Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oklahoma public school enrollment climbs more than 5,000 students

Hispanic population reaches 12% of the total statewide

OKLAHOMA CITY - According to annual enrollment numbers provided to the State Board of Education by each public school district and charter school site, Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 enrollment for the current school year is 659,615, which is 5,073 more students than were enrolled last school year, and 25,148 more students than just five years ago.

The 2010-11 data shows that Oklahoma’s student population is 18 percent American Indian, 2 percent Asian, 10 percent Black, 12 percent Hispanic, 55 percent White, and 3 percent of two or more races.

Oklahoma’s voluntary Pre-Kindergarten classes remain popular among parents and school leaders. The state is now serving a projected 74 percent of four-year-old children in the state whose parents choose to send them to public Pre-K programs. More than 62 percent of those students are served in full-day Pre-K classes.

The trend of increasing numbers of public school students is evident in most districts. Oklahoma City Public Schools, which surpassed Tulsa Public Schools in enrollment last school year, added 419 students this year and remains the largest district.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bingman Pledges Fair and Accurate Approach to Redistricting

Sen. Brian Bingman
Senate President Pro Tempore
(State Capitol, Oklahoma City) President Pro Tempore Designate Brian Bingman announced his choices for the Senate Redistricting Committee Wednesday. Redistricting refers to the process of adjusting, or redrawing, district boundaries to accommodate the reapportionment as well as population changes within the state based on the 2010 census. All of Oklahoma’s congressional districts, judicial districts, Senate districts and House of Representatives districts are redrawn, to equalize representation.

“It is very important that all of Oklahoma have a seat at the table for this redistricting process. I am confident that this bi-partisan committee of urban, rural and suburban members will accurately reflect our state and lead this process in fairness,” stated Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “It is our job as policy makers to ensure that all Oklahomans receive a voice and we will work diligently to be sure that our population is justly represented.”

Supreme Court boundaries have not been amended since 1968, while Congressional, Senate and House of Representative boundaries change along with the completion of each census every ten years. “It has been over forty years since we have amended the Supreme Court boundaries and on that account it is time that we give them review in this process,” concluded Bingman.

Senate Redistricting Committee Members include:

Sen. Clark Jolley,R-Edmond, Co-Chairman
Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, Co-Chairman
Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, Judicial Vice Chairman
Sen. Don Barrington, R-Lawton, Western and southern Oklahoma Vice Chairman
Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, Northeast Oklahoma Vice Chairman
Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, Eastern and southeast Oklahoma Vice Chairman
Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, Central Oklahoma Vice Chairman
Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, Congressional Chairman
Sen. Kim David, R-Wagoner, Congressional Vice Chairman
Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, Minority Co-Vice Chairman
Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, Minority Co-Vice Chairman
Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa
Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman

Sen. Brian Bingman and Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus, will serve as Ex-Officio Members of the Redistricting Committee.

Each of the vice chair members will serve as a point person to activity and issues related to their territory, which would include public meetings, member inquiries and constituent inquiries. Census data determines that Oklahoma will retain all five congressional seats.

Speaker-elect Announces House Leadership Appointments

Speaker-elect Kris Steele
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele today announced key leadership appointments for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

“Given the significant challenges facing our state, it is critical the Legislature focus on conservative, pro-growth policies that will move Oklahoma forward,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I believe that we have chosen a team of effective leaders who will ensure the upcoming legislative session is conducted professionally and efficiently to maximize our accomplishments.”

The leadership appointments for the Oklahoma House of Representatives are as follows:

Assistant Majority Floor Leaders:
Mike Jackson, R-Enid
Gary Banz, R-Midwest city
Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan
Lisa Billy, R-Purcell
George Faught, R-Muskogee
Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle

Assistant Majority Whips:
Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher
Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville
Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond
Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond
Fred Jordan, R-Jenks
Dennis Casey, R-Morrison
Corey Holland, R-Marlow
Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore

2010 in review: Education reform was a major theme

The 2010 legislative session saw several education bills signed into law.

SB 2033 authorizes several reforms including a statewide teacher evaluation system, performance pay initiatives based upon the evaluation system, and other pay initiatives for teachers in hard-to-staff areas and low-performing schools. It also provides a process for dismissing teachers not achieving certain ratings in the evaluation system and payment instructions through the trial de novo process.

SB 2330 creates the Empowered School Districts Act. The act allows school sites, groups of schools, or school districts to submit to the State Board of Education empowerment plans that detail innovations designed to improve school performance and request that certain statutes and rules be waived to accomplish the plan.

HB 2753, also part of the Legislature’s efforts to reform the state’s education system, lifts the cap on the number of charter schools that can be established per year. It also allows a school district which has a school site on the state’s school improvement list to sponsor a charter school. It gives technology centers and comprehensive regional institutions the right to sponsor charter schools if they are within a district that has a school site on the state’s school improvement list. The measure also allows the Office of Juvenile Affairs to operate a charter school for students in the custody of the agency. A similar bill, SB 1862, allows a federally recognized Indian tribe to sponsor a charter school for native language immersion.

SB 509 allows school districts with more than 30,000 average daily membership the option to release teachers from permanent positions at schools identified for school improvement for four consecutive years and employ the teachers as substitutes for two years. If after two years, the districts have not offered the teachers new permanent positions, the districts may release the teachers entirely. It directs the districts to provide training to teachers and states that final decisions of the districts will not be subject to the Teacher Due Process Act.

Location:NW 58th St,Oklahoma City,United States

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in review: A look at transparency and agency oversight

In the area of government modernization and agency oversight, legislators passed bills requiring transparency in agency operation.

HB 2319 adds language which states that if a legislatively created task force or similar advisory body does not meet at least once or issue a final report within three years of the date in which the law that created it became effective, that task force will cease to have any authority and be terminated.This applies to all legislatively created task forces and advisory bodies regardless of when they were created.

HB 2698 creates the Oklahoma Government Website Information Act. This bill requires public bodies to make available on their website on or before January 1, 2011, any administrative rules the public body uses to operate, proposed administrative rules, statutes affecting the public body and the way it operates, and statutes the public may find useful when interacting with the public body.

