Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nelson: Jenks & Union Schools Should Get Used to Criticism

This release is in response to a Tulsa World news story today regarding Jennifer Carter's use of the word “dirtbags” in a tweet nearly a month ago.  Carter tweeted when she learned that administrators in the Jenks and Union school districts were suing parents of special-needs students who are using scholarships available through the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act.

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Nelson said the leaders of the Jenks and Union Public Schools should get used to criticism after targeting the parents of special-needs children with a frivolous lawsuit.
He said criticism is more than warranted in light of the districts’ apparent continued violation of state law and mistreatment of special-needs children.
“Apparently, Jenks and Union officials are shocked that anyone would call them ‘dirtbags’ for persecuting the families of children with special needs,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I’ve got news for them: Get used to it. Oklahoma citizens will no longer stand by while wealthy school bureaucrats abuse their power.
“I believe these districts continue to violate state law and know their actions are indefensible - which is likely the reason they did not include ‘suing parents’ on any school board agenda,” Nelson said. “I’ve not heard one person defend suing parents outside the administrators of Jenks and Union schools. I’ve visited with numerous people who shudder at the idea of a school district suing parents – especially in this case – and many of them used far more colorful language to express their opinion.”
Several months ago, the Jenks and Union school boards voted to sue the state attorney general to challenge the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. However, they never filed that lawsuit, and instead suddenly sued parents who legally obtained scholarships as a result of the law.
Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships allow a student with a disability (such as Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school that parents believe can better serve their child. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.
“At the start of September, the amount spent on all students receiving these scholarships statewide was a combined total of $197,345 – far less than the combined salaries of the two superintendents at Jenks and Union,” said Nelson, who authored the scholarship law. “When you have school administrators obsessing over a month-old, offhand, one-word Twitter comment instead of working to provide each child a quality education, that suggests the school funds being wasted are those spent on administrators’ fat paychecks and not the pittance spent helping educate children with special needs.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Oklahoma Will Submit Application to Early Learning Challenge Grant Contest

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin and Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi announced recently that Oklahoma will submit an application tailored to Oklahoma’s unique strengths as a leader in early childhood education to the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) program. RTT-ELC is a $500 million state-level grant competition aimed at improving early childhood education. Under RTT-ELC, participating states submit a detailed application to the United States Department of Education, outlining their plans to improve upon early childhood education. Should Oklahoma be chosen as a winner, the state would be eligible for a grant of up to $60 million.

Oklahoma is considered a national leader in early childhood learning, with the largest number of four-year olds per capita enrolled in voluntary pre-kindergarten classes in the nation. Approximately 75% of Oklahoma 4-year-olds enroll in pre-kindergarten programs. Quality early childhood education has been shown to increase social and cognitive readiness for kindergartners and to bolster student performance.

“My number one priority as governor is to make Oklahoma a more prosperous state with more good, high paying jobs,” Fallin said. “In the long term, nothing is more important to achieving that goal than having quality educational institutions, high student achievement and a highly skilled workforce.

“In the last year we have pursued a variety of reforms aimed at increasing quality and accountability in grades K-12. Now, by pursuing improvements to early childhood education, we can help to ensure that children are better prepared to excel in school even before they arrive in kindergarten. That’s why I’ve asked the Department of Education to take the lead in developing an Early Learning Challenge application that clearly defines areas where we can improve on our past successes and improve early childhood education in Oklahoma, without creating any new government programs or leaving the state on the hook for additional costs in later years.”

Barresi said that investing in early childhood education would ultimately pay big dividends for the state.

“Studies show that for every $1 dollar invested in early learning, upwards of $11 in economic benefits are seen over a child's lifetime.” Barresi said. “Improving our early childhood education programs will help to increase test scores while decreasing the costs associated with remediation and special education programs.”

