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 
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