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:

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