“Investing in early childhood education is a key component of our renewed focus and conservative reforms on literacy and proficiency in core areas like math and science. If our kids aren’t ready to learn on day one of their academic careers – beginning in kindergarten – than they can quickly fall behind. Pre-K programs are proven to help children develop the skills they need to become successful students, and eventually successful members of our workforce. Ultimately, the investment we make in these early stages pays for itself many times over.”  

Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki also voiced her support for the grant application.

“This is a great opportunity for the state to continue to build on what is one of the most successful and high-quality early education systems in the nation,” said Hudecki. “Getting these children the tools they need to succeed academically is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, and will continue to benefit Oklahoma for years to come.”

The application for the ELC grant is due on October 19. While the Oklahoma Department of Education will play a lead role, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Commerce will each assist in developing the application. Winners are expected to be announced by the end of the year.

Governor Fallin Issues Proclamation Supporting Early Childhood Literacy

Sept. 26-30 declared Early Childhood Awareness Week for state of Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY – Yesterday Governor Mary Fallin proclaimed the week of Sept. 26 through Sept. 30, 2011 as Early Childhood Awareness Week in Oklahoma and stressed the importance of supporting early childhood literacy in the state.  Together with Reach Out and Read Oklahoma, she encouraged parents to read daily to their child from an early age to prepare them for school success.
“Reading with your children is a fun, family activity that helps young learners develop the language skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and throughout their entire school career. I applaud Reach Out and Read Oklahoma and I encourage all parents to spend as much time as they can reading with their young children,” Fallin said.
Governor Fallin reads “Green Eggs and Ham”
to a group of students
After reading a proclamation, Gov. Fallin read “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss to a group of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students from St. John Christian Academy.
Neuroscientists report that 90 percent of brain development occurs before a child enters kindergarten, and 30 percent of Oklahoma’s kindergarten students are not performing at the kindergarten grade level.
Reach Out and Read Oklahoma is a nonprofit organization that promotes early childhood literacy and encourages families to read together to help the child build basic language skills that will prepare them to learn how to read before they reach kindergarten.
“A child’s brain develops a tremendous amount throughout the first five years of their lives, and it is our responsibility as adults to prepare our children and give them the tools they will need to succeed,” said Steven Davis, senior state director of Reach Out and Read Oklahoma. “It is our goal that by increasing awareness of early literacy in the state, more children will perform at or above grade level and will continue to thrive through school and into their adult lives.”
Lt. Governor Todd Lamb
In celebration of the proclamation, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb read to a group of young children at OU Children's Physicians Building this morning.
“It is my honor to participate in Early Childhood Awareness Week,” Lamb said. “It is very important that we teach the young children of Oklahoma the importance of literacy and how it can have a positive influence in their everyday lives. I look forward to reading to these children, and I encourage parents all across Oklahoma to read to their children tonight before bed.”
About Reach Out and Read
Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based, national nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness by giving new books to children and advice to parents at regular pediatric checkups. The program allows children to take home a new, age-appropriate book after every checkup from 6 months through 5 years. For more information on Reach Out and Read Oklahoma, visit

Click here to view the proclamation

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fallin, Barresi Appear as Panelist in National Education Summit

OKLAHOMA CITY – Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi served as panelists during NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York City.  
The summit, held at Rockefeller Center, brought together governors, state superintendents of education, administrators, teachers and other leaders for an earnest discussion about educating children in the ever-changing, knowledge-based economy of 21st Century.
Governor Fallin and a handful of other governors were selected to participate in a panel titled, “The State of Education:  The Governor’s Perspective.”
The panel of governors, hosted by NBC News’ Brian Williams, focued on education and economic competitiveness.  Other participating governors included:  Gov. Lincoln Chafee (RI); Gov. Nathan Deal (GA); Gov. Bill Haslam (TN); Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO); Gov. Paul LePage (ME); Gov. Jack Markell (DE); Gov. Bob McDonnell (VA); Gov. Sean Parnell (AK); and Gov. Scott Walker (WI).
“It’s great that Oklahoma is being recognized for our efforts to improve education and I’m excited to represent our state at this event,” Fallin said before the event.  “My top priority is creating a business environment in Oklahoma that promotes job creation and economic growth.  Nothing is more essential to accomplishing that goal than ensuring we have a highly skilled, educated workforce.  I look forward to sharing Oklahoma’s legislative reforms to improve student achievement and promote workforce development.”
State Superintendent Janet Barresi participated in the summit as a panelist in a session Monday titled, “Stepping Up: The Power of a Parent Advocate.”  The session focused on parents’ roles as advocates for a variety of changes in education from calling for reforming state laws to overhauling failing schools to amending programs at individual schools.

