Monday, November 2, 2015

Cimarron County, Schools Make Case for Ad Valorem Fix

OKLAHOMA CITY – Cimarron County has more than twice the land owned by the Commissioners of the Land Office than any other county in Oklahoma, participants noted in a legislative study today.

A large portion of that approximately 225,000 acres provides funding for several of Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, according to Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office Harry Birdwell. There is a total of 236,000 acres in land owned by the state in Cimarron County, according to county officials.

State Rep. Casey Murdock said he requested the study to provide his colleagues with insight into how that land lowers the amount of ad valorem taxes available to Cimarron County and its school districts. There is also a significant negative impact on the local millage rate and bonding capacities of the school districts and county.

“For the cash-strapped school districts in that county, ad valorem tax revenues are a big deal,” said Murdock, R-Felt. “The residents and county and school officials of Cimarron County would like to see some way for them to recover that lost money. After working with the Commissioners of Land Office, I think we have several ideas, but have not yet fully vetted them.”

It is unlikely that the Commissioners for Land Office could simply remit the money lost, because of laws regarding how they operate their trusts. Other states have dealt with the issue though.

“Any solution we choose would not just be for Cimarron County, but we are using them as our example because the impact is so much higher there,” Murdock said. “We have to explore if some of the options we are discussing meet state constitutional standards, but if they do, we will pursue them in the upcoming legislative session.”

Although the Commissioners of Land Office provides revenues for schools and higher education, not all institutions receive funds equally, according to Birdwell. The agency owns 224,993 acres, of which 62,801 acres are set aside for school districts.


Additional information:
The three counties containing the greatest proportion of CLO land are Cimarron County (19.78% of the county is CLO land), Pawnee County (7.07%) and Kay County (6.4%), according to the CLO Real Estate Division)
CLO distributes to school districts based on their average daily attendance, a figure provided to them by the state education department
The estimated impact of CLO on Cimarron County includes about $72,897 in ad valorem taxes, a reduced bonding capacity of about 20 percent and reduced millage rates

Rep. Mark McCullough Will Not Seek Re-election

OKLAHOMA CITY –State Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa, District 30) announced his intention to not seek re-election in 2016 and to retire from the House of Representatives after serving out the remainder of his current term. District 30 includes the communities of Sapulpa, Glenpool, Kiefer, Mounds, Liberty, Oak Ridge and Bixby.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to represent the area where I grew up and where my family is from. I am very humbled that my friends and neighbors saw fit to allow me to serve them in the Legislature these ten years. I am grateful.” McCullough said.

McCullough entered the Legislature in 2006, winning a highly competitive election, and again in 2008 in another very competitive election year. He faced token opposition in 2010 and ran unopposed in the last two elections. 

Reflecting on his motivation for running for office, and now choosing to leave after his current term is up, McCullough stated: “The Lord put it on my heart to run for office, and now I believe He’s telling me its ok to step away. There will always be another battle to fight at the Capitol, and I’ve fought my share – and maybe a few more,” he added with a grin. “I’ve tried to be a good steward with my time in office, and now it’s time for the people of District 30 to begin the process of choosing who that new steward should be.”

When asked to comment about the impending legislative session and what he might do after leaving office he stated: “It’s definitely the budget. We are really in the hole this year, and I imagine most of my time will be spent on that.” I’m going to work until the bell, though, that’s how my parents taught me. After next November? Just keep practicing law and be a husband and dad. My family was very patient to share me with the state for a while and now I just want to try and spend more time with them.”

McCullough has been in solo law practice in Sapulpa for nine years where he focuses on Probate and Estate Planning. He is assisted in his practice by his highly effective legal secretary, office manager, and wife of 17 years, Charlotte McCullough. His son Everett is in sixth grade at Sapulpa Middle School and his son Clayton is in fourth grade at Freedom Elementary.

While in the Legislature, Rep. McCullough was involved in several major policy initiatives including pension reform, lawsuit reform, criminal justice reform, improvements in Medicaid and perhaps most significantly, worker’s compensation reform.

McCullough was an early – and sometimes lonely – voice in the Legislature for comprehensive worker’s compensation reform, ultimately being asked to serve on the House legislative team responsible for writing and guiding the final reform bill through in 2013.

When asked to reflect on that experience, he said, “Years back, I’d get asked to speak at worker’s comp conferences as the ‘other guy.’ I’d speak on the huge problems facing our system and the possibility of switching to a modern administrative system. I remember having the trial lawyers in the back of the room snicker loudly and otherwise express a lot of hostility.” He continued: “Well, a few of us never quit studying and preparing, so we had all the elements ready to go “off the shelf” when leadership decided to run the bill. And now we finally have a model administrative system based on best practices. A system that I believe is serving our workers much better than the old adversarial one, and is sending insurance premium rates through the floor, which helps businesses stay competitive – just like we thought it would.” 

In addition to policy work, McCullough has also served as Chairman of Judiciary Appropriations and Budget Committee for the last several years where he is responsible for evaluating and meeting the budget needs for several state entities including the Courts, the District Attorneys and the Attorney General’s office. He also serves on the full Appropriations and Budget Committee, and as such is on the Budget Team, where he has focused the bulk of his time and efforts in the Legislature the last few years. 