HB 3422 requires the Office of State Finance (OSF) to update the state’s Open Books website with Open Books 2.0 by January 1, 2011. Open Books 2.0 will be a more expansive, searchable online database that lists individual expenditures, regardless of amount, separate from aggregated amounts. Within 18 months of Open Books 2.0 being online, OSF must create an online archive for each fiscal year beginning with FY-2011 and that archive must be accessible and searchable to online users.

HB 3422 also requires the Oklahoma Tax Commissionto prepare and maintain a list of all taxpayers who have claimed any tax credit authorized by any provisions of state law and related to a tax administered by the Tax Commission. This includes the identity of all taxpayers or organizations having any part in the chain of custody or claim to the credit at any time during the credit’s existence from the initial time the credit is earned through the time that the credit is claimed on a tax return. It requires the Office of State Finance to make this list available on the internet. The list must include the name of each taxpayer who claimed a credit, the amount of such credit, and the specific statutory provision under which the credit was claimed. The list must be updated least monthly.

Location:N Lincoln Blvd,Oklahoma City,United States

2010 in review: Cabin Rental Leasing Freedom

Because cabin rental owners were cited by the Real Estate Commission for practicing without a real estate license, the Legislature enacted HB 2305 which makes it unnecessary for any person managing a transient lodging facility to have a real estate license. A transient facility is defined as a furnished room or set of rooms rented on a daily basis for not more than 30 days and is not the renter’s principal residence.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sen. Jolley warns Judicial Nominating Commission to not proceed, taint appointment

The Senate author of Senate Joint Resolution 27, which led to State Question 752 being placed on the ballot, is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the ballot measure.

Last week, Oklahoma County voter Jerry Fent filed a lawsuit seeking to have the overwhelming passage of SQ 752 invalidated. The question, which was ultimately passed by a 63 percent vote of the people, gave Oklahomans more of a say in the state’s judicial nominating process. In recent years, the process has been controlled by lawyers.

Despite passage of the question—which added two new, currently vacant non-lawyer positions to the Commission and tightened the requirements on the other non-lawyer members—the Judicial Nominating Commission, under the direction of Oklahoma Bar Association President Allen Smallwood, is proceeding with finding a replacement for recently deceased Justice Marian Opala.

Sen. Clark Jolley
Sen. Clark Jolley, author of SJR 27, is asking the court to issue a stay on JNC action until the Commission can be reconstituted in accordance with the will of the Oklahoma people as expressed with the passage of SQ 752.

Jolley claims in his filing that the Senate President Pro Tempore and Speaker of the House should have a right to make their appointments as outlined in SQ 752 before the Commission should be allowed to proceed with the Supreme Court nominating process.

“We want nothing more than the will of the people to be carried out,” said Jolley, R-Edmond. “In order to do that, the Judicial Nominating Commission needs to be reconstituted according to the current constitutional provisions, including the additional two non-lawyer appointments.”

Continued pressure to force the nomination could lead to the possibility of having a nominee face court action for being appointed through a flawed process, Jolley said.

Sand Springs editorial on school board behavior on HB 3393 hits the mark

Regarding the Owasso and Bixby school boards' recent decision to reverse their earlier vote to not comply with House Bill 3393 Executive Editor William Swaim writes in the Sand Springs Leader:

"Maybe all it took for the wake up call was the possibility of ouster for school board members, who would not have the legal expenses for their defense covered by taxpayer dollars."
I would agree that the recent change of heart has more to do with the threat of ouster raised by an Owasso attorney than my willingness to listen to their concerns and revisit the new law this session.

I have said from the time the bill passed in May that I'm willing to listen to concerns from school districts. I held two interim study meetings this summer for that purpose. It has been no secret that legitimate concerns would be addressed. There is no excuse for the behavior of these school boards.

Swaim goes on to write:
"School board members made a choice and will have to deal with the consequences for willfully neglecting the oath they took. Perhaps ouster is the fitting consequence for not standing up and being a leader for all students in the school district."
In addition to a review of HB 3393 early next year will be the consideration of the behavior of these school boards including ouster.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Speaker-elect Announces House Committee Assignments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele today announced committee assignments for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.
“Although Oklahoma faces significant challenges this year, I am confident the members of the House are more than up to the task,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I appreciate each member’s willingness to serve and, after careful consideration, believe we have matched members to committees in a way that will best utilize each legislator’s gifts and talents.”

The committee assignments for the Oklahoma House of Representatives are as follows:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bixby Public Schools follows Owasso's reversal, will implement Lindsey's Law

By Patrick B. McGuigan, 

Boards of Education in two Oklahoma public school districts dramatically reversed themselves this week. They have now agreed to authorize local implementation of the historic special needs scholarship program the Legislature passed earlier this year.

At the board of education meeting in Owasso, members voted Thursday (December 16) to reverse a controversial decision to defy implementation of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships Program.

Henry scholarships allow families with special education children previously enrolled in public schools options to remain there or to switch to a private provider for their student, with the money following the child.

In discussions with reporters and others, members of the board indicated they were switching from opposition to support because legislative sponsors had agreed to make changes in the law. However, the principal sponsor of the law had already listed possible revisions in closing legislative debate last spring, and in both of the interim studies focused on the new statute, also known as Lindsey’s Law.

The new posture from the Owasso board came after a local attorney had begun a 
Writ of Ouster against the board members. In a letter to Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Gordon Cummings had characterized the board’s prior position as “willful misconduct.”

Owasso superintendent, Dr. Clark Ogilvie, remarked at the beginning of Thursday evening’s meeting, “It is now my understanding that the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Nelson, … and of course he’s here this evening. It’s my understanding that he has reserved a shell bill in the coming session for possible amendments to House Bill 3393 and that indicates to me that he has a willingness to amend portions of the law that were most concerning to school districts across the state of Oklahoma, including ours.”

Ogilvie continued, “And, as a result, as a show of good faith to Rep. Nelson and other legislators who will be taking action on this matter in the coming months I would recommend that the Board rescind its action from October 12.”

On a tape of the brief meeting, obtained by CapitolBeatOK, the board chairman can be heard asking members, “Is there any discussion or comments?” A member of the panel replied: “I think it was well said. I move we vote to rescind the resolutions we adopted by the board at it’s meeting October 12, 2010 in regard to House Bill 3393.”

The motion was seconded, a roll call was taken the new position passed unanimously.

