We all have New Year's resolutions and things we wish to accomplish with our lives; and most of us stick with them for at least an entire month. What I would like to lay out for you are some of the 'wish list' items I have for the upcoming year in #oklaed. This is going to be an extremely interesting year with impending budgetary issues, school choice advocates gearing up, and school consolidation talks gaining momentum, so I am very intrigued as to where 2016 will take us.
One of my resolutions is to blog more, so according to research, expect several to come out in the first month at least. If I'm semi-successful at creating a habit then I'll continue on, if I have anything worthwhile to say in any length. I'm usually better at 140 characters or less.
I digress. On to the Wish List.
Teacher Certification Reform
The re-authorization of NCLB/ESEA, now
referred to as ESSA, puts the term 'Highly Qualified' back to the
states to determine what their opinion of that topic entails. My hope is that the Oklahoma Legislature and State Board of Education will swiftly take some of the more common sense Teacher Shortage Task Force recommendations and put them to wise use. One of the most important things to immediately impact will be to continue to increase reciprocity of
teachers coming into our state from other states where they are already
We should not be restricting teachers from coming into our
state due to certification, as if our teacher pay wasn't already
enough to do that all on its own.
Quality Teacher Evaluations
The current TLE system and value-added measures (VAM) have been thoroughly intertwined from the beginning. Proponents of say VAM is the easiest and best way to determine student learning, actual science says here, and here, and a Google search away, that it doesn't. The qualitative portion of our current system contains some very good components for improving instruction and having great conversations around that topic. I would like to see us continue on the track of improving our current model and finding creative and innovative ways to create a well-rounded teacher evaluation system, especially if the quantitative component must remain.
The main thing is to remember that no system will be perfect for every teacher. That being said, we must as a group professionally work through what will help us to grow as educators for the betterment of our students. We must also work to develop and grow what is oftentimes the most important component to effectively evaluating an educator; that is an effective administrator. Leadership can work through hardship, develop talent, communicate messages and place personnel in the best situation for success. I wish for our state to do more to build up our education leaders with development programs and opportunities. As we are moving more rapidly into very complex matters, I firmly believe that leadership development will be vital to the future success of our states education system.
Penny Sales Tax
My child is worth a penny. I will gladly pay another $2.00 for my groceries at Wal-Mart. Another $.03 on a Braums gallon of milk is worth it for our state's education system. Whatever anecdote you attach it to, I am okay with it. Although, I am not okay with it being necessary and I make a distinction between those two things. That however is for another blog on another day.
The idea has been found to be 70% favorable among both parties when polled and it will provide over $600M dedicated revenue to education. That last part is particularly important as we have taken a 24% cut since 2008, leading the nation yet again. It will provide a $5,000 pay raise for teachers that have not had a pay raise since 2007. If you throw the $31,600 starting salary for Oklahoma teachers into an inflation calculator at 2007 dollars, it comes out to $36,171. As you can see after adjusted for inflation, adding $5,000 would be virtual non-raise. It could be more accurately categorized as a cost of living adjustment (COLA). Either way you split it, it needs to happen.
We cannot afford to push any more teachers over state lines or back into the ranks of bank tellers and insurance salesman.
Reforming Our Overall Tax Structure
We need to eliminate as many tax breaks as possible, especially for our smaller industries and producers, and go to a tax rebate system based on production and growth. Asking business to produce and then be rewarded is a more productive way. This will help stop the bleeding while still allowing for pro-business incentives. This is important because Oklahoma's tax breaks have more than doubled since 2010 and now cost nearly $760M. Here is a full breakdown.
Also, our growing and virtually unaltered sales tax exemptions total billions in lost revenue every year and we must do something to curb the damage. Our economy has changed and it is time that our tax structure reflect the change while still allowing for our core services to be at least decently funded.
Overall Health and Mental Health Reform
Oklahoma is among the worst in the nation at submitting mental health records, which is great for gun-buyer background checks. I am not okay with that, as you can already basically buy a tank with your lunch ID card in our state. I'm a gun guy and have been all my life, so I don't want to start the rants, but I do care about the safety of my family and my children. That is also why I hope that we can find a way to improve our mental health services.
Currently, less than half of adult Oklahomans who need mental health services get them, and Oklahoma spends among the least in the nation on its mental health system, despite having the second highest rate of adults with serious mental illness in the United States.
Out of respect for one another in light of several recent incidents, including one involving an elected official, I would hope that we can finally make some progress in this area instead of ignoring it away because you can't refine it and make gas out of it. We ranked in the low 30's in 1990 and have slowly fallen to the bottom of the national rankings in both mental health and overall health, maybe we can inch back up sometime soon. As I pointed out in a 2014 blog, our health rankings are some of the worst in every single category and it is time to do something about it.
My wish is for our elected officials, 'think tanks' and uninformed DOK readers to understand that we currently have a multitude of school choice in Oklahoma. There are currently over 45,000 transfer students statewide that are approved by a 'sending' public school to attend another public school of their choosing. There are 34 charter schools serving over 20,000 students in Oklahoma, 229 private schools serving over 36,500 students, and 5 growing virtual school options for families and students to choose from. We have all of these things already.
We must get past the rhetoric of students and families being 'locked into a school based on geography.' For one, anyone can argue that the years of public school underfunding has led to some our more poor performing schools. You can also effectively argue that our growing child poverty rate is the result of our lack of investment into our citizenry, while instead our focus has been in the virtue of being business-friendly. To place blame on the public school system and draw even more funding out of the already woefully underfunded system is not the answer.
All things being what they are for my personal wish list, I wish everyone a happy, healthy and thoroughly blessed New Year. Pay attention, follow #oklaed, vote and make yourself a better you this year. Our kids need us all to be cooperative and at our best each and every day.