“The budget is a jealous and fickle mistress.” McCullough said. “It takes a ton of time and you don’t know which way it’s going to toss you at any given moment during session. You have to keep a lot of Alka Seltzer handy. The yearly budget is a big, very real, fight between competing priorities – with well represented advocates. One positive aspect of earning a spot on the Budget Team has been the opportunity to strongly advocate – year after year  – for the Common Education budget: either for a bigger slice of the pie or a lesser cut if times were tough. When it comes to the eight schools districts in District 30, it has always been an easy choice of what to fight for.”

Finally, Rep. McCullough has had a career long focus on the importance of preserving the traditional, nuclear family. “I just sensed early on that this was something that the Lord wanted me to focus on, and the message is this: The family is desperately important, especially to the well being of children. All the research tells us, the Scriptures tell us and common sense tells us that kids do better with mom and dad. We shouldn’t vilify single parents, we should help them, but we should do everything we can to keep couples healthily, happily married.”

McCullough held numerous studies on this issue of family fragmentation and its negative effects on society, its costs to government and how to prevent it. He also held press conferences raising awareness of the issue and ran several bills aimed at chipping away at the problem. One major success came two years ago when, working with Rep. Jason Nelson and many others, a bill passed bringing the first substantive change in Oklahoma’s divorce laws since the late 1950s. The bill required a statewide, pre-divorce class that included topics such as substance abuse, co-parenting, domestic violence and potential reconciliation. The bill was based on Tulsa District Court’s highly successful model.

McCullough went on to state that this accomplishment, like every major achievement in the Legislature, was a team effort, requiring seriousness of purpose and a focus on eternal principals. “If you hang around me down at the Capitol very long, you’ll hear a few saying bounce around the office with some regularity: 1) There is no “I” in Team, 2) I take the job seriously… but I hope I don’t take myself too seriously, and 3) If its not about God, what are we doing here?” He concluded: “I’m not the best Christian sometimes. Just ask the people that have to work with me. We all need Christ’s grace. But I do sincerely attempt to seek the Lord in all that I do in this job, while trying to weave Biblical principles into every bill and every transaction over which I have influence. And I pray in some small way, that has made a difference.”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fallin Names Former Oklahoma First Assistant AG as Special Adviser on Child Welfare and Pinnacle Plan Implementation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced she has named Tom Bates, who was a longtime assistant in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, as her special adviser on child welfare and Pinnacle Plan implementation.

Bates served 15 years in the attorney general’s office, mostly recently from 2012-14 as first assistant to Attorney General Scott Pruitt. His responsibilities included overseeing the more than 90 civil and criminal attorneys and 40 agents employed by the attorney general's office.

As the governor’s special adviser, Bates will primarily be responsible for overseeing implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) ongoing effort to reform the state's child welfare operations.

“Tom is knowledgeable about the Pinnacle Plan and the legal process surrounding the plan,” said Fallin. “I look forward to having his expertise on this priority issue and to ensure the Pinnacle Plan is being implemented effectively.”

Bates joined the attorney general's office in 1999. While there, he litigated and prosecuted a number of high profile cases. He served the office as Don't Call Registry administrator, lead assistant attorney general for consumer protection litigation, chief of the multicounty grand jury unit, chief of the public protection unit, and as first assistant.

"Having worked with Tom in his previous capacity in the attorney general's office, I am excited that he will be working with us on the Pinnacle Plan,” said DHS Director Ed Lake. “We appreciate Governor Fallin selecting high-quality appointments to fill the role of special adviser and we know Tom will bring valuable perspective and experience to our efforts."

A native Oklahoman, Bates graduated from U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, and earned a bachelor’s degree and his juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University.

Bates is an active member of Putnam City United Methodist Church and has served the congregation in a variety of leadership roles. He is a graduate of Leadership Bethany and has served on the board of directors for the Bethany Chamber of Commerce. He is also a graduate of the Oklahoma Bar Association's leadership academy and Leadership Oklahoma Class 28.

He and his wife, Kellye, have been married for 26 years. They have two sons, Andy and Billy, who are both students at the University of Central Oklahoma.

More about the Pinnacle Plan

The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan is a five-year improvement plan for the state’s foster care system. The plan was developed in 2012 as a result of a settlement agreement in a class-action, civil rights lawsuit. DHS agreed to make improvements in several key areas of the foster care system including increasing the recruitment of foster homes, reducing the use of emergency shelters, and lowering workloads for child welfare specialists.

In recent months, DHS has announced the closing of its two state-run emergency children’s shelters, child welfare workers have greatly reduced the number of backlog cases, and the department and its contract foster care agencies have recruited hundreds of new foster homes. DHS has increased in-home services to families in an effort to keep children out of state custody and worked to help children reunite with their families or reach adoption faster. Thanks to these efforts, the numbers of children in care has been steadily dropping which is positively impacting all the goals in the Pinnacle Plan.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Lawmakers to Study Student Data Privacy Issues

OKLAHOMA CITY –The House Common Education Committee will hold an interim study this week on privacy issues related to student data.

The study will be held on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, from 9:00 a.m. to noon in room 412C of the state Capitol.

