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.)

Skiatook board seeks fresh start, drops attorney Doug Mann

Taxpayers hopeful Skiatook starts a trend.

The Tulsa World reported, "Monday, the [Skiatook school] board also voted 3-2 to seek a new law firm for Skiatook Public Schools, which is now represented by Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold. Attorney Matt Ballard appeared Monday on behalf of the firm. The legal face of the district had been John Priddy and Doug Mann.

"In a grand jury report released June 25, panelists said that it would 'serve the best interests of the district and community to hire a new attorney who can assist the board in being more open and communicative to the public.'"

I think Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow and Bixby school boards should also drop attorney Doug Mann and seek new legal representation. These school boards and their lawyer should have been "more open and communicative" to the parents that they were planning to ignore House Bill 3393, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. Instead they waited for parents to transfer their children to approved private schools and then sprung the trap. And trapped is how many of these families feel.

School board attorney "almost hoping" for lawsuit on House Bill 3393

Should we be surprised that the attorney is hoping for a lawsuit? I think it is important to determine how much the attorney will be paid to represent the districts in any lawsuits.

"The attorney representing all of the districts rejecting the law, Doug Mann, explained to the Union School Board before their vote that he is expecting--almost hoping--that Special Education advocacy groups will file suits against the districts to get the issue into the legal system so parents of students won't have to spend any money fighting the districts," reports Tulsa's Fox 23 News.

The report goes on to say that the, "districts are all using the same lawyer and banding together so they can share the financial burden of fighting House Bill 3393 and any subsequent lawsuits."

The districts keep protesting that their defiance is not about the money. Then they go on to explain how much the scholarships will cost the districts. If these districts are really concerned about the costs of the scholarships and the effect the scholarships will have on existing programs hopefully they will not mind explaining in similar detail how the legal costs will not negatively affect classroom programs. It's the least they could do under the circumstances.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Well established case law says House Bill 3393 is constitutional

It is well established case law that a legislative act is presumed to be constitutional and will be upheld unless it is clearly, palpably and plainly inconsistent with the Constitution (1). The Oklahoma Supreme Court has consistently held that statutes should be construed whenever possible so as to uphold their constitutionality (2). There is no indication that the provisions of HB 3393 are plainly inconsistent with the Constitution. While the specific provisions of HB 3393 have not yet been reviewed by any court, other scholarship programs that were “neutral” or “of direct benefit to students” have been upheld by the Supreme Court and other courts. The unconstitutionality of a statute may not be urged by resort to hypothetical applications (3).

The rules on construing legislative language have also been clearly set by the courts. Construction which would render the legislation absurd must be avoided; rational constructions are favored if language fairly permits (4). It is clear that the language in HB 3393 is mandatory and requires a public school to administer the payment of a scholarship upon the request of an eligible participant.

(1) Matter of Daniel Deborah and Leslie H., Okl, 591 P 2d 1175 (1979); In re Napier, Okl. , 532 P 2d 423 (1975).

(2) City of Norman v. Liddell, Okl., 596 P 2d 879 (1979); Newman v. Tax Commission, Okl., 596 P 2d 530 (1979); Post Oak Oil Co. v. Okla. Tax Commission, Okl., 575 P 2d 964 (1978); Ruble v. Redden, Okl., 517 P 2d 1124 (1973).

(3) In re Napier, Okl., 532 P 2d 423 (1975).

(4) In re Vrooman's Estate, 206 Okl. 8 , 240 P 2d 754 (1954); John C. Winston Co. v. Vaughan, 11 F. Supp. 954 (W.D.Okl. 1935) affmd. Vaughan v. John C. Winston Co., 83 F.2d 370 (10th Cir. 1936); City of Enid v. Champlin Refining Co., 112 Okl. 168, 240 P. 604 (1925).

Parent Email: Too afraid to speak out against Jenks and their treatment of special education students

Dear Mr. Nelson, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The statements you made regarding Jenks and Broken Arrow in the Tulsa World today are 100% correct! People in Tulsa and Jenks are too afraid to publically speak out against Jenks and their treatment of the special education students!

Jenks is currently being audited by the Office of Civil Rights for violating ADA laws and a list of Special Education Laws that they are in noncompliance. ...

Jenks also has a reputation for interpreting the law so that they don’t have to offer services and/or water the services down so it is very minimal. They also are in violation of offering the same services to all students rather than individualized as required by law. 

Jenks spends a unbelievable amount of money to keep the law firm on retainer because Jenks does not follow the law. I wonder what the public would say if they knew how much of our schools tax dollars went to pay the law firm? If the tax payers had a say in whether that money went to the law firm or the general education fund I know they would say the money should go to our kids! It is disgusting how much money the law firm gets.

