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

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

Ownbey, Nelson Bill Would Aid Foster Care Parents

OKLAHOMA CITY – Helping foster parents will help children in Oklahoma, said state Rep. Pat Ownbey today about a new bill to create a foster parent mediation program.

“After conducting a study where we talked to foster parents about their experience in the child welfare system, it became clear that foster parents need a third party to help them resolve conflicts that occasionally arise between child welfare workers and foster parents,” said Ownbey, R-Ardmore. “DHS on the whole does an excellent job of partnering with foster parents, but the current system provides little recourse for foster parents when a conflict does arise, because there is not a mediator to help resolve conflicts. My proposal is to designate a third party to mediate these conflicts.”

House Bill 2588 would create procedures for mediating and addressing grievances by foster care parents that would be overseen by the Oklahoma Commission of Children and Youth Office of Juvenile System Oversight.

The legislation would give foster parents the right “without fear or reprisal” to present grievances with respect to providing foster care services.

“Foster care parents came to us with a real problem that will improve their ability to help children and encourage more foster care parents to join the child welfare system,” Ownbey said.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nelson fundraiser set January 16 in OKC

It seems like the last campaign just ended but the next election is less than ten months away and I already have a serious general election opponent who has begun raising money and organizing. My opponent is already working hard and will be well-funded.

I am asking everyone who plans to contribute to my campaign to please join me and Speaker T.W. Shannon this Thursday.  I must raise funds now to be ready to effectively campaign this year. By contributing what you can, you help me demonstrate the strength of our campaign not just in the money raised but in the number of people supporting my efforts.

If you are not able to contribute at the levels listed on the invitation below, please contribute what you can. I’m grateful for any amount and will put your resources to good use as the campaign heats up.

If you are unable to attend but would like to help financially you can mail your contribution to 4117 NW. 58th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73112. Click here to download a contributor statement to complete and return with your support.

The fundraiser is this Thursday, January 16 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

At the home of Gerald and Jane Jayroe Gamble
8200 Waverly Avenue
Oklahoma City

For more information or to RSVP email or call 405-641-3255.

Serving as a member of the State House of Representatives has been a true honor for me and for my family. Serving my constituents is a rewarding experience I cherish and look forward to each day. Representing nearly 40,000 Oklahomans in the legislature has been a humbling responsibility I take very seriously. It has made me a better person, and I hope it has made Oklahoma a better place to live. It may sound cliché, but I can’t think of a better way to say it.

Since my election in 2008, I have tried to serve in such a way that while some may disagree with me, they know I work hard and always do what I think is right — not what is politically expedient.

I have spent much of the past five years tackling some of the most persistent and complex challenges in state government. My work on these issues has turned what I expected to be a part-time job into one that is more than full-time. These are not the sort of issues that are easily addressed or that encourage political contributions. That is why I am so grateful for the strong support of so many.

I have focused on championing government reforms that improve our education system, reorganizing our state’s Department of Human Services to help ensure Oklahoma’s children are protected and that the state is not subject to future expensive federal class action lawsuits, and giving parents of special needs children the ability to educate their children as they see fit. I am committed to continue working hard on behalf of Oklahoma’s families.

I am also proud of our efforts to reform the workers’ compensation and tort systems and to modernize our government, making it more transparent and responsive to the public.

I have supported legislation lowering the tax burden on Oklahoma families and businesses. Oklahoma’s unemployment is well below the national average and our Rainy Day Fund is full! Washington could learn a lesson or two from our state.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Parental choice in education a topic in OEA questionnaire

State Superintendent Janet Barresi's campaign today posted her responses to an Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) candidate questionnaire. Barresi answered questions on several areas of education policy, including school choice.

The OEA is the state's largest teachers' union and opposed Barresi in the 2010 state superintendent’s race. The OEA also consistently opposes legislative efforts to provide greater educational options to parents.

Barresi answered a very revealing question about publicly funded educational choice programs:

Q. What are your feelings about using public money to support private schools through voucher programs, tax credits, and other mechanisms?
A. My goal is to make sure our public schools are the first choice of every Oklahoma parent. Until that day, I want to give parents as many choices as possible. I have worked to increase funding for the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarships so that parents of those with learning challenges have better options for their students to have the same success as everyone else. There is still more we can do. Every child, every parent should have the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their specific needs, and no child should be confined to a failing school. I won’t rest until that’s a reality.

The premise of the OEA's question is absurd and a clear example of misplaced focus. The union sees programs like the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships Act as existing to support private schools over public schools. They see education in terms of institutional schools -- not individual students.