The study will explore the competing interests surrounding the collection and use of student information in public schools. The study will provide a broad overview of the many areas of consideration as the Legislature seeks to strike an appropriate balance between the need for student data for legitimate educational purposes and the need to protect student privacy through responsible limits on the nature and use of student information.

"This interim study is only the beginning of a thoughtful effort to draft important student privacy legislation for consideration during the next legislative session," said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who requested the interim study. "From now through next session while work on this legislation continues I will be meeting with organizations and individuals interested in this issue. It is important that all sides are heard."

The interim study is open to the public. The study will be streamed live through the Oklahoma House of Representatives website, A link to a recording of the study will be posted on the website later in the day after the conclusion of the study.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fallin: Workplace Silence Leads to Violence

By: Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Verizon President Kristi Crum

Domestic violence affects one in four women. Sadly, Oklahoma is ranked sixth in the nation in the number of women murdered by men. This epidemic affects people of all demographics and communities, extending from the home to the workplace.

Statistics like these are why the state of Oklahoma and Verizon have participated in raising awareness on these issues year after year in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Oklahoma recently dropped from third to sixth in the national ranking, but domestic violence is still prevalent. Employers, including both the state of Oklahoma and Verizon, have a very real stake in protecting their employees from this scourge. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the annual cost of lost productivity in the workplace from domestic violence at more than $7 million. More than 74 percent of employed battered women were harassed by their partner while at work. The side effects of domestic violence in the workplace alone translate to 8 million days of paid work lost each year.

Everyone can help change the current path of domestic violence in the workplace by simply discussing domestic violence among coworkers, friends and family. Businesses should be encouraged to recognize signs of domestic violence, have programs in place or partner with an advocate agency for resources.

The governor has named October “Domestic Violence Awareness” month in Oklahoma, and October 8 will be “Wear Purple Day” to raise awareness for domestic violence victims. All Oklahomans are invited to not only wear purple on that day, but to talk about the issue with friends and coworkers.

For Verizon, preventing domestic violence is a cause that hits close to home. The company lost three employees this year due to domestic violence.

It’s important that we have resources for victims. That is why Verizon created its HopeLine program long ago. HopeLine puts Verizon technology and its substantial wireless network resources to work in communities by collecting no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories, from any carrier, and repurposing them as a safe line for victims.

Since HopeLine was founded in 2001, Verizon has distributed more than 190,000 phones with more than 543 million free wireless minutes and 298 million texts as a safe backup to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, Verizon has awarded more than $29 million in grants to domestic violence agencies and organizations throughout the country, several of which are here in Oklahoma.

For the month of October, please consider participating in promoting awareness in your workplace by donating used cell phones and accessories to one of the multiple HopeLine drives. Contact your local district attorney or domestic violence agency to learn more about resources for victims or to view a screening of Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary that details the life of a Verizon employee who was killed as she tried to leave her abusive relationship.

Mary Fallin is the Governor of Oklahoma and Kristi Crum is the president of Verizon Oklahoma

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

House Committee Unanimously Agrees to Advance Bill Lessening National Teacher Shortage Impact on Oklahoma Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Business, Labor & Retirement Laws Committee today unanimously voted to send to the state actuary for review a plan to help reduce the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma classrooms. House Bill 1061, authored by Rep. Randy McDaniel, will allow school districts to pay up to $18,000 annually to teachers for the first 36 months after they begin collecting their retirement benefits.

“I am pleased that the members of the committee were willing to discuss this idea and debate its merits,” said McDaniel, R-Edmond, chairman of the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. “All but one other state is currently dealing with a teacher shortage which is exacerbated by the retirement of many of our best and most experienced educators.”

The current annual salary cap for retired teachers in Oklahoma is $15,000 for the first three years. House Republican leaders said they hope the additional $3,000 might allow recently retired teachers to return to the classroom or encourage other teachers who are considering retirement to keep teaching while receiving their retirement benefit and up to $18,000 in salary for three years.

“We have reduced unfunded liabilities in OTRS by more than $6 billion during the past six years, and we continue to prove our commitment to education by proposing ideas to strengthen our system and improve educational outcomes for Oklahoma students,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “This plan builds on the commitment we made to retired teachers, while also keeping or bringing back quality, experienced educators to Oklahoma classrooms.”

The Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAA) prohibits the Legislature from passing measures that increase the unfunded liabilities of the state’s public pension system. OPLAA requires an independent analysis of pension bills by the state’s contracted actuary. If the actuary determines that the legislation will increase liabilities, OPLAA requires the proposal to be concurrently funded with additional resources, instead of raiding the principal of the retirement funds as had been done prior to 2004 when Republicans gained a majority in the Oklahoma House.

After 36 months, there is no cap on what a retired educator can be paid while also receiving pension earnings. The state-contracted actuary must now review HB1061 to determine if it will increase liabilities to the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS). Under the proposal, in order to offset the negative fiscal impact to OTRS of raising the cap by $3,000, the employer contribution rate would be increased from 9.5 percent to 11 percent for retirees who are rehired.

“Our goal is to provide an incentive to keep our best teachers in the classroom and bring some of our retired teachers back, while keeping costs low for our schools,” McDaniel said. “We believe this is another way to deal with the national shortage without harming the financial strength and security of the OTRS, which House Republicans have worked hard to improve during the last decade.”

