Sunday, February 9, 2014

Some Oklahoma Schools Will Close in March to Attend Capitol Rally for More Money


March 31, 2014, teachers, administrators and community members will be marching on the Capitol to demand more funding for public education.  

In all fairness, I have heard many excellent educators, such as Rob Miller in Jenks, talk about the fact that funding isn't the only issue upon which they should base this march, however, I've also read comments from many others in our state who believe the solution to our current education nightmare is money.  

Recently, two Oklahoma legislators got wind of the rally.  Representative Jason Murphy (R), and Mike Turner (R) were quoted in the Daily Disappointment (sorry, Daily Oklahoman) providing their viewpoints on this civic exercise.

Murphy said, 
“It's indefensible for government entities to use government resources to lobby government for more taxpayer money for more government,”
Turner said, 
“This sort of behavior should not be tolerated by our schools or any other state agency participating in this gross abuse of your hard-earned money,” 
These comments ignited a firestorm in the Oklahoma education blogosphere (What Does The Angry Mob Say, In Support Of The Teacher's Rally, An Appalling Lack Of Respect, Marching For Kids, Marching For My Family) as many bloggers sounded off on what they feel is a put down by these Oklahoma legislators.

I like both Jason and Mike, and I agree with them that taking a day off of school to protest at the Capitol is not the way to deal with the question of education funding.  However, I am of a very divided mind here.  I don't agree that schools should abandon their jobs to go lobby for more money, because I don't agree with that issue.  However, I desperately agree that citizens (educators) need to be in the Capitol lobbying their legislature - after all, there are PLENTY of lobbyists that don't represent citizen (education) interests wondering around the Capitol on a daily basis.  If these are the only people from whom lawmakers hear, then they're the only people whose squeaky wheel gets greased!  I also believe that, for years now, a majority of our lawmakers have been listening to the likes of Jeb Bush, the National Governor's Association, the Chamber of Commerce and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, over the protests of money-and-clout-poor parents and educators, especially when it comes to the contentious issue of education 'reforms' in Oklahoma.

ROPE has been lobbying the legislature since 2011 to repeal Common Core.  It has taken us until the end of last year to get any real traction on this issue.  Why?  Because the POWERS THAT BE (described above) want it and they have the money to affect public policy/opinion in whatever way they desire.  Heck, they have the marketing power of Exxon-Mobile and the Bill and Melinda Gates-backed Stand For Children behind them.  I have some really madder-than-heck-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers in my corner.  Needless to say, none of us in this latter group are going to come up with the multimillions of dollars it will take to overmessage the formerly named group, so there has to be another way to effect change in our favor.

For almost a year now, when I speak to a group, I have been informing listeners that their rights are being usurped by a growing government bureaucracy full of individuals that believe they know what's better for children than their parents and/or teachers.  In fact, I believe this so heartily and disagree with this sentiment so thoroughly, that I removed my children from public school to educate them at home.  Consequently, when I'm speaking and parents ask,
What can we do?  My school board can't do anything, my principal can't do anything, my legislator won't help me, I don't know what to do...what can I do?
I have begun to answer,
Become civilly disobedient.  Simply say, "No thank you, I do not wish my child to participate in field testing achievement tests for privately-owned-for-profit testing companies." or "No thank you, I do not want my child taking a test that will not accurately tell her teachers what she knows", or "No thank you, I will not accept math standards for my child created outside the state by people who don't have a clue about how she learns in her classroom in Oklahoma and that can possibly damage her ability to learn math".

So, I do understand the need and desire to petition our government IN PERSON, for redress and I do think EVERYONE aught to do just that more often and sooner rather than later.

Truly, the only problem I have with this March rally is the idea that anyone should go pump the legislature to ply education with more money.

When Janet Barresi attempted to earn my vote four years ago, she told me she would conduct an audit of the Oklahoma State Department of Education in attempt to eliminate waste and funnel more money back into the classroom. 
Barresi said that one of her first orders of business will be to ensure that critical dollars are getting into the state’s classrooms. She said she will immediately direct a comprehensive division-by-division analysis of the Department of Education. And she’ll be working to contract with an independent auditor to conduct a financial and performance audit of the department.
So, Dr. Barresi, where is that audit?  The only audit I know of at the OSDE was one conducted by State Auditor Gary Jones which found Dr. Barresi 
“...utilized state personnel in a questionable and likely inappropriate manner,”
I also know that, unlike her promises to voters not to continually raise the education budget and be a sound steward of our education dollar, she requested a $158 MILLION dollar increase in budget for 2011-2012 (to bring Oklahoma's public education budget to $2.4 BILLION dollars) and a budget increase of a $175 MILLION dollar budget increase in 2013-2014 (to bring total public education funding in Oklahoma to 2.57 BILLION dollars). 