My two children attend public schools. We do so not out of a sense of obligation to support the public institutions and provide employment for union members who believe they know better than my wife and I do what is best for our children.

Children are more than mere funding units for educational institutions. Common sense dictates that the institutions exist for the benefit of schoolchildren. The children do not exist for the benefit of the system of public schools.

Following the logic of the OEA's question, it must hold that the per pupil revenue generated by students attending public school is for the purpose of supporting that school, regardless of the service it provides to students.

The OEA’s focus is not on providing children with educational services, but with protecting their turf. The union bosses concern themselves with imagined harm to their dues-paying members while ignoring the very real harm of denying help to students who need a different educational environment.

The membership concerns of the teachers' union should not take priority over the sacred right and duty of parents to direct the education of their children.

As the author of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act, I’m grateful to Supt. Barresi for her steadfast support of this important, student-centered education program.

Barresi, along with the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education, are defendants in a new lawsuit filed by educators challenging the constitutionality of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program. I'm working with Barresi and Attorney General Scott Pruitt to defend this law against those who believe that the children exist to support the system and dues paying union members.

Call me naïve, but I think education should be focused on students.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

President George Washington, on October 3, 1789, issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as an official holiday of "sincere and humble thanks." The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

OETA story on status of children in Oklahoma

Click here to link to an OETA Oklahoma News Report story on the challenges facing many children in our state

Lis Exon produced the segment following release of the Kids Count report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The story was originally broadcast on November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NAEP Scores Show Oklahoma Students up in Three Areas, Still Behind Nation

Oklahoma math and reading scores in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are a mixed bag. While the fourth-grade math scores are the highest in 10 years — and 19 points up from 1992 — state education officials note that other results point to the need for stronger academic rigor that is beginning to take shape.

NAEP is designed to measure what students across the nation know and can do in 10 subject areas, including mathematics, reading, writing, and science. The results of these tests are reported in the Nation's Report Card. The NAEP results were released last week.

Governor Mary Fallin commented on the release last week of Oklahoma’s 2013 NAEP scores.

“Fourth grade math scores are the highest they have been in ten years,” Fallin pointed out. “That’s great news. We have the hard work of Oklahoma teachers, administrators, parents and students to thank for that forward progress. Oklahoma continues, however, to fall below the national and the regional average in every category.”

Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the national assessment earned an average score of 239, up from 229 in 2003 and 220 in 1992. That still placed the state behind this year’s national average of 241.

Eighth-grade math scores also were higher than they were a decade ago — 276 in 2013 as opposed to 272 in 2003. That’s an improvement over the 262 average score earned in 1992, but lower than the 279 earned two years ago and lower than this year’s national average of 284.

In reading, Oklahoma fourth-graders posted an average of 217, up from 214 in 2003 and 215 in 2011. Despite the jump, it remains below the national average of 221 and below the state average score of 220 earned in 1992. From 1992 to 2002, fourth-grade reading scores plummeted to 213 but have been on an upward trend since the mid-2000s.

Oklahoma’s eighth-grade reading score average was 262, better than 260 in 2011 but unchanged from 2003 and down from 265 in 1992. The national average for eighth-grade reading this year is 266. Oklahoma’s reading scores in this grade have been climbing since a low of 259 in 2009.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi commented on the release of Oklahoma’s 2013 NAEP scores.

“The fact that our scores are on the upswing in three areas is exciting,” said Barresi. “Overall, however, the NAEP report confirms what we’ve long known. Oklahoma students lag behind their national counterparts in these key subject areas. This is why we must build on the momentum of the education reforms we’ve enacted in recent years.”

Barresi said reforms such as the end to social promotion for third-graders reading significantly below grade level, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness and the implementation of rigorous Oklahoma Academic Standards will have a significant and positive impact.

“Oklahoma students can be at the top of math and reading scores, but it will take all of us engaging and working together to prepare them for college, career and citizenship,” she said.

Fallin also highlighted the importance of recent education reforms as part of the plan to improve student achievement.

“Moving forward, we must work together to improve our schools,” Fallin said. “That improvement will require increased rigor in the classroom and a greater focus on literacy, which the implementation of the Reading Sufficiency Act will provide. Greater success will demand the kind of accountability and benchmarks of progress represented by the A-F grading system. And it will rely on a sense of cooperation and shared responsibility between lawmakers, educators, parents and students.

“Oklahoma has great teachers,” Fallin said. “It is a supportive community that cares about public education and, most of all, our children. I am confident that we will continue our upward trajectory and deliver the education results our students deserve.”