In an interview this week, just hours before a second district took similar action, state Rep. Nelson told CapitolBeatOK, “I'm excited for the students and their parents who will now be able to receive the benefits provided in House Bill 3393. They were put in a very stressful situation -- they transferred their kids to an approved private school and followed all the requirements of the law only to have the district trap them in financial limbo because the school board voted to not follow the law.”

In Bixby, the local board of education on Friday night followed Owasso’s lead, also reversing its position against processing applications for Henry Scholarships. According to a 
report from the Tulsa World, Bixby board members claimed they were taking the step because of a new willingness to “revisit” the legislation next year.

Two previous 
interim studies of the new law have been held, and Rep. Nelson has outlined a few possible revisions to the historic law, including shifting responsibility for program oversight to the state Department of Education and clarifying existing provisions protecting public school districts from liability.

Other districts that voted this fall to defy the new law include Broken Arrow, Jenks,Tulsa and Union.

Doug Mann, lawyer for both the Broken Arrow and Jenks public school systems, has guided the regional (Tulsa area) school boards’ defiance of Lindsey’s Law. He is a leading partner at the controversial 
Rosenstein Fist Ringold law firm, which has guided resistance to the measure, although it was “vetted” by both the state Education Department and Governor Brad Henry. The law firm's surging legal fees have been the subject of scrutiny in reports from the Broken Arrow Ledger.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett, who presided over her last state board of education meeting this past week, has 
criticized the local school boards for violating their oaths of office in the controversy. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Owasso school district reverses, will now comply with Lindsey's Law

Tonight the Owasso school board took less than 2 minutes to reverse its decision from last October to not comply with Lindsey's law which provides scholarships to special education students to enable them to attend a private school of their choosing. The district will begin complying with the requirements of the new program that was created by HB 3393 earlier this year.

This is good news for parents who have already placed their children in private schools pursuant to the law in good faith months ago.

Just a few days ago a local Owasso attorney began a writ of ouster procedure against the Owasso school board members for failing to perform their duties according to the law.

During the superintendent's brief comments, he indicated his willingness to work with me and the Legislature to address concerns he has with the program.

I have repeatedly told concerned superintendents since last session that I am willing to sit down and work with them to identify and correct any infirmities with the new law. This summer I held two interim study meetings for this very purpose.

I am thankful that Owasso Public schools is finally willing to sit down and work out any disagreements in a rational and proper way.

Owasso School Board will reconsider defiance of Lindsey's Law today

By Patrick B. McGuigan of

Published: 15-Dec-2010

Writing for Neighbor Newspapers, including the Broken Arrow Ledger, Danielle Parker and Nour Habib report the Owasso Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday (December 16) at 5 p.m.

According to a story update: “The agenda calls the board to discuss and vote on whether to rescind the board's resolution on House Bill 3393. The meeting will be held at the Dale C. Johnson Education Service Center, 1501 North Ash, in Owasso. There is no time slotted for public comment on the agenda posted."

In a previous story, they reported that Owasso attorney Gordon Cummings is seeking a Writ of Ouster for members of the local board of education who have defied implementation of House Bill 3393, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships Program Act, also known as Lindsey’s Law.

In an October 26 letter to Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Cummings characterized as “willful misconduct” the decision to impede implementation of the law benefitting special needs children.

In that letter, Cummings said, “Removal from office and appointment of new board members is the best solution since it punishes lawbreakers, not innocent students.” Cumming continued, “They are setting themselves up as a mini-supreme court. When you feel a law is unconstitutional, you challenge it in court or go the legislature. But until the law is overturned, it should be followed."

Cummings argued, "The fair way to resolve this is between equal government forces in court, not the poor parents against a board with so many resources." According to the Ledger, Cummings said he has no financial interest in the case, but acted as a concerned citizen: "It has been nearly 60 days, and no one has done anything, because no one knows what to do. The law must be obeyed."

A writ can proceed from local petitioning or action by the attorney general, according to Cummings’ interpretation of a Supreme Court case from 1927. He said: “This is not a crime, but misconduct. No one wants to go to jail in this case, but by intentionally voting to disobey the law, they should be removed from their positions. An elected official has refused to do what his/her duty is, and that is, obey the law. It's pretty clear cut."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rep. Peters responds to negative comments by DHS commissioners about foster care law, child deaths

A front page story in the Sunday Oklahoman by Randy Ellis reports that the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Oklahoma Human Services Commission are blaming a new law for the recent deaths of two children that were not removed from their homes by DHS and the courts.

Rep. Ron Peters
Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, is the Chair of the House Human Services Appropriation and Budget Committee and authored the new law. He issued the following statement today addressing the comments by the DHS commissioners:

After continuing to see Commissioners Wilkinson and DeVaughn blaming this child's death on HB 1734 I wonderif they have ever read the bill. They continually state that the law "requires officials to determine there is an imminent safety threat to the child before it can be removed."

Although it is difficult to fully assess the actions taken (or not) without fully reviewing the case file and investigation notes, the information provided by the OCCY report makes it difficult to understand why protective action, including removal of the children, was not taken much earlier in this family situation.

I do not believe that the problems in this case resulted from the Statute, but rather from the interpretation and decision-making regarding what constitutes a “safety threat” in a case involving drugs.

Under the Statute, "Investigation" means
a response to an allegation of abuse or neglect that involves a serious and immediate threat to the safety of the child, making it necessary to determine: (1) the current safety of a child and the risk of subsequent abuse or neglect, and (2) whether child abuse or neglect occurred and whether the family needs prevention- and intervention-related services.
The changes to the Oklahoma Statutes do not actually define “imminent safety threat,” the term used by the Commissioners to describe what went wrong in this case. However, a similar term “safety threat” is defined as meaning:
the threat of serious harm due to child abuse or neglect occurring in the present or the very near future and without the intervention of another person, a child would likely or in all probability sustain severe or permanent disability or injury, illness or death;
Also, the definitions of child abuse and neglect referenced in this definition were not changed from previous law.
Oklahoma Statutes require “a safety evaluation of a child’s situation by the Department using a structured, evidence-based tool to determine if the child is subject to a safety threat.”