Barresi urged parents not to give up the fight for the best education for their children. 
“Parents need to put more of a premium on how children perform in schools,” Barresi said. “Parents, don’t give up. Arm yourself with facts. Don’t give up because it’s your child.”

The session focused on parents’ roles as advocates for a variety of changes in education from calling for reforming state laws to overhauling failing schools to amending programs at individual schools.  Moderated by Natalie Morales, a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show, the panel also included Ben Austin, of Parent Revolution; Brenda Martin, Mom Congress; author Peg Tyre; Phil Jackson with Black Star Project; and Dennis Walcott, chancellor of New York City Schools.
Barresi also said schools should be more accountable, having dashboards on their website home pages so parents can see exactly how dollars are spent.
“Accountability for schools, informed parents and more choices are key,” she said. 
Barresi herself was a parent advocate – someone who called for improvements in education not just on behalf of her own children but for many others. Her desire to change the status quo led her to help found two charter schools in Oklahoma City. 
It later led her to run for state Superintendent and to initiate major conservative reforms in education in the state.

Those reforms include a new 3rd grade graduation requirement that ensures students can read on grade level before advancing to the fourth grade; an A through F report card for schools; and the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which ensures children who qualify for free or reduced lunch or who are in failing schools will have a choice of moving to a better school.
NBC News’ says Education Nation is an initiative to engage the country in a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America.  While some portions of the Education Nation summit will be covered by NBC television, all the events can be seen online on the Education Nation Web site:

OKDHS Organizational Structure Committee Announced by New Commissioner

Below is a statement by Brad Yarbrough, OKDHS Commissioner and Chair of the Organizational Structure Committee, at the Sept. 27, 2011 Commission Meeting.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for giving this opportunity to summarize an important, future assignment of the Committee, for your support of its plan and allowing me to be its Chair.

Criticism of job performance is often the result of differing expectations placed upon the performer.  Critique, even when the expectation is well defined, is almost certain to occur.  But, without clarity of responsibilities the setting is fertile for excessive ridicule.  It’s a smart step to define expectations, publish them and build your task priorities squarely thereon.  And, when made clear they become the primary measure of success.
The Organizational Structure Committee will, as an immediate priority, study the role of the Commission.  The Committee, with assistance from others, will give attention to several sources of important information:
  1. The historical governance model of the Commission will be studied.  
  2. Analyzing the role of corporate boards will be helpful.
  3. The Constitutional and statutory requirements will be determined with the help of the Attorney General.
  4. Advice from former Commissioners and a prior agency Director will be sought.
  5. A survey will be taken from the Governor’s staff and Legislative leaders.
  6. Director Hendrick and agency personnel will be given the opportunity to provide input. 
Members of this Commission have, no doubt, varying interpretations of its role.  On one extreme, no one is naïve enough to believe a Commission should micro manage the DHS.  On the other, all believe it would be irresponsible to accept some perfunctory role.  Our place is not out towards either extreme.  It’s in that space where the requirement to provide responsible oversight is equal to the capacity of volunteer members to do so.  
For the record, Mr. Chairman, it’s been my privilege to visit with each Commissioner in recent days.  I’m impressed that every Member of this Commission is serving with a fervent desire to help fellow Oklahomans and each regards their duty as being critically important.
This committee’s assignment is timely and essential and each Commissioner supports the effort.  My hopes are that a summary report will be presented to this body within ninety days.   Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Governor Fallin Announces Appointments to the State Board of Education

