Friday, May 30, 2014

HB3399: Why Are We Arguing Over A Percent Of A Percent?

Throughout the process of educating legislators and the public about the necessity to repeal the Common Core State Standards in order for Oklahoma to keep public education local, concerns regarding the loss of Oklahoma's waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continue to arise.  Now many organizations are calling on Governor Fallin to veto HB3399 - the strongest, most thorough repeal of Common Core in the nation, primarily because of misunderstandings regarding the way Oklahoma's NCLB waiver was written, and the power of the federal government.

How Much Effect Does Oklahoma's NCLB Waiver Have On Public Schools?

Quick review:  Oklahoma assured the Department of Education (DOE) three categories worth of 'reforms' under the state's NCLB waiver:
  • Our state would adopt the Common Core State Standards (check)
  • Our state would adopt an A-F grading system (check - except that the calculations were horrible and the legislature disapproved the rules for them)
  • Our state would adopt a grading scale for teachers - Teacher/Leader Effectiveness - TLE (check - except now we're not going to use quantitative measures)
According to the FAQ page about our state's NCLB Waiver, the second two are considered "accountability" measures.  The state addresses a loss of the NCLB waiver on their FAQ sheet:
Now that the waiver has been approved, what will happen regarding the accountability system if the waiver is rescinded? 
Because both current state law and reforms are now in the implementation phase (such as the new A-F Report Card for Schools), Oklahoma would continue efficiently transitioning to a new accountability system in a timely manner, even if the waiver were not in effect.
Here are a few facts about the NCLB Waiver

* States lose no money if they lose the waiver, they only lose the ability to DIRECT 20% of Title 1 funds, which, in Oklahoma amounts to 0.5% of the total budget

•    $5,250,065,70
            ◦   total funding for K-12 education; local, state and federal sources
•    $646,625,448
◦   total federal education funds; 12.3% of total education funding
•    $148,119,558 
◦   total federal Title I funds22.9% of total federal education funding
•    $27,198,000
◦   SDE estimate of the amount of federal Title 1 funds that would be required to be set aside for supplemental education services should the state lose its NCLB waiver; 
◦   approximately 20% of federal Title I funds (20% is actually $29,623,912)  0.5% of total education funding

* States do not get MORE federal government intervention with the loss of the waiver, it's simply a different kind of government intervention - telling the state how to spend a whopping total 0.5% of a FIVE BILLION dollar budget.

*Yes, if we lose the waiver, Title 1 schools labeled as "Priority Schools" under the state's waiver would be subjected to something called "The Turnaround Model" in which the state can:
1. Close the school site, OR 2. Convert the school site to a charter school, OR 3. Fire the principal and half the teaching staff/replace with new staff, OR 4. State takeover of the school." 
Here are a few facts about the "Turnaround Model":
  • The Turnaround Model - like Common Core - has been part of the package offered states for money (State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, Race to the Top, NCLB Waiver, SIG) since President Obama was elected - this is NOTHING new and we've used it in Oklahoma already, NUMEROUS times with schools mentioned in the Waiver
  • Because SO MANY Oklahoma schools will be labeled "Priority" under the new 'accountability' system, it is highly implausible that the State Dept. of Education could even enforce this part of the Waiver
What Happens When We Don't Follow The Feds - Early Innovator Grant
  • Mary Fallin gave back the 54 million dollar Early Innovator Grant to set up our state's Obamacare Exchange
  • Cries that the federal government was going to come in and set up Oklahoma's exchange for them were EVERYWHERE with not only policy people, but legislators parroting this talking point 
  • Governor Fallin sent the money back and not only did the federal government NOT come in and set up an exchange for us, many GREAT things have happened:
  • Attorney General Scott Pruitt was able to use the argument that Oklahoma didn't have an exchange as a linchpin in his lawsuit against the federal government enforcing national healthcare on Oklahomans
  • States like Kansas - and others - followed Governor Fallin's lead and didn't set up their own
  • Now we see states that DID kowtow to the feds are struggling with their own insurance exchanges which simply don't function
What Happens When We Don't Follow the Feds - Oklahoma DHS 

In his debate for HB3399 on the floor of the House, Representative Jason Nelson recounted his work providing accountability for Oklahoma DHS, during which, he received several official letters from federal DHS warning him they would intervene in state business if he went too far. Representative Nelson continued his work "too far", and instead of intervening, the federal government backed down.

NCLB Waivers - Like NCLB Itself - Are "Crumbling"

The following excerpt is from an EdWeek article entitled, "Five Key Questions About the Ed. Department's Move on NCLB Waivers"
Margaret Spellings, a key architect of the original NCLB law who served as secretary of education under President George W. Bush, told me two years ago that waivers would be very tough to manage and oversee.
"The waivers were a mistake," she said back in August 2012. "It's a crazy quilt of a system which I think will die [on its] own." 
Because the NCLB Waiver system has been so far reaching, there will be little the DOE can do to keep states in line - there is simply no manpower to undertake a "check and punish" system for states that go their own way.  In addition, there are so many inconsistencies in the program - who gets a waiver, who doesn't - that it leaves states room to be able to argue a DOE decision on that basis alone.

As ROPE has said over and over again, Oklahoma is a sovereign state, and the Constitution of the United States is on our side.  We can talk a good game about local control of education - and Governor Fallin can write all the Executive Orders she wants decrying the hand of FedEd in the education of Oklahoma's kids - but until we put our money where our mouth is, our words are hollow.  Let's be the DO AS I DO state and do what's best for Oklahoma kids on our own turf, in our own way without genuflecting and kissing the ring of a King.