In Oklahoma and around the country, a safety assessment tool is used for this purpose. The tool generally lists 12-15 factors that identify the presence of imminent danger. It is then up to the investigator to determine whether there is reason to believe that the factor exists and creates imminent danger. I have no idea on what basis, certainly not based on HB 1734, a person could say that evidence of drug abuse is not sufficient grounds to remove a child “without a DWI or a syringe in reach of a child to meet ‘imminent safety threat.’" This is obviously not in statue and it is difficult to believe it is in any of the internal standards that DHS may have developed. If so, the standards should be reconsidered.

For this family, clearly the substance use was the primary issue that impacted the safety of the children. There is general agreement in child protection agencies that, in families where substance use is occurring, there are two primary factors that must be taken into account when assessing for a safety threat or imminent danger.
  • Is the use of the drug, including overuse of prescription drugs, impacting the parent’s ability to provide for the basic needs of the children – supervision, protection, and care? The extent of the negative usage and impact, the ages of the children, and other environmental factors are taken into consideration. OR
  • Is the type of drug used considered so dangerous that imminent danger exists even when there is no clear information about the effects on the parent’s ability to provide for the children’s needs? Usually methamphetamine, crack, and heroin are identified as the drugs that automatically create imminent danger because of their highly addictive nature and the overwhelming evidence that parents are not able to function at an acceptable level when using these substances.
In addition, children who have no ability to fend for themselves, such as those under one year of age, are always considered at greater risk. When any of these factors is present, the investigator should have only two choices: put a safety plan into place that is well-structured and closely monitored or remove the children. It appears that neither occurred during any of these investigations, and it wasn't as the Commissioners have alleged, due to language in HB 1734.

Rep. Nelson receives committee assignments

Speaker Steele appointed me to the House Common Education and House Human Services committees today. These assignments are in addition to my earlier appointment as Vice-Chair of the Human Services Appropriations and Budget Committee.

I previously served on the standing Human Services Committee.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Governor-elect Mary Fallin Statement on Health Care Bill Ruling

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - Governor-elect Mary Fallin released the following statement on a federal judge in Virginia’s ruling that a federal mandate for Americans to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional:
“Today’s ruling is an important step in rolling back the president’s job-killing health care bill. It’s good to see a federal judge understands what I – and most Oklahomans – have known from the start: President Obama’s health care plan is unconstitutional,” Fallin said.

“Oklahomans expressed their desire to opt out of the federal health care law when they overwhelmingly passed state question 756 in November. I will continue to work with Attorney General-elect Scott Pruitt as we explore our state’s legal options and find the best way to fight back against the federal health care bill.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

State Senate Names Committee Chairs

For Immediate Release: December 8, 2010

President Pro-Tem Designate Bingman Announces
Committee Chairs and Vice Chair Assignments

Senate President Pro Tempore Designate Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, announced additional Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman for standing committees and Chair and Vice Chairs of all Appropriations Subcommittees today.

“I am very proud to be able to call on such outstanding leaders today,” stated Bingman. “They bring exceptional talent and experience to the table and will no doubt help move Oklahoma forward to a better future.”

The State Senate’s committee Chairs and Vice Chairs for the 2011-12 session:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation by President George Washington

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sen. Anderson to Speak at National Summit on Education Reform

An Oklahoma law to ensure greater opportunities for special needs students is gaining national attention. Enid Republican Patrick Anderson was the Senate author of legislation approved this past session to enable public dollars to fund private educational opportunities for special needs children from single parent and lower income households.

On December 1, Anderson will be in Washington D.C. to speak at a national conference about the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship, named for the infant daughter of Gov. Brad and First Lady Kim Henry who died from a rare neuromuscular disease.

“Oklahoma’s legislation will be highlighted as a way of ensuring all students, including those with special needs, have the best education possible,” Anderson said. “The fact that this legislation is in the national spotlight shows we’re on to something. The bottom line is ensuring special needs students can take advantage of programs that best suit their specific needs, whether they are in a public or private school setting.”

Other participants in the Foundation For Excellence In Education’s third annual National Summit on Education Reform include former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida; former Gov. Bob Wise of West Virginia; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; U.S. Department of Education Sec. Arne Duncan; and Sir Michael Barber, former education advisor to English Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“This is a very prestigious gathering of leaders in education, government and business who are dedicated to giving America’s children the very best educational opportunities possible,” Anderson said. “I’m honored to be able to share what we’re doing here in Oklahoma to achieve that goal and learn more about what other states are doing as well.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rep. Nelson named by Speaker-elect Steele to Working Group to Reform House Rules

Reform of conference committee process to increase transparency
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker-elect Kris Steele today announced the creation of a working group to consider procedural reforms that will make the legislative process more transparent.

“While we have made tremendous strides towards increased transparency in recent years, I believe we can build on those successes and give citizens greater access to the legislative process,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I believe increased public scrutiny and oversight is vital to a healthy democracy, and technological advances now allow us to be more user-friendly than ever. I am serious about bold reform and am confident the members of the working group will develop proposals that significantly change the way things are done at the Oklahoma Capitol.”

Among other things, the working group will consider rule changes that open the conference committee process to allow actual meetings and public votes on conference committee reports. In addition, the group will consider reforms that could end the practice of voting on “shell” appropriation bills that contain no actual budget numbers.

The members of the working group are as follows:

State Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma

State Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City

State Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa

The committee will also consider putting in place a hard 24-hour rule that requires a House conference committee report to be filed and posted online for a full day before it can be considered on the House floor. Currently, there is no 24-hour rule during the final two days of session.

As part of that proposal, conference committee reports would also be posted online for member and public review with a link to previous versions of the bill available so changes can be more easily spotted.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Speaker-elect Kris Steele announced top leadership appointments today

State Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, will serve as House Majority Leader, a new position created to facilitate leadership meetings, assist in communication with the state Senate and Governor’s Office, and help guide the majority agenda through the legislative process.

State Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, will serve as the Majority Floor Leader and will oversee the daily floor activity of the House during. The Floor Leader will also assign bills to appropriate committees.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, will serve as chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee and will oversee the formation of the state’s budget for various agencies and departments.

State Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, will serve as Majority Whip and will head a team of assistants whips who will establish effective communication for the Republican caucus on a wide arrange of issues and work to advance legislation on the House floor.