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced the new composition of the State Board of Education. All of the appointments are filling new positions that are four-year terms and require confirmation from the Senate.
The State Board of Education consists of seven members and is chaired by State Superintendent Janet Barresi. Each of the appointed members will represent a congressional district, with one being an at large member. 
One vacancy remains for the appointee representing the third congressional district. Governor Fallin is working to fill that vacancy as quickly as possible.
“These men and women are dedicated public servants and business people who know the value of quality education in Oklahoma,” said Fallin. “I’ve charged each one of them with pursuing and implementing reforms that will boost student performance and ultimately help us to create the kind of educated, highly skilled workforce that will bring more and better jobs to the state.”
Lee Baxter
Maj. Gen. Lee Baxter (retired) of Lawton is president of Signal Mountain Associates, a general and defense consulting firm. In addition, he is the owner of Medicine Park Management, managing partner at Mount Scott Management, and partner at Cobblestone Canyon, all real estate development companies. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. He currently serves on the State Board of Career and Technology Education. Baxter has a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota and a Master’s in personnel management from Central Michigan University. He also is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Baxter will represent the fourth Congressional District.
Amy Ford of Durant is president of Neon Clinic, a physician staffing company. She serves as a board member on the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Foundation, president of the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals and as a board member on the Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer. Ford has a bachelor’s degree from OSU. She is representing the second Congressional District.
Phil Lakin, Jr.
Phil Lakin Jr. of Tulsa is the chief executive officer of the Tulsa Community Foundation. He previously served on the Health Care Reform Task Force, Community Hospitals Authority, Education Quality and Accountability board and the Metro Tulsa Transit Authority. Lakin earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business administration from Baylor University. He will represent the first Congressional District.
Bill Price
Bill Price of Oklahoma City is an attorney at Phillips Murrah P.C. and is a managing partner and trustee at Price Oil and Gas & Family Trusts. He serves as chairman of the board and is the founder of Shiloh Summer Camp, a Christian summer camp for disadvantaged kids. Price previously served on the board of trustees at Casady School. He has a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from OU. Price will represent the fifth Congressional District.   
Bill Shdeed of Oklahoma City is a private practice lawyer. He is a member of the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame.  He previously served as chairman of the board of Oklahoma City University and currently serves as chairman emeritus.  Shdeed has a bachelor’s and law degree from Oklahoma City University. He is serving as an at large member.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oklahoma’s Multicounty Grand Jury to Meet Tuesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – The state’s multicounty grand jury will reconvene Tuesday in Oklahoma City. 

The grand jury will meet Tuesday, Sept. 20, through Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, 313 NE 21.

Led by Assistant Attorney General Charles Rogers, chief of the AG’s Multicounty Grand Jury Unit, the state’s 13th multicounty grand jury has returned five indictments, involving six defendants, in cases filed in Cleveland, Harper, Pittsburg and Oklahoma counties.

The multicounty grand jury was requested by Attorney General Scott Pruitt and approved by the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

The multicounty grand jury has jurisdiction to investigate criminal matters in all 77 counties, assisting local law enforcement as well as handling matters of state interest.

The state’s 12th multicounty grand jury concluded in September 2010 with 10 indictments and assisted 145 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Each month, grand jurors typically meet to hear testimony for two to three days. Testimony before a grand jury is closed to the public.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

OKDHS issues final termination notice to one of the child welfare supervisors in Serenity Deal case

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jennifer Shawn, Child Welfare Specialist IV, was served with a final termination notice (.pdf, 54 pp, 2.32 MB) from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services late last week.  The notice details 67 allegations of policy violations and the findings of the administrative hearing officer.  The notice details Shawn’s failure to follow policy and procedures in the Serenity Deal case.

