(Here is the first of four posts featuring posts on Blue Oklahoma’s companion blog, Okie Funk, published in 2014. All these posts appeared on Blue Oklahoma as well. Click on the title to read the entire post. It was a dismal political year for progressives in Oklahoma, but there IS hope for a coming shift and realignment in 2016, at least on the national level. As always, thanks for following this blog. Best wishes to you this holiday season.)
Failing Students, Jan. 29, 2014
Third graders in Oklahoma public schools will start getting retained this year under state law if they don’t pass a reading test.
Supporters of the 2011 Reading Sufficiency Act, which mandates retention starting this year if students fail the test, cloak it in sanctimonious language about helping children, but it’s really part of a unified conservative effort to damage the credibility of public schools.
Retaining an elementary-school student should be a holistic decision made by teachers, parents and school administrators based on a variety of factors, not just one proficiency test. Excessive, high-stakes testing in our schools is definitely political, not educational.
The test is given in April. According to a news report, 869 students in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district didn’t pass the test last year when the retention rule was not in effect. If the number is anyway close to that this year, it could create a simple logistics nightmare.
Here’s how the conservative attack on public schools works: Create universal difficult tests that don’t take into account individual student development and home life, force teachers to teach to the tests and then demean teachers and students when the results don’t meet arbitrary expectations.
The Rich Reward, Feb. 27, 2014
An analysis of Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed income tax cut proposal shows that Oklahoma’s wealthiest households will benefit the most while 41 percent of its residents will get no benefit at all.
The overall average tax cut would be a paltry $29 while those in the top 1 percent in income would receive an average of $2,009.
The analysis, prepared by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and distributed by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, clearly shows Fallin’s proposal is primarily designed to reduce the tax burden for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class.
In her State of the State speech earlier this month, Fallin proposed cutting the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 5 percent despite the fact that Oklahoma faces a $170 million budget shortfall and has cut per pupil spending on a percentage basis more than any other state in the nation since 2008.
The regressive tax cut would mean a $135 million annual loss in revenue, according to OK Policy, while 41 percent of Oklahomans wouldn’t get a break at all because they aren’t taxed at the top income rate.
Pension Paranoia, March 3, 2014
I’m glad that at least one statewide Republican leader has publicly asked for an actuarial study to determine the specific financial impact of a proposed and radical change to one state pension plan.
Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, writing in The Oklahoman/NewsOK.com, argues, “Any changes to the pension systems must be verified by an actuarial study to provide the impact those changes will have to the fiscal stability of the plan. It only makes sense to give the pension experts, CPAs and actuaries a chance to fix this problem. Working with these experts, legislators would be able to make the necessary, tough, informed decisions to find an actuarially sound solution.”
Jones’ point makes perfect sense, but some Republican leaders, such as Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller and Gov. Mary Fallin, both Republicans, are simply relying on reductionist rhetoric to move some new state employees into 401(k)-styled pensions without defined benefit payments and thereby putting one pension plan at risk.
Senate Bill 2120 and House Bill 2630 would require that new state employees under the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) go into a new 401(k)-styled plan. One major question that hasn’t been addressed fully by Miller and Fallin, according to some opponents of their plan, is how the old plan would still remain solvent without new participants.