The committee also approved an amendment today to the measure that would include higher education employees in the actuarial study.

“Our teachers retirement system is stronger than it has been in decades,” Hickman said. “The strength of OTRS today and our ability to perhaps adjust this cap is primarily because of the reform efforts of House Republicans.”

The return-to-work issue was a major point of discussion last session and numerous bills were filed on the topic. Most of those differently designed bills either greatly increased the income cap or removed the cap altogether, but McDaniel said they were not considered by his committee because of their adverse fiscal impact to the retirement system for Oklahoma’s teachers.

McDaniel said the actuary should have his review completed by the end of the year, allowing the Legislature time to consider the bill during the 2016 legislative session.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

House Republicans Offer Plan to Reduce Impact of National Teacher Shortage on Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Business, Labor & Retirement Laws Committee will consider sending a plan to help reduce the statewide teacher shortage to the state’s actuary for analysis when they meet at the state Capitol tomorrow. The plan developed by Republican leaders in the House provides an additional $3,000 incentive for retired educators to return to teaching.

“Like every state except Pennsylvania, Oklahoma faces a significant teacher shortage,” said Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond, chairman of the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. “Demographics are impacting the situation causing record numbers of the most experienced teachers to retire. We want to provide an additional incentive for valued teachers to stay in the classroom, but the plan must also be affordable. Continuing our commitment to improving the financial strength and security of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System remains a core priority.”

Under current law, a teacher who retires from the public school system may earn up to $15,000 from a school or school district during the first 36 months after retirement and still receive full retirement benefits from the state. After 36 months, teachers may earn an unlimited amount from a school or school district without a reduction in OTRS benefits.

McDaniel is the author of House Bill 1061, which will increase the maximum amount that a retired teacher may earn during the first three years after retirement from $15,000 to $18,000. In order to offset the negative fiscal impact to OTRS of raising the cap by $3,000, the employer contribution rate will be increased from 9.5 percent to 11 percent for retirees who are rehired.

After Republicans took over the majority in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2004, they pushed for the enactment of the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAA), which prohibits the Legislature from passing measures that increase the unfunded liabilities of the state’s public pension system. OPLAA requires an independent analysis of pension bills by the state’s contracted actuary. If the actuary determines that the legislation will increase liabilities, OPLAA requires the proposal to be concurrently funded with additional resources, instead of raiding the principal of the retirement funds as had been done prior to 2004.

“Through conservative reforms, House Republicans have led the way in stabilizing OTRS, reducing unfunded liabilities by more than $6 billion,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “With the tremendous progress we have made, we must be careful to ensure future policy changes are paid for, so not to increase unfunded liabilities and jeopardize the long-term health of our teachers’ retirement system. Our plan maintains that commitment to our retired teachers while also looking at all fiscally prudent options to improve our education system and help address the impact of the national teacher shortage on classrooms in Oklahoma.”

The return-to-work issue was a major point of discussion last session and numerous bills were filed on the topic. Most of those bills either greatly increased the income cap or removed the cap altogether, but McDaniel said they were not considered by his committee because of their adverse fiscal impact to the retirement system for Oklahoma’s teachers. The Business, Labor & Retirement Laws Committee meets at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow in Room 432A at the state Capitol.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Speaker Appoints McCall Revenue and Taxation Chairman

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman appointed Rep. Charles McCall to serve as the chairman of the House Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation.

Rep. McCall previously served as vice-chairman of the subcommittee under late Rep. David Dank, who passed away in April. McCall has a strong background in banking and finance, currently serving as CEO and Board Chairman of AmeriState Bank in Atoka.

“Rep. McCall has the experience, knowledge and temperament to succeed as chair of this important House committee,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “As we continue to review tax incentives and credits, and discuss reforms to our tax system, and particularly as we work through these challenging economic times for our state, I feel fortunate to have a Revenue and Tax chairman with Rep. McCall’s financial expertise.”

“I am very thankful that Speaker Hickman has trusted me to lead this committee,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Rep. Dank gave this committee his full attention, and he served with distinction. I plan on doing the same, and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues as we develop policies that will move our state forward and make all Oklahomans more prosperous.”

McCall also currently serves as a member of the House Appropriations & Budget Standing Committee, the Banking & Financial Services Committee and the Economic Development, Commerce & Real Estate Committee.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hofmeister fills three leadership posts at OSDE

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 27, 2015) -- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced the fulfillment of two leadership positions today, the same day the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved the hiring of a new board attorney.

David L. Kinney was named general counsel for the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), and Phil Bacharach advanced to chief of communications and public affairs for the OSDE. Brad Clark was named general counsel to the State Board of Education.

“David, Phil and Brad are exceptional leaders devoted to the advancement of education in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said. “They are true specialists in their professions, and with their expertise, we have an opportunity to make great strides in improving the lives of Oklahoma schoolchildren.”

Kinney takes over the position after serving 13 years as an assistant attorney general in the state’s general counsel section. There, he was responsible for advising boards and agencies on a wide variety of subjects, including open records, administrative procedures, contracts and personnel issues. In addition to representing the OSDE, he has also represented the Office of State Finance, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission and the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System.