New poll: Oklahomans say 'Lindsey’s Law' should be enforced

Republished from

School districts refusing to comply with Lindsey’s Law are flying in the face of widespread popular support for enforcement of the measure, according to a new public opinion survey from SoonerPoll.

A total of six public school districts have refused implementation of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Children with Disabilities Program Act. The new SoonerPoll results indicate Oklahomans disagree, by a 2-1 margin, with the school boards’ defiance of the new law.

The controversial law firm of Rosenstein Fist Ringold has advised districts not to implement the law, even though the measure gained bipartisan legislative support and was vetted before enactment by Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett and Governor Brad Henry.

Rosenstein Fist Ringold was previously involved in previous attempts to impede operation of Oklahoma’s charter school laws. After years of litigation in that matter, the firm and its clients lost, costing taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees.

Last month, Superintendent Garrett told CapitolBeatOK that she believed members of the school boards in question had violated their oaths of office when they voted to impede implementation of the law.

The law written by state Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City and state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid -- with key co-sponsors including state Reps. Jabar Shumate and Anastasia Pittman -- was named in honor of Lindsey Nicole Henry, the daughter of the governor and his wife, Kim, who died in infancy of a rare disease.

Shumate’s support of the legislation provoked an all-out effort by labor unions, including the Oklahoma Education Association, to defeat the black Democrat from north Tulsa in the July primary. Shumate survived the political assault and was reelected.

Lindsey’s Law allows students with special needs (a wide range of disabilities) presently enrolled in public schools to access scholarships if they enroll in a private school. Critics have questioned the measure’s constitutionality. The measure did not increase funding for special education, and operates within the framework of existing finances.

According to a release from SoonerPoll, “When asked whether school districts should comply with the law until a constitutional ruling is made, 61.4 percent believe that they should compared to 29.5 percent who believe that school districts are not obligated to comply until a constitutional ruling is made.”

In all, the boards of education in five public school districts -- Owasso, Jenks, Union, Bixby and Broken Arrow – have chosen to defy the law. A sixth district, the Tulsa public school system, voted to process a few early applications but has turned away all other families seeking to access the program.

The defiance of the law has drawn critical response from parents of special needs children and from the bipartisan group of lawmakers who shepherded the law through the Legislature, including income Speaker of the House Kris Steele.

On Monday, an Owasso parent told a Tulsa television station, “Now we need to think about suing the school board to make them do what’s right. Because they’re choosing to violate the law they don’t agree with. It makes no sense.”

When the legislation cleared the Legislature last spring, SoonerPoll found 54.7 backed the measured. Today’s SoonerPoll analysis said the new results means “one of two things; support for the legislation has grown since its passage or many opposed to the bill believe it should be complied with regardless of their opinions.”

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll, said: "It is interesting to note that when the results are cross-tabulated by party and political label no major statistical differences are seen between Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. It is remarkable to see such a controversial issue split so evenly among political groups and ideologies."

Doug Mann, the lawyer for both the Broken Arrow and Jenks public school systems, has guided the school boards’ defiance of the new law.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned the new survey from, which conducted its “scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 518 likely voters from Nov. 5 – 11. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.3 percent.”

NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK. Stacy Martin is editor of The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper where McGuigan is senior editor.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Family speaks-out about Owasso Public School's failure to follow the law

Click headline to watch video

House Bill 3393 is a measure I authored with Senator Patrick Anderson during the 2010 legislative session. The bill was signed into law by Governor Henry in June. The new law provides publicly funded scholarships for special education students to attend a private school of their choice that meets their unique education needs. 

Currently six Tulsa area school districts are openly defying this new law and denying the scholarships to eligible students. The districts failing to follow the law are Tulsa, Jenks, Broken Arrow, Union, Bixby and Owasso. 

Governor-elect Mary Fallin Names Jim Reese Secretary of Agriculture

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Governor-elect Mary Fallin today announced that former State Executive Director for the Oklahoma Farm Service Agency Jim Reese will serve as secretary of agriculture in Fallin’s administration and cabinet.

Governor-Elect Mary Fallin Launches Transition Website

Governor-Elect Mary Fallin has launch her transition website and is seek input from citizens.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

House GOP Majority Caucus Elects Leadership

House GOP Majority Caucus Elects Leadership
Speaker-elect Steele, Speaker Pro Temp Hickman & Caucus Chair Watson Chosen

Speaker Kris Steele
OKLAHOMA CITY – Following on the heels of elections that gave Republicans a historic 70-31 margin of control in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the House GOP caucus today chose its leadership and re-affirmed state Rep. Kris Steele as their choice for House Speaker-elect.
            “I am honored and humbled by the support of my colleagues,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “As we face the significant challenges of the coming session, I am committed to a process that utilizes the talents of all 101 members of this chamber to develop and advance pro-growth, conservative policies that will move Oklahoma forward.”
            The GOP caucus elected its three top leadership positions today. In addition to Speaker of the House-elect, Republican lawmakers also selected House Speaker Pro Tempore-elect and Majority Caucus Chair.
Rep. Jeff Hickman
            In addition to electing Steele, the GOP caucus chose state Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, as Speaker Pro Tempore-elect and state Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa, as Caucus Chairman.
            Over the next several weeks Steele plans to announce additional appointed GOP leadership positions.
            On Tuesday, November 16 at 1:30 p.m., the newly-elected members of the entire House will be sworn in at the Capitol. In early January, the full House will convene for an organizational day to formally elect House leadership.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Picking-up yard signs

I'm out in the district picking-up my campaign yard signs after the election yesterday. When you're placing them during the camapign it never seems like you have enough signs out. You have a different attitude when it is time to pick them up. Where did all these signs come from?

Jason Nelson Re-election Vote Totals

9,514 total votes cast in House District 87 Race.

5,147 votes    54.1%.    Nelson
4,367 votes    45.9%.    Orwig

Support and volunteer help made the difference - especially in the major surge of activity during the last week. 

Will post more tomorrow after some sleep. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

WIN: Nelson 54% to Orwig 46%
Four of thirteen precincts reporting: Nelson 59.2% to Orwig 40.8%

Polls open for next two hours

If you live in House District 87 please cast your vote for Jason Nelson. This will be one of the closest legislative races in the state.