The Administrative Hearing Officer determined OKDHS met its burden of proof to show that reasonable grounds existed to believe Shawn violated policies relating to unsatisfactory performance, misconduct, willful failure, dishonesty, making false reports or claims, knowingly withholding information of official interest, and neglect of duty.

Shawn was the Permanency Planning supervisor who supervised the principal case worker in the Deal case.

“This notice demonstrates there were required practices in place that, if followed, would have given Shawn and other workers a clearer picture of Sean Brooks, his relationship with his family and other children, his abilities to parent, and his past behaviors and propensity to violence,” said Sheree Powell, OKDHS Coordinator of Communications.

“Child safety is first and foremost in every policy, practice, and training module for child welfare,” said Powell.  “These practices have been proven successful and give workers the knowledge and tools they need in evaluating child safety, assessing family functioning, and in determining a parent’s ability to provide a safe home for his or her children.”

Child welfare specialists and their supervisors are the “eyes and ears” of the agency and the courts. They are the front line in determining child abuse and neglect, the safety of children, the evaluation of families, and in testifying in court.  Workers must follow what they are trained to do, what policy requires them to do, and use good judgment and critical thinking skills.

The information revealed in this notice of discharge makes it very clear that there were appropriate policies and procedures in place that were not followed. The excuses being given by Shawn that she had too many cases do not explain disregarding information in front of her and making false statements.

The employee may appeal to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Barresi Congratulates Norman Public Schools on Digital Learning Pilot

OKLAHOMA CITY -- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi today congratulated Norman Public Schools for being named as one of only four school districts across the nation to participate in a groundbreaking digital learning pilot program.
The three-year pilot program pairs Norman Public Schools and three other school districts in the country with a national leading digital learning provider to boost graduation and college-readiness rates among students. Chosen by America's Promise Alliance as part of the organization's Grad Nation Campaign, Norman Public Schools will use the pilot to create opportunities for course recovery, remediation and original credit courses. 
NPS will also use the pilot to expand blended learning offerings. Blended learning uses a mix of digital and traditional face-to-face instruction. America's Promise will underwrite the entire cost of software, assessments and professional development for the school district.
"This is the sort of innovative thinking that Oklahoma needs as we move forward into the 21st Century. Blended learning empowers students and gives them control over learning at their own pace," said Barresi. "I look forward to seeing how this model develops. I congratulate Norman Public Schools, and Superintendent Joe Siano is to be commended for his leadership."
Barresi said the Norman pilot's focus on college readiness also lines up with a refocused mission for the Oklahoma State Department of Education around the same core theme.
Barresi said she has seen firsthand the promise of blended learning, when she visited the nationally-known Carpe Diem school in Yuma, Arizona, earlier this year. In a recent speech given to the Norman Rotary Club, Barresi talked about the potential for blended learning and gave highlights of her visit to Carpe Diem in Arizona. The Yuma-based school utilizes a blended digital learning model for students in grades 6-12 and has emerged as one of the state's top schools, attracting attention from reformers across the country.
Digital resources and training for the Norman pilot will be provided by Apex Learning based in Seattle, Washington. The other three participating districts are Miami-Dade Public Schools (Miami, Florida), St. Mary’s Public Schools (Leonardtown, Maryland) and Cross County School District (Cherry Valley, Arkansas).

Teacher of the Year Winner to be Announced Tuesday at State Fair

Supt. Janet Barresi

OKLAHOMA CITY -- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi will announce the 2012 Teacher of the Year winner during a ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. September 20, 2011, in the Carriage Hall at the Oklahoma State Fair.