It is ridiculous that Jenks insists that they educate and care about their special education kids. Since we [have been in Jenks] my [child] has regressed two years. They have such low expectations and do very little to increase their intelligence and more to teach the kids “life skills”.

Please don’t let up on them! No matter how intimidating they are and the law firm is …..Jenks thinks they are God and above the law and everyone else in this town and so many people and businesses cower down to them all the time. They have the attorneys scare everyone. Everyone knows this but no one has successfully been able to do anything about it. THANK YOU! Sincerely,

(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.)

Federal courts have ordered public funds be spent for private school tuition

The United States Supreme Court in the 2009 Forrest Grove decision concluded "that IDEA authorizes [tuition] reimbursement for the cost of private special education services."

The Court recognized that if a public school fails to provide an appropriate education to a student as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that the public school could be required to pay for the private school placement chosen by the parents if the "...private-school placement is appropriate...."

Speaker Benge Comments on Passing of Justice Opala

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Chris Benge issued the following statement today in response to the death of Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala.   "Justice Opala's life proved the continuing reality of the American Dream. As an immigrant to the United States, he rose to the highest ranks of our legal profession. That he did so in Oklahoma is a source of great pride for our state. From his days fighting Nazis as part of the Polish underground to his work on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Justice Opala's life was committed to justice. He was a remarkable man who leaves a remarkable legacy."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Parent Email on HB3393: "From experience I can tell you that it is a struggle to get services"

I did want to pass my comments and concerns on to you. As a parent of a special needs child I am supportive of HB3393. I do think that optimally public schools should be supporting our special needs children but from experience I can tell you that it is a struggle to get services. I did express my concerns to my school board rep in Union and from the response I got it sounds like they will be joining other areas districts in 'ignoring' the law. It did seem to me that a good portion of the response that I received was drafted by attorney(s) that are evidently advising the board.

(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.)

Sen. Anderson compares Jenks, Broken Arrow school boards to Gov. George Wallace

In a guest column in today's edition of the Sunday Oklahoman State Sen. Patrick Anderson compares the Jenks and Broken Arrow school boards to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Sen. Anderson is the principal Senate author of House Bill 3393 and was key to securing its passage during the 2010 legislative session.

In the column Anderson writes, "In 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace made his infamous 'stand in the school house door' where he blocked black students from the right to enroll in the University of Alabama. Wallace was attempting to ignore the laws with which he disagreed by claiming they were unconstitutional ... ."

Read more:

Richest school districts tell parents they're out of luck

From the "Families who want Jenks Public Schools to pay scholarships for their children to attend private schools are going to be out of luck. This decision goes directly against House Bill 3393, which went into effect on Aug. 27."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Parent Email: "These children are victims of bureaucratic policies that would prefer to see kids wait"

Dear Representative Nelson,

Thank you... thank you... thank you

I have now seen firsthand exactly what your campaign for HB 3393 is all about. …

I was never aware of how serious these issues are for our delayed or special needs child until we had a son born with mild cerebral palsy. Since then I've sought out families across Oklahoma to learn more about their struggles with assistance for their children. What I've heard has been very sad.

At three and a half years of age now, our son … has only attended public school here … for the past 6 months. It has truly been a disappointment and a very sad state of affairs to see how these children are victims of bureaucratic policies that would prefer to see kids wait until a "later date" to really address problems. Please believe me when I say that I could go on and one about what really happens in the public school setting at IEP meetings, and what does not happen in the classroom that should. The same people that claim how critical it is to get these therapies (OT, PT, and speech therapy) at the earliest stages of brain development are some of the same people that want to deny the children many of these "life" critical foundation therapies. My eyes have only been opened by parents of other children who are already years down the road in this's very sad.

It seems that the only way to get the school systems attention frequently is to mention due process... very unfortunate and wrong. …

We're much too smart and educated in this country to let our children wither this way.

Thanks so much and may God continue to bless you sir.


(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. This Parent Email is a representative sample of the dozens of emails I've received because of HB3393.)

Will HB 3393 Cost School Districts Money?

According to a news report by KJRH Roger Wright, Executive Administrator of School and Community Services at Jenks Public Schools, says that the scholarships created in HB 3393 would cost the district money and that "district would have to cut services elsewhere to make up the difference, which would be unfair to the rest of the students in the school system."

The cost of the scholarships is covered in the law. The Tulsa area districts act as if the funding for the student stops when they transfer on a scholarship and that the district must find the money to pay the scholarship on their own. That is not the case.