Friends of Jason Nelson watch party tonight

Please remember to vote and don't forget to stop by our Election Day watch party in Suite 1508 at the OKC Marriott on NW Expressway after the polls close at 7pm. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Campaign watch party planned, Election results will be posted here

Our campaign watch party is schedule from 7 to 8:30 pm tomorrow, Tuesday, November 2nd in Suite 1508 at the Marriott at NW Expressway and Independence.

Friends and supporters are welcome to attend.

If you are unable to make the watch party you can keep-up with the returns here. We will be posting our election results here as they are called in by volunteers beginning at 7 pm. We will have the results for our race posted here much quicker than anywhere else. Hopefully we will have the final results by 7:45 pm.

Halloween surprise: Late tactics target pro-lifers

By Patrick B. McGuigan at

Strongly pro-life legislators, including two with “perfect” answers on the Oklahomans for Life survey of candidates for positions in the state Legislature, have been targeted with late mailers, radio spots and/or television advertisements. The communications which hit Friday and Saturday of last week, were designed to mislead voters about their records on pro-life issues.

One of the state’s leading advocates of pro-life protections, Oklahoma Family Policy Council Executive Director Mike Jestes, issued a statement saying attempts to use his critical analysis of one bill last legislative session were unwelcome and inaccurate.
In statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Jestes said:

“Oklahoma Family Policy Council regrets the way in which our previous comments, which were internally directed at members of the Oklahoma Legislature, are now being used in partisan, political ways to scare concerned Oklahoma voters about the pro-life values of some very fine conservative, pro-life Oklahoma legislators.

“Unfortunately, many fine state legislators, including Rep. Ann Coody, Rep. Steve Martin, Rep. Jason Nelson, and possibly others, are being incorrectly characterized for partisan purposes as not pro-life.

“Their votes in 2010 over Senate Bill 1902 were about the regulation and control of Oklahoma's equine and animal husbandry industry. There were not then — nor are there now — any documented problems in Oklahoma about veterinary drugs being used for back-alley abortions or date rape.

“The bill in question, S.B. 1902, was later, at our suggestion, amended in the Senate to correct any possible deficiencies and is now consistent with federal law.”

Jestes concluded: “Voters in these affected districts should exercise their common-sense about politics in the last few days before an important election. Check out the records of these legislators directly, or via well-known pro-life organizations like Oklahomans for Life. Don't rely on charges by unknown political action committees. Don't be fooled.”

Rep. Nelson, the incumbent in west Oklahoma City’s District 87, garnered a perfect “pro-life” rating on the 12-question survey of Oklahomans for Life (LINK), as did Ann Coody of Lawton (District 64).

Nelson’s opponent, Dana Orwig, did not answer the pro-life questionnaire; nor did Coody’s foe, Michael J. Corrales. Both Orwig and Corarales are Democrats.

Steve Martin, the Republican incumbent in District 10 (Nowata, Osage and Washington counties), answered 11 of 12 questions in agreement with the Oklahomans for Life survey. His Democratic opponent, Nick Brown, agreed with Oklahomans for Life on ten questions, disagreed on one and did not answer another.

A key critic of S.B. 1902 who asked not to be identified told CapitolBeatOK on Saturday “it was the Dem [Democratic] House Political Action Committee who paid for the brochures.” Veterinarians involved in the fight over S.B. 1902 have also told CapitolBeatOK the mailer is distorted and inaccurate.

In interviews with CapitolBeatOK, Jestes made clear his earlier concerns about legislation relating to misuse of prescription medicines relating to veterinary medicine had been addressed in a series of Senate amendments.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Family Policy Council Answers Bogus Charge From My Opponents

For Immediate Release: Oct. 29, 2010

Contact: Mike Jestes (405) 787-7744, cell (405) 990-5888

Oklahoma Family Policy Council Executive Director Mike Jestes today released this statement about political campaign literature, radio spots, and television ads being released in a few selected markets across Oklahoma:

“Oklahoma Family Policy Council regrets the way in which our previous comments, which were internally directed at members of the Oklahoma Legislature, are now being used in partisan, political ways to scare concerned Oklahoma voters about the pro-life values of some very fine conservative, pro-life Oklahoma legislators. Unfortunately, many fine state legislators, including Rep. Ann Coody, Rep. Steve Martin, Rep. Jason Nelson, and possibly others, are today being incorrectly characterized for partisan purposes as not pro-life. Their votes in 2010 over SB 1902 were about the regulation and control of Oklahoma's equine and animal husbandry industry. There were not then — nor are there now — any documented problems in Oklahoma about veterinary drugs being used for back-alley abortions or date rape. The bill in question, SB 1902, was later, at our suggestion, amended in the Senate to correct any possible deficiencies and is now consistent with federal law. Voters in these affected districts should exercise their common-sense about politics in the last few days before an important election. Check out the records of these legislators directly, or via well-known pro-life organizations like Oklahomans for Life. Don't rely on charges by unknown political action committees. Don't be fooled.”


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Schools Hurting for Money, Some Refuse to Implement HB 3393

The school superintendents for the six Tulsa area school districts currently refusing to implement the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program act (House Bill 3393) "earn" a combined $1.2 million in salary and benefits each year. The school districts ignoring the new law are Tulsa, Jenks, Broken Arrow, Union, Bixby and Owasso.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education the students currently on the new scholarship receive amounts ranging from $4,100 to $10,800  each year depending on their particular disability. If two dozen students received and average scholarship amount of $7,500 the total cost for the twelve students would be $180,000.

I think the state benefits more in the long run, dollar-for-dollar, from spending on the the scholarships than on quarter-of-a-million dollar superintendent salaries.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Media Advisory: State Board of Ed to Consider Special Needs Scholarship Issue

Parents, Advocates Seek Action Against Schools Breaking OK Law

WHO: State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City), advocates for children with special needs, and parents of children with special needs
WHAT: State Board of Education Meeting
WHERE: State Board Room, Suite 1-20, Hodge Education Building at the Capitol complex, 2500 North Lincoln Blvd.
WHEN: 9:30 a.m., Thursday, October 21

THE STORY AT A GLANCE: During Thursday’s meeting, the State Board of Education is scheduled to consider possible action against schools that are violating state law governing the treatment of Oklahoma children with special needs.