“Truly one of the most enjoyable parts of my job was getting to tell each of these 12 finalists that they were nominated for Teacher of the Year,” Barresi said. “It will be my extreme pleasure to announce the winner. This group represents the best of the best in education, and I’m thankful to each of them for their hard work and dedication to the students in Oklahoma.”
Six state regional committees composed of teachers and parents each selected two of the 12 finalists. A state committee composed of education, business and civic leaders will choose the winner.
The winner represents Oklahoma in the national Teacher of the Year competition, receives more than $50,000 in cash and prizes and serves as Oklahoma's "Ambassador of Teaching,” presenting to teachers and civic groups throughout the state for one year.
The finalists for Teacher of the Year are: 

State Education Department Helps Schools Observe Constitution Day

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 13, 2011) -- On Sept. 17, 1787, a group of 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the founding document of our nation’s government. Now, each year, all public schools are required to observe Constitution Day by teaching lessons that inform students about the U.S. Constitution and its importance to our nation’s citizens.

Schools will observe the 224th anniversary of Constitution Day on Friday, Sept. 16, this year.

“I hope that every student will take the study of the Constitution seriously, so they can begin to appreciate their rights and the long list of freedoms we enjoy in our country,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.

Classroom activities for Constitution Day range from civics quizzes to reenactments of the Constitutional Convention to live webcasts.

The state Department of Education has compiled a list of helpful websites including lesson plans and information about the Constitution and the nation’s government at

Monday, September 12, 2011

Information, Applications Posted on Newest School Choice Law

Oklahoma Equal Education Opportunity Scholarship Act Begins Work
OKLAHOMA CITY (September 8, 2011) -- The Oklahoma Tax Commission has posted applications on its website for both educational improvement grant organizations and scholarship-granting organizations in response to Senate Bill 969, a tuition tax credit program, which took effect August 26. 
Supt. Janet Barresi
“I’m glad this important reform has taken effect,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said. “This bill allows Oklahoma parents the opportunity to make the best choice for their children’s education. It gives much-needed support to low-income families and helps bring innovative programs to our schools.”
SB 969, by State Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, and State Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, is a key plank in Superintendent Barresi’s 3R Agenda to rethink, restructure and reform Oklahoma’s education system.
The bill offers a 50 percent state income tax credit to businesses and individuals making contributions to scholarship-granting organizations. Those organizations, in turn, provide tuition scholarships to families earning less than 300 percent of the requirement for the federal free and reduced lunch program or whose children attend a school identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Funds generated from the tax credits also could be used to finance grants for innovative education programs in rural public schools across the state.
Contribution limits are up to $1,000 per person, $2,000 per couple or up to $100,000 per business entity. Up to $5 million in tax credits can be raised each year, half from individual tax filers and half from corporate tax filers. Any credits earned during the time period beginning August 26, 2011, through December 31, 2012, may not be claimed until tax year 2013.
Scholarship and grant organizations will be established as nonprofits, contributing at least ninety percent of annual receipts to eligible recipients and reporting annually to the Tax Commission. 
Sen. Dan Newberry
“In order to give every student a chance to learn, we must empower students and families with freedom of choice,” said Newberry in May after the Senate passed the final version of SB 969. “This legislation will encourage private sector investment in the success of our low-income children, removing barriers to achievement and helping children build better lives. Expanding choice will create a more fertile climate for learning, improving our education system.”
Newberry noted the measure would increase the overall amount spent on primary education while saving the state tax dollars.
Rep. Lee Denney
“This legislation provides an opportunity for Oklahomans to help poor children obtain a quality education,” said state Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing. “It provides a much-needed new source of education funding to benefit the students who are most at-risk.”
Organizations interested in applying can go to

Friday, September 9, 2011

Families of Faith Foster Care Orientation Meetings Set

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The 111 Project Orientation is for families of faith interested in becoming a foster family* for Oklahoma children in protective custody.  This orientation will be presented the third Tuesday through November, and the first one is set for September 20 at Oklahoma City’s Bridgeway Church, 228 West Hefner Road.

The 111 Orientation is designed to help families discover the unique vantage point of families of faith interacting with the child welfare system. The foundation of why and how to serve both children in the home and their families through mentoring, specific situations that may arise in a community of faith, and questions about the approval process will all be discussed in this two-hour orientation. This is for families interested in the basics or who have recently started the approval process.