Barresi said the NAEP results indicate that additional focus is needed on middle school. She said she will gather a task force to examine math scores from sixth grade and higher.

“This will help us knock down college and workforce training remediation rates,” Barresi said.

The NAEP scores also show the wisdom of increasing the rigor of Oklahoma Academic Standards and the Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments, both of which will be implemented in schools by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

“For the first time, we will see state scores that better reflect how our students are actually performing,” Barresi said. “While it might seem painful at this moment, a clear-eyed look at where we are realistically will help us achieve true and meaningful change to best equip our students for the future.”

NAEP reveals that the percentage of Oklahoma students scoring at or above proficiency is 36 percent in fourth-grade math and 25 percent in eighth-grade math.

The national percentage at or above math proficiency is 41 percent for fourth grade and 34 percent for eighth grade.

In reading, the percentage of Oklahoma students scoring at or above proficient is 30 percent in fourth grade and 29 percent in eighth-grade. The national percentage at or above proficiency is 34 percent for both fourth and eighth grade.

Compared to the nation, Oklahoma is:

  • below 30 states, not significantly different from 14 states and above seven states in fourth-grade reading;
  • below 35 states, not significantly different from 10 states and above six states in eight-grade reading;
  • below 31 states, not significantly different from 12 states, and above eight states in fourth-grade math; and
  • below 42 states, not significantly different from five states and above four states in eighth-grade math.

In comparison to regional states, only New Mexico had a lower average score than Oklahoma on all assessments. Texas, Arkansas and Kansas had higher average scores in each assessment in both fourth- and eighth-grades.

In 2011, Oklahoma was the only state in the U.S. to show a low inclusion rate for special education students and English Language Learners. In fourth-grade math, for example, only 49 percent of Oklahoma special education students had been tested as compared to 84 percent nationally.

In the wake of that revelation, Barresi implored districts to look closely at testing children with special needs to assure each child’s needs were being met.Oklahoma increased its inclusion rate this year more than any other state in the nation: 98 percent in fourth-grade reading, 99 percent in eighth-grade reading and 98 percent in fourth- and eighth-grade math. All are well above NAEP parameters.

Federal law requires that states and districts receiving Title I funding participate in the NAEP reading and mathematics assessments every two years. A sample of students representing the entire student population —about 3,000 students per grade and per subject — are tested.

State scores are reported for students in grades four and eight. Scores for students in grade 12 are reported only as part of the national picture. Samples for long-term trend are based on age (9, 13 and 17) rather than grade.

Other NAEP testing is optional and can be used for comparing our state to regions with similar demographics, others states and the nation.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A-F Grades for Oklahoma Public Schools Released Today

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Department of Education today released the A-F Report Card for Oklahoma public school districts and schools. Available online at, the annual grades were approved at a special meeting of the State Board of Education.

The grading system is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to heighten accountability and transparency for Oklahoma schools, providing parents and communities with readily understood information about how their local schools are doing.

In the second year of SDE issuing the report cards, 354 schools, or 20 percent, received an overall A, compared to 160 in 2012. There were 499 schools that earned an overall B – 28 percent of all schools – while 472 (26 percent) received C’s. That compares to last year’s total of 842 B’s and 594 C’s.

There was also a significant rise in D’s and F’s, with 263 schools getting the former and 163 schools receiving F’s, a combined 24 percent of schools statewide. In 2012, the report cards recorded 138 D’s and 10 F’s.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said this year’s grade results were expected in light of increasing academic rigor and changes made to the grade calculation. The results, she said, reflect what is occurring in other states as schools shift to stronger standards and the resulting instructional changes.

“Our students do not know less than they did, and teachers are not doing a poor job. Far from it. Classroom teachers are working hard, responding to more rigorous standards that will help children be prepared for successful and happy lives. As I had noted in August at a state Capitol news conference, this is a transformative time for Oklahoma education. The move to higher standards and expectations will be challenging, but the rewards will be generations of young people ready for college, career and citizenship.”

The grading formula underwent changes as the result of House Bill 1658. Signed into law earlier this year, it addressed a number of concerns that had been raised by district administrators.

Several factors utilized in last year’s calculations — such as Advanced Placement classes, dropout rates and the like — are now considered in bonus points that schools can accrue. The revised formula also raised the percentage factored in for student performance and student growth.

“I am proud of Oklahoma’s teachers and the incredible work they do day after day,” Barresi said. “It is a difficult job, but a crucial one in the lives of young people and the future of our great state. I would urge Oklahoma parents to take an active role in supporting our teachers.”