Kinney spent 6 years as assistant general counsel for the Oklahoma Tax Commission. He holds a law degree from the University of Oklahoma, and is an Oklahoma certified public accountant. He grew up in Cashion and resides in Norman.

Bacharach has served as the executive director of communications at the OSDE since 2013. The award-winning journalist has more than 25 years of experience in news, communications and public relations, including leadership positions at Oklahoma Gazette and KWTV Channel 9.

In addition to serving as director of corporate communications for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bacharach was deputy press secretary for Gov. Frank Keating and press secretary for his successor, Gov. Brad Henry. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.

Clark served as general counsel and director of legal services and policy at the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) and previously dedicated nearly 5 years at the OSDE, working in the legal services division and as special assistant to then-state superintendent Sandy Garrett. While at OSDE, Clark focused on Oklahoma’s education policies, laws and regulations, and government contracting. Clark is originally from Oklahoma City and now resides in Midwest City.

"The OPSRC team is extremely proud of Brad's accomplishments, and we look forward to continue collaborating with him through the OSDE," said Brent Bushey, OPSRC executive director. "I know Brad will use his talents to the benefit of both the OSDE and public education in Oklahoma as a whole."

Clark received his law degree from Oklahoma City University. He is a board member for various local foundations and state boards, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Oklahoma Community Service Commission.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

State Reps address national teacher shortage, ACT pilot program

OKLAHOMA CITY –House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House Republican education leaders called for a more cooperative approach to address the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma school districts. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) announced results Monday of their survey of the impact in Oklahoma of a challenge most schools across the U.S. continue to face: finding enough certified teachers to fill classrooms across the country.

The OSSBA survey showed approximately 1,000 teaching jobs still open in Oklahoma because school districts are unable to find qualified applicants. The situation is not unlike most other states, many of which have higher costs of living than Oklahoma and pay teachers higher salaries than the mandated minimum wage for Oklahoma teachers. State lawmakers said they remain ready to work together creatively with school districts here to meet the needs of Oklahoma students.

“Significant signing bonuses might very well have helped our school districts fill those 1,000 teaching jobs this summer and it is still an idea worth exploring by the state superintendent,” said Hickman (R-Fairview). “Last week, paying for the ACT test for all 11th grade students was a higher priority than our teacher shortage. I believe the state superintendent should reconsider the priorities and allocate the $1.5 million in excess funding she said she received in this year’s state budget to provide a $1,500 signing bonus for those 1,000 Oklahoma classrooms in need of teachers.”

An announcement last week by the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction of a new state program to spend $1.5 million for all 11th grade students to take the ACT exam while new state education standards are still in development and when the state faces a potential budget shortage as low oil prices impact the Oklahoma economy met questions from many House Republican legislators.

Approximately 75 percent of Oklahoma high school students already register on their own to take the ACT before graduation and ACT offers financial assistance to students who may not be able to afford the roughly $40 cost for the exam.

Lawmakers now have more questions about why that $1.5 million would be directed to start a new state program when it could be used as an incentive to help with the impact of the national teacher shortage on Oklahoma schools.

“I understand that we want more college graduates, but we need to make sure we have the teachers to ensure our children receive the education needed to succeed in college,” said Rep. Dennis Casey (R-Morrison), a former teacher and school superintendent who is now vice chairman of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee. “A test doesn’t do that but an incentive to hire more teachers just might.”

House legislative leaders also expressed their desire to develop a long-term solution to teacher compensation in Oklahoma by looking at reallocating the billions of dollars the state now spends on public schools.

Despite the false rhetoric of political education groups recently claiming Oklahoma schools faced greater cuts than other states, revenue for Oklahoma’s pre-K through 12th grade schools was greater than ever for the 2013-14 school year, almost $5.5 billion dollars. Examining expenditures and reprioritizing how the taxpayers’ dollars are spent by school districts could be the quickest way to boost classroom teacher salaries in Oklahoma.

“Our teachers need competitive wages,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid), a member of the House Education Committee. “The 33 percent increase in the number of non-teaching staff members in Oklahoma schools from Fiscal Year 1992 to FY2013 when our enrollment grew by 14 percent and the number of teachers only grew by 11 percent is concerning at the least and merits a legislative review. If the growth of non-teaching staff had even been equal to the 14 percent increase in the number of students, it would mean roughly $294 million dollars would be available annually to significantly raise the salaries of our classroom teachers. These are dollars that could have addressed teacher compensation but instead the education lobbyists would have everyone believe that the legislature is the only group responsible for being efficient with state tax dollars when we should all share in that responsibility.”

House education leaders said they believe there is a way to find solutions to the teacher shortage and increase compensation for Oklahoma classroom teachers, but it will require new approaches and a willingness by the education lobbying groups, like OSSBA, to work with lawmakers instead of continuing their partisan attacks.