Registration is free, and is required to receive a meal and childcare. Community sponsors include Anna’s House Foundation, Christian Services of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives and Spero Project.  For more information visit or to register RSVP to Kim Brandy at

* OKDHS refers to foster and adoptive families as Bridge Resource Families which has a child-centered focus to keep children connected to kin, culture, and community in order to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being.

OKDHS Issues Open Letter to Employers about the Child Support Web Pay Portal

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Employers increasingly demand the same level of technological sophistication from government that they use in their businesses daily. With eighty-two percent of all child support payments coming from employers via income withholding orders, it is critical that businesses have accurate information regarding the Oklahoma Child Support Services’ Web Pay portal.

OCSS launched Web Pay in May 2005. Employers now make more than 3,000 child support payments each month safely and securely using the online Web Pay portal at Other advantages employers have found using Web Pay include:

  • Web Pay payments are less expensive and more convenient than mailing paper checks.
  • Web Pay payments are easier to manage when entering transactions into payroll software.
  • Web Pay payments provide more safeguards for the employer.
  • Web Pay payments provide same-day payment confirmation.

OCSS has been using the reliable Web Pay payment confirmation system since 2005; it has a number ofsafety features which, if followed, will prevent many entry errors.

After the user logs into the Web Pay system, keys in the amount to be paid and clicks “Update”, the details of the transaction, including the dollar amount to be remitted, appear on the “Payment Details” screen. After verifying the information, the user then clicks “Continue” or “Add Distribution” for other employees. Once all employees’ withholdings are entered, the amounts are presented a second time for the user’s review. After verifying the information, the user clicks “Submit Payment” which starts the payment transfer process. Finally, the screen shows the amount of the pending payment amounts, both as a summary and as a list showing the individual payments for each employee’s child support case. A Web Pay Payment Confirmation e-mail is sent the same day to the user with the following information:
Subject: Web Pay Payment Confirmation Web Pay child support payment has been received. Name:  Amount:  Received Amount:  Received Date: Confirmation ID:
 To learn more about how to make Web Pay work for your business, call 1-866-553-2368 Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information about Oklahoma Child Support Services, call 1-800-522-2922 or visit and select “Child Support”.

To promote healthy families, OCSS establishes, monitors and enforces reliable support while encouraging self-sufficiency and strengthening relationships. The division is responsible for more than 201,000 active child support cases, collecting $317 million last year on behalf of children and families.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jenks & Union Schools Continue Vendetta Against Children with Special Needs

OKLAHOMA CITY (September 7, 2011) – A lawsuit Jenks Public Schools and Union Pubic Schools filed last week targeting the parents of special-needs children is frivolous, cruel and misguided, state Rep. Jason Nelson said today.

“This lawsuit is vindictive and extremely out of line,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “It essentially tells parents: ‘Beware, school administrators will sue you if you dare seek a better education for your special-needs child.’ Seeing such a reckless lawsuit filed at the behest of two superintendents whose salaries total nearly half a million public dollars a year should send cold chills down the spine of every parent in the state.”
Named as defendants in the district court lawsuit are parents who obtained scholarships for their special-needs children through the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act.
Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships allow a student with a disability (such as those with Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school that parents believe can better serve their child. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.
The amount spent on students receiving scholarships to date is a combined total of $197,345 – a sum that is less than the superintendent’s salary at both Jenks and Union.
“Instead of being sued, these parents should be lauded for being engaged in the education of their children.  For years, they suffered as these same public schools failed to provide a quality education to their special-needs child.  And now these schools are putting their interests ahead of the interests of the child,” said Nelson, who authored the scholarship law.
“The parents did not create the program and are clearly not responsible for enforcing or administering the program. The parents simply obtained a scholarship for their special-needs child as provided for in state law,” Nelson said. “These parents now find themselves in a position where their local districts are trying to punish them in court for simply following state law.”