State Rep. Jason Nelson, who authored the law providing scholarships to children with special needs (such as autism), will be in attendance, as will at least one affected parent of a special needs child. Other parents and advocates may also attend.

Under the scholarship program created through House Bill 3393, children with disabilities who have an individualized education program (IEP) qualify for a scholarship to attend any private school that meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education. The amount of the scholarship is the amount the state would have spent on the child, so it requires no new spending.

Officials at the Bixby, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Owasso, Union and Tulsa school districts have voted to break that law, leaving special-needs children without access to appropriate educational services.

Nelson and affected families will be available to comment on the issue.


State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss Tulsa area school boards' misbehavior

Tomorrow, Thursday, October 21 at 9:30 the State Board of Education will meet in room 1-20 of the Hodge Education Building at 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd. The Board will discuss what, if any, actions they will take regarding the refusal of six Tulsa area school districts to obey House Bill 3393, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Update: Will HB 3393 Cost School Districts Money?

In an earlier post I answered this question. Here I'm providing more detail.

The school districts that have recently voted to ignore House Bill 3393 have claimed that when a student transfers to a private school on the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program it will result in reduced funding for the public school program that that student is leaving. Under provision in HB 3393 a portion of the funding that had been going to the school district will follow the student to the private school of the parent’s choice in the form of a scholarship. Their contention is that the district will be stuck without the revenue to cover the fixed costs for services that they were providing to the student before they transferred out on a scholarship.

The reported that Doug Mann, the school board attorney for Broken Arrow, said about HB 3393, “The fact of the matter is that the program that that child was in still has to be funded but it now has less funding for that program.”

What they have failed to mention is that there has been a provision in law for years that helps districts address the fixed costs that remain for a period of time after a student leaves.

Section 18-200.1 of Title 70 (1) is the "State Aid" formula section of law. It sets out how the school funding formula is calculated. As stated in subsection A the formula is calculated using the "highest weighted average daily membership for the school district of the two (2) preceding school years". The intent of this provision was to lessen the impact for those school districts that have fluctuating or declining enrollment.

The fact is that these school districts are able to continue to count for funding purposes a student that has transferred out of the district for two years after the transfer. This provides enough time for districts to adjust their fixed costs in order to protect their programs.

(1) §70-18-200.1. A. "Beginning with the 1997-98 school year, and each school year thereafter, each school district shall have its initial allocation of State Aid calculated based on the state dedicated revenues actually collected during the preceding fiscal year, the adjusted assessed valuation of the preceding year and the highest weighted average daily membership for the school district of the two (2) preceding school years."

Is it true that rogue districts' only choice was ignoring state law?

Dr. Cathy Burden, Superintendent for Union Public Schools, is quoted in a Fox 23 news story, "We do not have any status to be able to bring a lawsuit ourselves. We would if we could have done that. We would have challenged the law in some other way. But we do not have's against the law to sue the legislature, so we can't sue the State of Oklahoma. We have to therefore find a way to take this into the court system"

This is the excuse given by Tulsa area school districts for secretly waiting until parents had transfered their children to private schools before telling parents that the districts are going to ignore House Bill 3393 and leave the parents in an impossible situation. Parents must now pay the tuition and pay to sue the districts.

Is it true that districts did not have any choice but to force parents to sue. Is it true that the districts "do not have any status to be able to bring a lawsuit?"

The answer can be found in a Tulsa World story from December 29, 2007. The story begins, "Tulsa Public Schools filed suit against the state and the Oklahoma State Department of Education ... in an effort to get the Charter Schools Act declared unconstitutional. Filed in Oklahoma County District Court, the suit seeks declaratory judgment, as well as a permanent injunction to halt the payment of state funds to charter schools that otherwise would go to TPS."

Attorney Doug Mann was the attorney representing TPS in their lawsuit against charter schools. One would think he might remember this case and that the school district was able to seek declaritory judgement by a court.

Attorney Bill Wilkinson who practices education law took issue on with House Bill 3393, calling it "a stupid peice of legislation," and with the Tulsa area school boards' refusal to follow the law. NewsOn6 reports that Wilkinson believes that "the law is the law, and he's baffled that districts are choosing simply not to comply with it."

NewsOn6 goes on to quote Wilkinson's thoughts on the behaviour of these rogue school boards, "I've never seen anything like it before. I thought it was a bad dream when I saw it reported on the news. It's just a terrible, terrible mistake."

NewsOn6 writes that Wilkinson told them, "The districts could have filed what's called a 'Petition For Declaratory Judgement.' He says that would have allowed a district judge to rule on whether or not 3393 is constitutional."

I would like to know the real reason why Dr. Burden and the superintendents from Broken Arrow, Bixby, Owasso and Jenks chose not to seek declaritory judgement as the Tulsa school board did in 2007.

Will House Bill 3393 Hurt Public School Students?

The answer is NO if an April 2008 study of the Florida McKay Scholarship Program is any indication. Public school students who don't take advantage of the scholarships created by House Bill 3393 will also likely benefit.

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research report evaluates the impact of the Florida McKay Scholarship Program for disabled students on the academic performance of the students who remain in the public school system. Oklahoma's Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program (HB 3393) is modeled on the McKay program. The McKay Scholarship is the oldest program of its type and the most studied.

The report summary states: "The report evaluates the impact of Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities ... on the achievement of disabled students who remain in their local public schools. Using data on public school students in Florida from 2000-01 through 2004-05, the authors found that reading and math test scores of students who were eligible for McKay vouchers but remained in the public schools improved substantially, even as private school alternatives became more available. The largest category of disabled students—those with Specific Learning Disability, a mild form of disability, accounting for 8.5 percent of all students in Florida—enjoyed the greatest gains. The academic proficiency of students diagnosed with more severe disabilities was neither helped nor harmed."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Parent Post on HB 3393: "They would never say she was dyslexic ..."

"In my daughters' Individual Education Plan they [the school district] would write " Her mother states she shows all the signs and symptoms of dyslexia" . They would never say she was dyslexic because then they would have to provide services for someone who was dyslexic. And guess what they don't have a program for dyslexics."

(I received this post from a parent within the last week. Some Tulsa area school districts are refusing to follow House Bill 3393, a new law that provides scholarships to students with disabilities. I've re-posted it because I want to share with others what I'm hearing from parents about the importance of House Bill 3393. The Parent Emails that I've been posting are a representative sample of the dozens of emails, comments and letters I've received because of HB3393.)