“We can still address these issues,” said House Education Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow), a former educator. “There must be less rhetoric so we can have an honest conversation and a commitment to changing how we do things. Together, we have to develop a long-term plan that addresses the teacher shortage, student testing and bloated administration levels. Schools cannot continue to operate as they have in the past.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Speaker Hickman Comments on New Program to Pay for ACT in State Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman released the following statement in response to Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s announcement of a new state program to pay for all Oklahoma school districts to provide the ACT test to 11th grade students:

“Only in the past week did legislators learn of the state superintendent’s plan to spend $1.5 million on a new program to pay for all 11th grade students to take the ACT test. I and many members of the House of Representatives have expressed numerous times that the first priority must be the completion of new academic standards for our schools and submission of those new standards to the Legislature as soon as possible. Adoption of our new academic standards should be the starting point to the discussion and future decisions on state testing, not the other way around.

“Last session, the House developed House Bill 2088 which would have reduced state-mandated tests and protected the standards development process by ensuring adoption of certain standards before making any further testing decisions. This position has not changed. This new state program announced today takes another instruction day for testing and adds another test, which is contrary to the direction we hoped to take with House Bill 2088.

“With the continued pressure on state revenues from the decline in oil prices and the layoffs of thousands of Oklahomans, every education dollar should be spent to support the classroom, ensuring Oklahoma students are college and career ready. While the goals of this new state program are noble, we have numerous challenges facing us within our existing education programs on which we must stay focused.”

See also: STATEMENT: Rep. Nelson Comments on ACT Pilot Program

STATEMENT: Rep. Nelson Comments on ACT Pilot Program

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement today regarding an Oklahoma State Department of Education press release announcing a pilot program that will pay for ACT testing for as many as 22,000 juniors:

“I’ve always believed that financial savings could be found within existing education programs. That Superintendent Hofmeister has identified a surplus of $1.5 million proves this. But how she proposes to spend this extra money signals a shift in her priorities and a lack of appreciation for the looming revenue challenges the state is likely going to face next year.

“There are important existing programs like the Reading Sufficiency Act where this money could be better spent. School districts have been requesting more money to help cover the cost of reading programs to help ensure third graders can read well enough to be successful when entering the fourth grade.

“To my knowledge, the State Department of Education never requested funds for a voluntary pilot program to pay for college entrance tests for high school students— many of whom may not even be planning to attend college. School districts may have more pressing needs where these limited resources could be better used to enhance student learning.

“The most recent numbers I’m aware of show that seventy-five percent of Oklahoma high school students already take the ACT college entrance exam. Starting a new pilot program to do something that is largely already happening is not the highest priority facing education in Oklahoma.

“That the Department was able to identify a surplus of $1.5 million with which to begin a new pilot program is surprising considering the state superintendent expressed ‘severe disappointment’ over the level of appropriations to education last session. 

“I certainly think, as a general rule, that education funds are best allocated through the state per pupil funding formula to follow students to their local school districts and student choice programs. If there are savings to be found in the state’s testing program it would seem to make sense to push that money to the students through the formula.

“In February, Superintendent Hofmeister seemed to agree when she talked about strategies to achieve ‘an increase in classroom instruction and a reduction of time spent testing.’ She said, the ‘savings of time and resources could be redirected for support of higher student achievement.’

“Everyone agrees that learning happens when students and teachers are engaged in the classroom.

“There was a discussion during the last legislative session about replacing the current high school end of instruction exams, or EOIs, with the Iowa Basic or ACT exams but the decision was made to wait until the new standards for English language arts and math are adopted early next year. The new standards should be adopted before the State Department of Education establishes a new program on student testing. 

See also: Speaker Hickman Comments on New Program to Pay for ACT in State Schools 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Statement from teacher coerced to attend rally

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 29, 2015) --  I was contacted this weekend by veteran Oklahoma teacher Teresa Turner about my post Friday, "School district coercing teacher attendance at political rally alleged." Turner identified herself as the teacher responsible for questioning the coercive actions of her school district that led state officials to issue statements that coercing teachers to attend Monday's political rally at the state Capitol is not legal.

Turner sent the following statement:

"I am a public school teacher in my 23rd year of teaching. Our superintendent had informed me that “The board of education made it clear that certified staff would attend the rally or take leave.” As a conservative Christian, I have a strong value system of right and wrong, and I felt that being coerced to attend the Education Rally on March 30th was neither right nor legal.

"I strongly believe everyone has a right to their own opinion; however, I felt it was a violation of my First Amendment rights to be required to attend a rally that represents views that do not align with my personal beliefs or take a day of personal leave. As a result, I simply did what the administration and board of education wanted teachers to do – I contacted several legislators and expressed my concerns about the current state of education.

"Senator Kyle Loveless asked Attorney General Scott Pruitt for an opinion on the matter, which resulted in the State Department of Education releasing their press release Friday afternoon. I greatly appreciate his help, along with that of AG Pruitt, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Senator John Ford, and Representatives Jason Murphy, John Bennett, Josh Cockroft, and many others too numerous to mention in this short statement. I also thank my husband, Russell, for his inspiration and unending support.

"I feel sure that superintendents and schools across Oklahoma will realize that this was merely a legal question, and will not retaliate against any teacher who might hold a view that differs from theirs."

Friday, March 27, 2015

School district coercing teacher attendance at political rally alleged

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 27, 2015) — The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) took swift action today in response to a report that a single school district had incorrectly notified teachers they would receive professional development credit for attending an education rally at the State Capitol.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said OSDE officials contacted the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the school district in question to make it clear that no teacher can be coerced to attend the March 30 rally.