Nelson said the basic premise of the districts’ lawsuit is troubling.
“There is no difference between this lawsuit and a school district choosing to sue parents who transfer their child to another school district under the state’s open transfer law. In both cases parents make the choice to transfer their child to a different school pursuant to state law and in each case a portion of the money follows that student to the new school,” Nelson said.
The Jenks and Union school boards voted in early August to pursue “any action the superintendent deemed necessary with regard to legal action against appropriate persons and entities."
“Little did the public know that what ‘appropriate persons’ actually meant was: ‘Let’s sue the parents.’ Had the public known that was the districts’ intention, there would likely have been the justifiable outrage there is today over this misguided action,” Nelson said.
“For years we heard that schools did not have enough funding to take care of special-needs children and that it hurt the education of other pupils.  Now we have a solution for helping these students – and reducing the burden on the schools.  From this lawsuit it appears these superintendents care more about the money than they do about the child,” Nelson concluded.

Speaker Kris Steele pleased with new DHS commissioners

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Kris Steele today expressed optimism that the new appointees to the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services will help change the course of the Department of Human Services, the agency the commission oversees.

Gov. Mary Fallin today appointed Wes Lane and Brad Yarbrough to the nine-member commission.

Speaker Kris Steele
“The newest DHS commissioners have relevant experience working with children and are passionate people who will bring a much-needed new perspective to the commission,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Through these appointments, Governor Fallin has shown a strong commitment to improving DHS. I commend the governor for her careful attention to ensuring that Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens are being served in an effective manner.”

With new commissioners in place, Steele said the commission needs to take a more active oversight role over the agency.

“It’s time that the commission end its practice of protecting the status quo and instead act as the conscientious, engaged watchdog it was designed to be,” Steele said. “I am confident the commission’s newest members will help the commission take a reform-minded approach to their important duties.”

Steele called on the new commission to conduct two specific duties: A performance review of the agency director and an organizational review of the agency.

According to information provided to the Speaker’s Office by DHS commissioners, the DHS Commission has not given the director a performance review since 2004 despite commission bylaws that require an annual performance review of the director.

“Performance reviews are important to good governance because they reveal to agency leadership what they are doing well and where improvements are needed,” Steele said.

The commission also has not conducted a formal organizational review of the agency in at least the past decade despite commission bylaws that require organizational reviews every three years, according to the information from the DHS commissioners.

“DHS faces some very real organizational challenges that need to be addressed,” Steele said. “With the agency’s employee count down drastically due to budget cuts, it’s time to give the agency a top-to-bottom review and reorganize if needed. The agency’s commission must be a partner in this process.”

Steele said he is also concerned that the commission has not taken an active enough role into learning more about circumstances surrounding the deaths of children who come into contact with the agency, as well as other issues.

According to a report by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, DHS received 430 complaints of abuse and neglect in the time leading up to and surrounding the deaths or near deaths of 82 Oklahoma children between 2008 and 2009 – an average of more than five complaints per child. The commission’s report focused on children in state custody as well as children not in state custody.

“Data and continued sub-par results show something in the DHS system is flawed. It’s time that the commission in charge of the agency implements better accountability and transparency,” Steele said. “To my knowledge, the commission is rarely, if ever, briefed on the deaths of children who come into contact with DHS. That’s unacceptable and I trust it will change soon.”

Concerns about the effectiveness of the agency and its commission have grown in recent months due to continued deaths of children in and out of agency custody and multiple law enforcement inquiries into commission and agency activities.

“The new commissioners inherit a tough situation. My hope is that the commission and agency will work in a concerted effort to identify positive solutions,” Steele said.

Steele continued: “The Legislature stands ready to assist DHS by gathering information, identifying best practices and developing policies that better protect and serve the state’s most vulnerable citizens. I look forward to working with DHS leadership, employees and its commissioners in this process.”
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