Sen. Patrick Anderson sends letter with friendly advice on HB 3393 to Tulsa School Board

Dear Tulsa School Board Members:

My name is Patrick Anderson and I am the Senate author of HB 3393 – the scholarship bill for children with special needs. I am also an attorney and serve as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under our legal systems, all laws are presumed to be constitutional until and unless a Court declares them to be unconstitutional. Therefore, I am troubled by the fact that the law firm that is representing you is advising you to violate the law rather than directly challenging it in Court. The proper way to challenge HB 3393 is to file an action seeking a declaratory judgment on whether the law is constitutional or not. I am attaching to this letter the transcript of the October 14, 2010, Channel 6 interview of Tulsa Attorney Bill Wilkinson on this issue. Mr. Wilkinson apparently represents other school districts and doesn’t like the scholarship law either – but he thinks that violating the law is the wrong way to handle this situation.

I am also concerned about the fact that your Superintendent’s son, Matt Ballard, is an attorney with the law firm that is urging you to violate the law. I am concerned that this personal relationship creates a conflict of interest which may be clouding the judgment of the people that are asking you to vote to violate this law.

I recognize that there are many different views on HB 3393. It was not an issue that we took lightly in the legislature. We spent hours meeting with attorneys, superintendents, and officials from the State Department of Education on the issue. We revised the legislation to meet the concerns they raised. Furthermore, we won the approval of Governor Henry – who is an attorney and a strong advocate for public schools. The Governor and his wife were in such support of the measure that they agreed to allow the scholarships to be named after their deceased child. I only share this part of the story to clear up the rumors that have been spread that we named it after his daughter without his consent – that simply is not true.

This scholarship program was created using the State of Florida’s McKay Scholarships as a model. If you have not heard of the McKay scholarships then I would urge you to go to the Florida Department of Education’s website and read about their success. Or simply call the Florida Department of Education and speak to them about it – that is what I did when I was asked to carry this bill. The success of the Florida program has been phenomenal. When it began 10 years ago, special needs students in Oklahoma were outperforming Florida special needs students on test scores. Since that time, test scores for Florida special needs students (both in public and private schools) have soared past Oklahoma special needs students. So why has there been such success in Florida? The answer is that as a result of these scholarships, class sizes in public schools were reduced and private schools specializing in special needs students increased. In addition to Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Arizona and Utah have also established similar scholarship programs as well.

Reasonable minds can differ and I can certainly understand questions being raised about the constitutionality of the measure. However, I certainly believe that the scholarship program is constitutional. These programs have existed for years in other states – it is just new to Oklahoma. The simplest analogy I can give you to explain why it is constitutional is to compare these scholarships with the State Medicaid program. Both programs involve State tax dollars. The State routinely makes Medicaid payments to religious affiliated hospitals such as St. John’s in Tulsa and other private facilities such as nursing homes. How can we legally spend these State tax dollars on religious hospitals and private entities? The answer is because the money is being spent on the patient – not the religious/private institution. Likewise, these scholarships are being spent on the students – not the religious/private institution. Nor are these scholarships gifts. A gift would be something that comes with no restrictions. That is not the case with these scholarships. In order to qualify for these scholarships, the student and the private institution must meet certain continuing requirements. If they do not meet those requirements then they are not entitled to the scholarship.

I would urge you to ask a lot of questions about the advice you are being given in this matter before you vote to violate the law. Perhaps you should consider seeking a second opinion.


State Senator

Friday, October 15, 2010

Garrett says schools boards impeding Lindsey’s Law are 'in violation of their oaths'

by Patrick B. McGuigan,

Oklahoma state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett believes members of four public school boards are “in violation of their oaths of office” since moving to oppose implementation of the new Henry Scholarships designed to benefit special-needs students.

Boards of education in Bixby, Broken Arrow, Jenks and (Tulsa) Union school districts have voted in recent weeks not to comply with House Bill 3393, which Gov. Brad Henry signed into law this year.

Passed in the 2010 legislative session, House Bill 3393, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, created the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. The law was named to honor the memory of the Gov. and Mrs. Kim Henry’s infant daughter, who died of a rare neuromuscular disease as an infant. It is also known as “Lindsey’s Law.”

In an interview today (Friday, October 15) with CapitolBeatOK, Schools Superintendent Garrett said:

“When I took office as Superintendent of Public Instruction, I swore an oath to obey federal and state laws. I have sought every day to uphold that promise. Whether or not I like a particular law is not material. It is my job to obey the law and to implement it.

“The way I look at it, the local officials on these boards of education who have acted not to comply, or to prevent implementation of this program in their districts, are not fulfilling their duties.

“I believe they are in violation of their oaths of office. This law was passed, and implemented in a timely manner by the state.

“To be clear, in my work every day there are laws I don’t necessarily agree with but which I am required to carry out.”

Garrett concluded, “I think these school board members have been ill-advised.”

Garrett’s comments echo recent reflections from a bipartisan group of legislators, including incoming House Speaker Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, state Rep. Jabar Shumate, a Tulsa Democrat, and Rep. Nelson.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Parent Email on HB3393: "I wonder if he has talked to parents in his district that have applied"

"I will say that our family is very committed to and supportive of public schools and we have tried to work within the system to get services as provided for in federal ADA and IDEA Acts within our local school. I have to tell you that it is a struggle and I know from talking to other parents in a number of the local school districts that we are not alone. With some of the struggles we have had to get services, I am sympathetic to parents who are trying to avail themselves to alternatives offered under the new law.

"I do think that if the school districts are truly only interested in the constitutionality of the law and what is best for students that there are more constructive approaches. Specifically in regards to Superintendent Mendenhall's comments that 'this is more about the kids', I wonder if he has talked to parents in his district that have applied for the program to determine why and what BA schools could do to support there needs. I also wonder if he would be willing to put the associated funds into escrow while the matter is being determined. That would seem to be a reasonable accommodation if it is not about the money."

(I received this email from a parent within the last week. I've posted it because I want to share with others what I'm hearing from parents about the importance of House Bill 3393. The Parent Emails that I've been posting are a representative sample of the dozens of emails I've received because of HB3393.)
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