“As soon as we were alerted, we contacted all appropriate parties, including the school district in question, to state plainly that attendance at the rally in no way counts as professional development,” the superintendent said. “No entity should — or is lawfully able to — pressure attendance at the education rally. It is longstanding practice that attendance at such events are strictly voluntary.”

In a March 27 letter to Hofmeister, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote that his office had received inquiries about a district inaccurately telling teachers that their participation in the rally was mandated professional development.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fallin Appoints Natalie Shirley as Secretary of Education and Workforce Development

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced that Natalie Shirley, president of Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC), will be joining her Cabinet as secretary of education and workforce development. Shirley will begin serving on Monday, January 26.

Shirley became president of OSU-OKC in 2011. She is the first female president in the OSU system.

Prior to her role at OSU-OKC, Shirley served as Oklahoma secretary of commerce and tourism for former Governor Brad Henry. She also served as the executive director of the Department of Commerce, the state’s leading economic development agency. Shirley has also served as president of ICI Mutual, an insurance company.

Fallin called Shirley a perfect fit for helping to achieve a goal outlined in the governor’s inaugural address: increasing educational attainment.

“One of my top priorities going into 2015 is to increase educational attainment in Oklahoma,” said Fallin. “We know that the best way to help Oklahomans – especially those living in poverty – is to get them the skills they need for a good job. Similarly, the best way we can support our businesses and grow our economy is to produce a more educated workforce. Making that goal a reality will take a cooperative effort between Oklahoma public education and our business community.

“I’ve asked Natalie to help oversee and energize that public/private partnership and work to ensure we are increasing educational attainment in Oklahoma. I believe she has the experience and the skill-set we need for that important task. Natalie has been a successful president at OSU-OKC; she has been a leader in both the public and private sector; she is respected by members of both political parties; and she has experience working with and managing large government agencies. Most importantly, she is absolutely committed to ensuring that Oklahoma provides the best education possible to our students.”

Shirley currently serves on the board of directors for the United Way of Central Oklahoma, SSM Health Care of Oklahoma, the Girl Scouts, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, BancFirst, the Oklahoma State Fair Board, AAA Oklahoma/South Dakota, as a trustee on the Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum and on the community development advisory council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

"I am honored Governor Fallin has asked me to join her Cabinet,” said Shirley. “As an educator and business person, I know that a great foundational education, learning a skill and earning a degree can produce lifelong benefits. This is turn will make Oklahoma a stronger and better place to live and work.”

Shirley received a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma.

She and her husband, Russ Harrison, have six children.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Morrissette Files ‘Right-to-Try’ Legislation

Oklahoma Would Join Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Arizona

OKLAHOMA CITY – According to the Pew Charitable Trust, some critics of the years-long federal Food and Drug Administration drug approval process, with its requirement for multiple clinical trials, contend that it is much longer than it should be, thereby keeping some promising drugs from those who might benefit.

Withholding drugs from the most gravely ill has fueled several states to pass so-called “right-to-try” legislation that would make these drugs available, without FDA approval, to terminally ill patients with no other option.

“The Goldwater Institute, a conservative non-profit that defends states’ rights, created model legislation in Colorado, and I have used that model to draft my legislation,” House Bill 1074, said state Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City).

“I am especially concerned for our children diagnosed with terminal illness, who for want of a drug may be stuck in some trial for a decade, when a second chance at life might be possible,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said. “This is a pro-life issue and it seems we have all waited long enough for the process of clinical trials to improve without any relief. It is the system that’s terminal.”

Legislation in four states has now passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. All of the existing laws and the Morrissette proposal leave the decision to try an unapproved medication to the patient, the doctor and the drug company.

In all participating states, the laws are supposed to open up access to drugs that passed through just the first stage of clinical trials and are part of ongoing trials. It has yet to be determined if ‘right-to-try’ legislation will withstand a legal challenge from the federal government.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Speaker Announces Additional House Leadership Appointments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman announced additional leadership positions today, naming assistant majority leaders and assistant majority whips.

“We are fortunate to have a talented, diverse and hard-working body of men and women in the House of Representatives,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “We have been very diligent in selecting members to serve in leadership roles to work with all members of the House to help ensure a successful legislative session for our state.”

The assistant majority leaders will work closely with Majority Leader Charles Ortega, who will be responsible for assigning bills to committees and determining the list of bills approved by committees, which will be available for consideration by the full House. They will also work with Floor Leaders Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and Lisa Billy (R-Lindsay) to develop the schedule for hearing bills on the House floor and directing floor activity during daily legislative sessions.

“I am excited to get to work with this team of lawmakers as we direct the activity of the House floor,” said Ortega, R-Altus. “These legislative leaders are deliberative and fair, and they take their duties very seriously, as our constituents expect us to. Working with our members, I am confident the people’s business will be conducted in an efficient and orderly manner.”

The assistant majority whips will work with Majority Whip Gary Banz, who will be responsible for assisting the floor leaders and for ensuring that votes are in place and members are in attendance. The whips also serve as a communication system for the members.

