to do, this agency should and will support them when that occurs.” 

“I want to express special thanks to Kathryn Brewer, the Advocate General over the Office of Client Advocacy, for her untiring and passionate work on this case. Ms. Brewer deserves great credit for leading this internal investigation, collaborating with the family and law enforcement, not stopping until every stone had been turned in pursuit of the facts.” 

Through this investigation, DHS has also identified areas within its own organization that the agency will strengthen to improve child protection, particularly when it becomes involved in cases with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Some of these efforts include improving collaboration between its Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) and Child Welfare Services (CWS), beginning with child protective investigations and continuing through permanency planning for children in the foster care system. CWS is updating child welfare worker training to include more specific information about children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and services available. Also, DDS and CWS will work together to recruit families who have the desire to provide care for children with severe disabilities who enter the foster care system. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lawmakers Unveil Education Savings Account Act

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would provide education options to families across Oklahoma was unveiled today at a press conference at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Under House Bill 3398, by state Reps. Jason Nelson and Tom Newell, low-income public school students would be able to receive a portion of the state aid dedicated to their education and use it to expand their education options.

“This is an exciting and timely proposal that will help address one of our state’s most pressing and challenging problems – the effects of poverty on our families,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “Two thirds of the births of children in our state are paid for by Medicaid. More than 60 percent of the public school students in our state are eligible for free or reduced price lunches. Educators I’ve talked to say that students living in poverty present the greatest challenge in our education system. This bill would begin to help these children and help schools with one of their greatest challenges.”

“If you are a parent who has the means to pay for education alternatives, you have true freedom over how your child is educated,” said Newell, R-Seminole. “If you have a lower income, your options are more limited. This legislation is about expanding those options for low-income families.”

Under the legislation, students eligible for free or reduced price lunch under federal guidelines would be eligible to receive 90 percent of the funding they would have generated at their resident public school through the school funding formula. Students in families whose household income is up to 1.5 times the threshold for free or reduced price lunch will be eligible to receive 60 percent of the amount they would have generated through the formula. Students in families whose household income is between of 1.5 times to 2 times the threshold will be eligible to receive 30 percent of what would have been generated through the formula.

The education savings account money could be used for tutoring, virtual school, higher education courses and private schools, Nelson said. 

“There is not a private school in every community,” Nelson said. “But there are alternative options to be found in every community.”

The president of a non-profit Oklahoma City school for impoverished and homeless children applauded the legislation.

Susan Agel, president of Positive Tomorrows, said the legislation could provide some funding for her students. Positive Tomorrows serves children who are homeless or in really difficult living situations.

“The Oklahoma City public school district estimates that there are about 2,000 homeless children in that school district,” Agel said. “There are a number of them that are really living in some difficult situations. Those are the children that we can do the most for. So far this year, we’ve turned away about 50 kids. We’ve done this because we have a lack of space in our building and because of staffing considerations.

“Every child that we take relieves some pressure on the burdened public school system who has to be all things to all children. We can take children who need some special care and we can take care of those kids and in the end we can save everybody a lot of money.”

Dr. Cris Carter, the superintendent of Oklahoma City Catholic Schools, said the Catholic Church has historically been an option for immigrants and the poor.

“We believe we have much to offer families who desire not only strong academics, but also a community rooted in a message of love and hope,” Carter said. “Representative Nelson’s previous legislation for special needs students has already begun to bear fruit. I have witnessed its impact most significantly at Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, our school for children with autism.”

Lauren Marshall, member of the National Board on Public School Options and Tulsa resident, said parents need options.

“There are not enough school options right now for parents,” Marshall said. “This legislation will expand those options and we are grateful for Representative Nelson’s work on behalf of parents.”

Pam Newby, executive director of Special Care, also spoke in support of the legislation. 

“This bill is incredibly important to our families,” Newby said. “Most of our families are single parents with children who have respiratory issues, or learning disabilities, or autism. They desperately need an education plan that is not one-size-fits-all. Education should not be one-size-fits-all.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Legislation Would Empower Parents in Crisis

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation unveiled today would empower parents who are in crisis to find a home for their children without the involvement of the Department of Human Services, according to the bill’s author.

House Bill 2536, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would create a legal power of attorney for parents to use when placing their children with a host family. The legislation also modifies existing child placing licensure laws to ensure that the laws don’t frustrate or prohibit the work of private groups and host families who are caring for the child of a parent in crisis.

“Many people may see this as a radical concept and it is unfortunate that we live in a day when such a common-sense approach comes across as radical,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “The assumptions that underpin this approach are that parents love their children and are capable of making major decisions on behalf of their children even in the midst of a family crisis.”

Even as reforms and additional resources are put in place at DHS the number of children coming into state custody continues at an alarming and unsustainable pace, Nelson said.

In 2009, a research report that examined Oklahoma’s foster care system recommended that the state seek partnerships with the faith community in meeting the need for foster homes. The Count Me In 4 Kids collaborative is ready to take this a step further by working with the faith community to help families in crisis get back on their feet and avoid the circumstances that lead to DHS involvement.

“Many of us from the Count Me In 4 Kids collaborative are excited to be here today as our state moves forward in helping many more compassionate and caring Oklahomans step up to love and nurture some of our most vulnerable children,” Lynn Institute President Karen Waddell said. “We are committed to bringing the Safe Families model to Oklahoma out of our shared belief that every child deserves to have a safe place to call home and celebrate this next important step.

“Over the past year, it’s been amazing to watch over 50 organizations set aside their individual agendas, instead working collaboratively to find a way to reduce the number of children in foster care.  We are on mission together and over the coming months we’ll be creating even more ways for Oklahomans to stand up and say, count me in for our state’s children. The answer to the problem lies in all of us working together.”

Nelson said he is confident in the ability of Count Me In 4 Kids to help with child welfare challenges in Oklahoma.

“I have confidence in this effort because of the dedicated and seasoned coalition, Count Me In 4 Kids, that is taking on this challenge,” Nelson said. “And I’ve heard from many churches and church leaders that they want to help meet the needs of vulnerable families. This effort brings a proven approach to our state that facilitates this partnership with private nonprofits and the faith community. That’s why I’m excited to run House Bill 2536 that opens the door in our state to this effort.”

DHS Director Ed Lake said he supports the legislation.

“We are delighted that these efforts are being made to prepare the way for Safe Families to come to Oklahoma,” Lake said. “This has proven to be an effective model in 25 other states offering options to people in crisis before the state has to become involved.  We appreciate all efforts that help vulnerable Oklahoma families work through challenges and ensure children are safe and well cared for in the process.  Government agencies cannot do this work alone which is why we welcome the support of communities, faith groups, and organizations whose goals are to better the lives of the children in this state.” 

For more information on Count Me In 4 Kids and ultimately Safe Families, visit www.CountMeIn4Kids.org.

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