According to Data.ok.gov, Common Education,was again, in 2013 (I thought I had read health care had usurped the top spot but I guess not) sitting at the top as the LARGEST appropriation in all of the Oklahoma state budget at 37% (33.58% in 2014 - again the highest appropriation).


So, hopefully that begs the question, 
How much money is enough money for Oklahoma education?
Hopefully that also begs the question,
Where is the currently appropriated money going?  It's quite apparently NOT going into the classroom. 
At this point, I will say,
Glad you asked!
and give you the following answer:
Who knows!?  
Why would I say such a thing?  Well, simply go to the website created by Senate Bill1633 (The School District Transparency Act of 2010), called OpenBooksOk.com.  
SB1633 says this about the information that website should contain, in part:

The database shall provide information on school district expenditures of state, federal, and local funds, whether appropriated or nonappropriated, excluding payments of voluntary payroll deductions for employees to receiving parties.  
Now, see if you can find any information about Common Education on that website?  No?  Neither can I.  Interestingly, I remember that before Janet Barresi took office, I raided that website more than once for information on Common Education spending and found it there, very well described and in a manner even decipherable to me.  This is an article from 2009 in which I used many links available at that time through the OSDE and OpenBooksOK.com for my research.  Now, many of these links are invalid and/or now go to pages that have nothing to do with the references for which they were used!

This is the Financial Accounting page on the OSDE website.  Go there just for grins and giggles.  Start clicking on some links and tell me this is anything other than a system of links back to the same page upon which you clicked the original link.  How bizarre.  In fact, the one link I was able to identify as moving away from the finance page, takes you to OCAS (the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System) where I found the Common Education funding accounting.  This page is NOT the Open Books website as specified by law.

Once on the OCAS page, it's easy to see that 2012-2013 school year has yet to be entered.  From there, the tabs are easy enough to navigate - Homepage, Statewide Reports, District Reports - but here's the deal;
  1. There are total expenditures on that page over 6 BILLION dollars.  Are you really saying that out of all 35 categories of expenditures there's not some way to drag at least a million or two, or three back into the classroom?  
  2. There are no descriptors for the expenditures so who only knows for what that money is really being spent.  There is nothing there other than a near spreadsheet type report - no breakdowns, no graphs, no charts, no comparisons; nothing those paying for public education (taxpayers) can understand.
  3. There is a Revenue link down the page, but that opens up into an Excel spread sheet that is entirely populated with information NO ONE in their right mind can understand or identify!  Though all funds are to be identified as per SB1633, it would take a PhD in finance to figure all that out.
I read SB1633.  There is no mechanism for redress, should its edicts be ignored.  In a discussion with Representative Jason Nelson, over this same issue on another bill, he told me that the law itself IS the mechanism for redress.  I remain confused.  So the OSDE has to follow the law because the law says they have to.  Okay, but they're not, so who's going to make them?  How are these laws enforced and by whom or what agency?  The legislature routinely writes laws without assigning enforcement measures.  What is the point of writing a law if no o is expected to follow it because no enforcement mechanism has been identified?

I also think it interesting here, that very early on in her tenure, Dr. Barresi fired Dr. Jack Herron, the Department's Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services, after the Board would not approve Jill Geiger as her director of finance with Jack already in a similar position.  Mere moments after Governor Fallin signed into law a bill to give the State Superintendent authority over the agency's personnel, Barresi dispatched Herron.  Geiger was later appointed as the state budget director at the Office of State Finance, leaving her without a Finance Director for some time.  Currently, this position is filled by Mathangi Shankar, listed in CPA Focus Magazine (2009) as an Associate Member of the Oklahoma Society of CPA's and the Finance Manager for the Oklahoma Insurance Department.  

Clearly, the water of accountability is murky at the OSDE in more ways than one, but to close this post, I'm going to list the ways in which I think Oklahomans can come together to provide actual relief to schools and taxpayers on the issue of public education funding:
  1. DEMAND the legislature cease and desist shackling schools with unfunded public school mandates and DEMAND they rescind those currently in law.
  2. Tell the legislature to DEMAND a full and complete audit of the OSDE, since Dr. Barresi will apparently not make good on her campaign promise to do so.
  3. DEMAND the legislature stop writing laws which do not provide oversight or a mechanism for redress should the law not be followed!  
This short video drives home a point ROPE has made year after year - really good education doesn't come from a bank - it comes from educators willing to do what it takes to get students where they need to be regardless of the perceived price tag.


video