“Moving our legislative agenda through the House and keeping a large caucus focused is a process based on relationships, trust and experience,” said Banz, R-Midwest City. “These assistant majority whips are highly respected men and women in the House of Representatives, and I believe they are a good team to help the House be successful.”

Assistant Majority Leaders:

Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha
Doug Cox, R- Grove
Tommy Hardin, R-Madill
Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa

Assistant Majority Whips:

Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond
Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City
Randy Grau, R-Edmond
James Leewright, R-Bristow
Mark Lepak, R-Claremore
Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs
Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore
Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa
Justin Wood, R-Shawnee

Former Democratic Senator, Jabar Shumate, takes school choice post

OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 8, 2015) - Today the Oklahoma Federation for Children, a state affiliate of the American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, is pleased to announce that former Democratic Oklahoma State Senator Jabar Shumate is joining the staff as Director of Legislative Affairs and State Director for Oklahoma. Shumate resigned from the Oklahoma Senate at the beginning of the year to take on promoting school choice policies in the state full-time.

“We are thrilled to have such a dedicated ally and experienced legislator join our Oklahoma team,” said Bob Sullivan, co-chair of the Oklahoma Federation for Children. “Jabar is committed to extending educational options and choice to every child in Oklahoma, and we are excited that he is joining our efforts to give every child regardless of their background the opportunity to learn in a high-quality setting.”

“Jabar has been a champion for school choice throughout his time in office and we are excited to have him continue to work with us as a member of our staff,” said Russell Perry, co-chair of the Oklahoma Federation for Children. “His hard work and dedication to providing students the opportunity to go to the school that best suits their needs is inspiring and he will be a great addition to the team.”

Since 2012, Shumate served as a Democratic Senator for Oklahoma’s 11th Senate District. He has been an advocate and champion for educational choice throughout his term, and has authored and introduced numerous education bills to the Oklahoma State Senate. Shumate’s legislative experience and keen political insight will be tremendous asset in Oklahoma and throughout the country. Featured at several national conferences, Shuamte is a sought-after speaker in the ed reform community who has addressed legislative leaders throughout the country about the need to break down barriers to educational choice.

The Oklahoma Federation for Children is chaired by Bob Sullivan of Tulsa and Russell Perry of Oklahoma City. The OK Federation for Children works to increase the array and quality of K-12 educational options available to Oklahoma’s children. The Oklahoma Federation for Children is a state-based project of the American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Oklahoma House Re-elects Speaker Hickman

Denney Elected as Speaker Pro Tempore

OKLAHOMA CITY – Today, the Oklahoma House of Representatives convened for Organizational Day and opened the First Session of the 55th Legislature by formally re-electing Rep. Jeffrey W. Hickman for a second term as speaker of the House.

“The challenges before us are great,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “The democratic process will get noisy. There will be agreement about where we want our state to go, but disagreement about how we get there. It won’t be easy, but our founding fathers didn’t intend for it to be. Through all of this, I pledge to you as your Speaker, to serve with respect for each elected member of the People’s House, to be firm but fair, to ensure the majority can conduct the people’s business but that the rights of the minority are protected, realizing that majority and minority on many issues before us will not be divided by political party.”

Hickman is the 43rd House member to serve as speaker since Oklahoma was granted statehood in 1907 and the seventh Republican speaker in state history.

The House also took a full vote and elected Rep. Lee Denney to serve as speaker pro tempore. Denney is a veterinarian and has served as chair of the Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee for the past six years. She is the second woman in Oklahoma history to hold this office, both of which have been Republican.

“Oklahoma is blessed to have skilled legislators with overwhelming intelligence and talent, and for them to choose me to serve in this capacity is a great honor,” said Denney, R-Cushing. “I look forward to working with House Speaker Hickman, returning members and our new freshman class of legislators this upcoming session.”

The House will reconvene on February 2nd at noon to continue the First Session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature.

Speaker Announces House Committee Appointments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman announced House committee appointments for the 55th Legislature today.

“The House is fortunate to have members from a variety of backgrounds and expertise,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “Through hard work and their desire to create a better Oklahoma, I am confident that our members will take the lead on policy and ensure Oklahoma remains one of the fastest growing economies in our country.”

Link to the complete House committee membership for the 55th Legislature

Monday, January 5, 2015

Shumate resigns from Senate; Special Election dates set

Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, announced his resignation from the Oklahoma Senate last week. His resignation was effective today. In making the announcement Shumate issued the following statement:

“Most of my professional career has been dedicated to serving the people of north Tulsa in the Oklahoma Legislature. It’s been an honor to represent the citizens of Senate District 11, and before that, the constituents of House District 73.

“However, I was recently encouraged to pursue other opportunities that will allow me to continue to work to improve education and champion other issues I am passionate about.

“I am proud to have served in the Oklahoma Legislature, and it has been a privilege to work with my fellow members. I want to express my thanks to our staff for their dedication and professionalism, and my gratitude to the citizens of Tulsa for allowing me to represent them.”

Gov. Mary Fallin today set the key dates for filling the vacant Senate seat. The candidate filing period for the Special Election to fill the Senate District 11 seat is January 19, 20 and 21. The Special Primary Election is set for April 7 and the Special General Election is set for June 9. In the event a Special Primary Election is not necessary the Special General Election will be held on April 7.
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