The reports that Doug Mann, the school board attorney for Broken Arrow, claims that HB 3393 “can get very expensive very quickly.” The story goes on to quote Mann, “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 districts are not mentioning is that the money for the scholarship is fully funded. The district keeps 5% of the scholarship amount to cover administrative costs. In addition to that, the district can continue to count the transferring student for funding purposes for up to two years after the transfer to allow them to absorb their fixed costs. Added to all this money comes less expense because they have one less student.
The reality here is that school districts lose the funding for each student that transfers out of their district after two years even if the student transfers to another school district or to a private or home school setting. However, under HB 3393 the districts retains 5% of the scholarship amount that they would not receive for any other transfer.
House Bill 3393 is a win-win. School districts are protected financially and will have smaller class room sizes with each student that transfers with a scholarship. Most importantly the children benefit because they have more options so they can find and receive the very best education services for their particular special need.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jenks and Broken Arrow School Boards "Bad Losers"

The Tulsa World is not a fan of House Bill 3393. However, they are no fans of the Jenks and Broken Arrow School Districts' decision to brazenly ignore this new state law that benefits special education students.

The editorial writers on today's opinion page wrote that, "Refusing to abide by state law suggests one of two things: Either the school districts are the victims of discrimination and can't count on equal treatment in the judicial and political spheres, or they're just bad losers."

We both agree that it is the later.

Link to House Bill 3393, The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships Program

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reps. Nelson and Shumate Respond

State Reps. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa) discuss the Jenks and Broken Arrow school districts decision to violate state law providing scholarships to special-needs students.

Tulsa-Area Schools Deny Opportunity to Special-Needs Students

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 5, 2010) – The architect of a major special education reform law says two of the states’ highest-paid public-school superintendents and their boards are willfully ignoring the new law due to questionable legal advice, raising serious concerns about the treatment of special-needs students in those districts.

“It is a serious matter anytime a government entity thumbs their nose at the law. I think those with authority over any such agency must understand the gravity of this offense and the potential consequences, and any responsible legal counsel should encourage their client to strive to comply with the law,” said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

The Tulsa World reported that Jenks and Broken Arrow Public Schools, two of the states’ largest school districts, are refusing to implement a new scholarship law designed to benefit students with disabilities.

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act was created by House Bill 3393 during the 2010 legislative session. Under the new law, 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 law went into effect August 27.

Nelson has been contacted by several parents of special-needs students in the Tulsa area, and said the schools’ actions are reason for “serious concern” about the treatment of special-needs students in those districts.

“The fact that these schools will openly ignore state law justifies parents’ fears and concerns about poor treatment of children with disabilities in these districts,” Nelson said. “If these districts are willing to brazenly flaunt the law in this case, I can only imagine how bad it must be for the parents who are trying to get the district to follow federal law and case law during IEP meetings.”

Although Jenks and Broken Arrow officials claimed the handful of scholarships would somehow create a financial hardship, the actual scholarship amounts will always be less than what the district originally received from the state.

The schools violating state law are also represented by the Rosenstein Fist Ringold law firm, which has been involved in similar failed legal strategies. The firm represented schools unsuccessfully suing the state over a charter school law.

“Every attorney I have visited with about the legal tactics of these districts and their lawyers are surprised they have not requested an attorney general’s opinion or sought declaratory judgment by a court rather than stoop to irresponsible and destructive childishness,” Nelson said. “They evidently want to settle a political score by punishing these children and their parents.

“Sincere people can have disagreements over this new program. But it’s not up to individual school districts to pick and choose which laws they will follow. In the end, we need to worry about doing what’s right for special-needs children, and not about the whims of quarter-million-dollar superintendents or their overpaid, underperforming attorneys.”

Steele Expresses Concern Over Schools’ Violation of New Law

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 5, 2010) – House Speaker-designate Kris Steele today said the Jenks and Broken Arrow school systems should comply with a state law granting scholarships to special needs students.

The school boards at both schools voted this week to violate Oklahoma law, which allows students with disabilities, such at autism or Down’s syndrome, to receive scholarships and transfer to schools that specialize in aiding those populations.

“It’s concerning for these schools to break the law at the expense of children with special needs, and it’s disturbing for them to ignore the law over a philosophical difference of opinion,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “If these districts have concerns, they should communicate those issues with the Legislature to bring about positive solutions that would benefit students with special needs.

“We can no more allow schools to violate the law because officials object to it than we can allow drivers to ignore the speed limit in a school zone if it ‘inconveniences’ them,” Steele said.

House Bill 3393, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, created the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act.

The Oklahoma program is similar to laws in Florida and Georgia that have easily withstood legal challenges. The Florida program has been in place since 1999 and now serves approximately 20,000 students with special needs.

In addition, the scholarship program does not require new spending, but merely redirects existing state funds that are currently spent on the student.

School officials claimed the transfers authorized by the scholarship program would somehow harm their financial standing, but only seven students have applied for the scholarships at Jenks and eight at Broken Arrow, according to the Tulsa World. Both schools are among the largest in the state.

“Our focus should be on helping children with special needs,” Steele said. “It’s clear the parents of these children believe a specialized learning environment will provide greater benefit for their kids.”
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