Release of the report card had been scheduled for Oct. 29, but Barresi ordered a delay after several issues surfaced during a 10-day review period. There were initial glitches in grade calculation due to OSDE. Afterward, grades fluctuated as the department fielded more than 1,100 updates from data verification changes.

“Through it all, we kept the grades online for districts to see, believing full transparency was the best course. The department worked to give districts as much time as possible to update the testing files so that the data we used in the report cards could be accurate, said Barresi.

“But as a result, there here has been much sound and fury from a number of quarters. Some district superintendents — knowing that some of their schools would be getting F’s — preemptively tried discrediting the grading criteria. If these administrators put that same degree of energy and enthusiasm into turning around their challenged school sites as they did in criticizing the grades, then I am very optimistic about the future of those schools.”

Used by a growing number of states, A-F school grades are aimed at raising education standards by making school performance clear. In past years, Oklahoma education officials had offered similar data through the Academic Performance Index (API), which evaluated schools through a 0 to 1500 scale. But many parents do not know API scores exist, much less how to interpret them.

By contrast, the A-F Report Cards use a time-tested grading system that has long served the needs of educators and students.

“The A to F grades are not a punitive tool. They are a tool of empowerment for parents and students,” said Barresi. “The report cards help us see which schools are having success so that we can provide best-practices for their peer institutions. Similarly, the grades identify the low-performing schools that need help.”

Barresi acknowledged that the A-F grades have met resistance from some administrators with a stake in defending the status quo.

“Change can be painful and sometimes scary. Nothing worth achieving is easy, but nothing is more worth it than the future of our children,” she said. “We can do better, and we will do better. Oklahoma’s teachers are too talented, too driven and too dedicated to do otherwise. Oklahoma’s students are too filled with promise to accept less.”

Statement by Governor Mary Fallin

Governor Mary Fallin released the following statement regarding the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s release of A-F grades for public schools. 

"Delivering high quality public education is one of the most important things we can do in Oklahoma to increase prosperity in our state. Good schools teach children the skills they need to succeed when they enter the workforce or pursue post-secondary education. They also help to produce the highly skilled workforce that we need to retain and attract businesses and jobs to Oklahoma.

"We have many great teachers and schools that are helping to produce positive outcomes and improve student performance. Those teachers and schools deserve recognition. Unfortunately, we know we are also falling short in many areas. Historically below average NAEP scores in reading, writing and math; as well as college remediation rates higher than 40% indicate that in many instances we are failing to prepare our students for life beyond high school.

"These are problems that need to be addressed—cooperatively and with a shared sense of urgency—by lawmakers, administrators, teachers and parents. But before we can improve education, we need a system that accurately measures success and failure.

"The A-F grades delivered today provide that system. They give parents an accurate, easily understood method of measuring the quality of education their children are receiving. They also give teachers and administrators a benchmark to measure progress.

"The grades issued today, as expected, paint a mixed picture. The majority of our schools are performing adequately. Many are operating at a very high level, thanks largely to dedicated and skilled teachers.

"Some schools, however, are clearly in need of immediate improvement. The superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Parents should also understand that we are absolutely committed to helping these schools succeed.

"Oklahoma has great teachers. We have a supportive community of parents who want to play an active role in their child's education. And we have state resources committed to delivering assistance as we work to move these schools in the right direction.

"Working together, we will succeed in better preparing our kids for college and the workforce. Nothing is more important for our children or for Oklahoma's sustained prosperity."

Statement by Dr. Robert Sommers

Dr. Robert Sommers
Oklahoma’s secretary of education and workforce, Dr. Robert Sommers, today issued the following statement regarding the release of the State Department of Education’s A-F grades for Oklahoma Public Schools. In addition to serving on Governor Mary Fallin’s cabinet, Sommers also serves as the director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. Previously, he served as the superintendent of Butler Technology and Career Development Schools in Ohio.

“As a superintendent, I championed the use of data to reform my school district.  In 2001, the data showed my district was doing poorly. We were ranked 42nd out of 49 Ohio tech centers.

“In response to that ranking, which revealed that our students were underperforming, our staff and student body committed ourselves to improvement. After a lot of hard work, we were eventually ranked first in student performance for three years in a row.

“We didn't see the data as a negative. We saw it as an opportunity to measure success. Most importantly, we saw it as a motivator for change and improvement.

“The A-F grading system in Oklahoma offers the same opportunity today. Reporting school performance in a transparent and understandable way is a valuable tool for educational improvement.  Educators who embrace this information and engage their students, parents, and faculty in maintaining high performance or improving low performance are best serving Oklahoma’s children.”
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