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21 Feb
0

RELEASE: School Vouchers Divert Public Funding and Taxpayers’ Money to Unaccountable Private Schools

For Immediate Release
February 21, 2017

Media Contact:
Angela Allmond, Communications Director
405-536-2417
Oklahoma Democratic Party

School Vouchers Divert Public Funding and Taxpayers’ Money to Unaccountable Private Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Bill 560, introduced by Senator Rob Standridge R-Norman, is no more than an avenue for Republicans to push privatizing education. Instead of diverting taxpayer’s money to voucher programs that take additional funding away from struggling Oklahoma public schools, lawmakers should be concentrating on how to bring in revenue to increase teacher pay, incentives to retain teachers in Oklahoma, and improving public education.

HB 560 is limited to Oklahoma, Cleveland, and Tulsa Counties. Students that qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program would be permitted to use 90% of their state aid towards private schools, while only 10% would remain in the district for public schools. Most eligible and better performing private schools approved by the Oklahoma Private School Accrediting Council, a requirement for voucher qualification, cost families tens of thousands in tuition. This makes the difference in the average available $2,700 a drop in the bucket to the total cost of a private education and cost prohibitive to many low-income students on the federal reduced lunch program.

Most voucher programs limit the government’s ability to administer oversight and accountability measures on private schools. There is little evidence to support that school vouchers deliver better outcomes for students while taxpayers’ money is used to give private schools the control to choose who can attend versus an all-inclusive public education.

At a time when Oklahoma is experiencing a growing budget crisis, and potentially another $34.6 million in cuts to all agencies, public schools and our children will suffer the most harm from losing addition funding to school privatization in the form of vouchers.

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The mission of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is to represent working people in Oklahoma and the best way to accomplish that is to elect Democrats to all areas of government. Oklahoma Democrats are progressive and sensible. We are optimistic about the future, and we are determined to see Oklahoma’s traditional values upheld. More information about the Oklahoma Democratic Party can be found at www.okdemocrats.org or by calling (405) 427-3366.

21 Feb
0

RELEASE: House Democratic Caucus – Third House Measure in Five Years Filed To Ban Smoking in Vehicles Carrying Minors

Third House Measure in Five Years Filed To Ban Smoking in Vehicles Carrying Minors

OKLAHOMA CITY (21 February 2017) – For the third time in five years legislation has been filed to statutorily forbid smoking in a vehicle in which a child is being transported.

House Bill 1344 by Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, would make it illegal for the driver or a passenger in a motor vehicle to smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars “if a child is also present” in the vehicle. The fine for violating the proposed law would be $20, equivalent to the penalty for a seat-belt violation.

“A lake patrolman from McAlester asked me to run this bill, and it sounded like a good idea,” Condit said.

HB 1344 cleared the House’s Public Health Committee on a 7-1 vote Tuesday. The next step would be placement on the House calendar for a floor vote on the proposal.

Two years ago Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, filed HB 1341, which would have decreed, “No person shall smoke in a motor vehicle in which there is a child present.” The measure was referred to the House Committee on Alcohol, Tobacco, and Controlled Substances, where it died without receiving a hearing.

Four years ago Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, introduced HB 2013 to forbid smoking in a vehicle transporting a minor. The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Public Health, where it, too, died without receiving a hearing.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

20 Feb
0

RELEASE: House Dem Caucus – Civics, Dyslexia, Unfunded Mandates, Administrative Co-Ops, Incidence/Distribution of State Taxes Debated in House

Civics, Dyslexia, Unfunded Mandates, Administrative Co-Ops, Incidence/Distribution of State Taxes Debated in House

OKLAHOMA CITY (20 January 2017) – Legislation to require students to be knowledgeable about civics, to eliminate unfunded mandates on schools, and to track the incidence and distribution of state taxes, were debated Monday in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Civics Knowledge Recommended

Legislation that would require all students to pass a civics exam in order to graduate from high school or receive a GED diploma cleared a House committee Monday in a split vote.

House Bill 1941 by Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, was endorsed 10-4 by the House Committee on Common Education.

The legislation provides that starting with the 2018-19 school year, all Oklahoma school students would have to take and pass the United States Citizenship Test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Baker, vice chair of the Common Education Committee, said the course materials and test are available on-line, free of charge. “Nothing would have to be purchased,” she said.

The civics exam consists of 100 questions; a minimum score of 60% would be required to pass. A student could retake the test “as many times as necessary for passage,” the bill stipulates. “They can take it as many times as they need in order to be proficient by the time they graduate from high school,” Baker said. The test “creates a basic understanding of our government and the importance of civic engagement,” she told the committee.

“For the last few years we have decreased testing” for Oklahoma school students, said Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, a former teacher. “What’s the need for this?”

“Only 24% of high schoolers are proficient in civics,” Baker said. “Immigrants to our country know more about our government than American students do.” The dictionary defines civics as the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works.

Democrat Rep. Mickey Dollens, a former classroom teacher at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, indicated that all elected state officials should be required to take and pass the test, too.

Oklahoma students are required to take and pass a U.S. history class, but are not required to pass a U.S. history test, in order to graduate from high school, according to Carolyn Thompson, director of government affairs for the State Department of Education.

Forbidding Unfunded Mandates

House Bill 1115 would prohibit the Legislature from imposing new mandates or amending existing ones “in a way that increases costs on public school districts” unless sufficient funding is provided to pay for them.

“I appreciate the intent behind this, but couldn’t we just vote ‘no’” on new mandates?, asked House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

HB 1115 is intended to be “a reminder for future legislators,” replied Rep. Avery Carl Frix, R-Muskogee, author of the proposal.

The Appropriations and Budget Committee passed the measure, 24-0, and referred it to the House calendar for a floor vote. All House Democrats on the committee – Reps. Emily Virgin of Norman, Steve Kouplen of Beggs, Ben Loring of Miami, Eric Proctor of Tulsa, Jason Dunnington of Oklahoma City, and Inman – supported the bill.

Cost-Saving Co-ops Proposed

A measure endorsed by a House panel Monday would encourage school districts to identify “any possible cost-sharing administrative co-ops” that could be implemented with “neighboring” school districts.

House Bill 1236 received a do-pass recommendation on a 9-1 vote by the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education. Members of that panel include Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, a former school teacher/administrator; Rep. Regina Goodwin and Rep. Monroe Nichols, both D-Tulsa.

HB 1236 now advances to the full A&B Committee.

At a minimum the report would identify potential savings through the use of administrative co-ops or other cost-sharing agreements “in the areas of personnel, licensing, professional and overhead/transportation costs” through an “administrative unification of multiple districts.”

The bill stipulates that no school district would be compelled to dissolve or consolidate with another district if HB 1236 were enacted.

The bill would direct the State Board of Education to develop rules for the creation of awards for school districts that implement “administrative co-op plans.” No less than 75% of any savings reported from the proposal would be earmarked for salary increases for teachers and other school personnel at the participating schools.

Dyslexia Task Force Proposed

An amended version of House Bill 2008 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would create the Dyslexia and Education Task Force.

Over the next year and a half the 19-member panel would create a handbook that would “provide guidance for schools, students and parents in identification, intervention and support” of students afflicted with dyslexia.

The bill was approved 15-0 by the Common Education Committee on Monday.

Also Monday, Dyslexia Awareness Day was observed at the State Capitol, and Decoding Dyslexia OK held a news conference. Dyslexia is a reading disorder.

5-Day School Weeks Debated

A measure that would require most of the school year to consist of five-day weeks was held over to next week because of questions and some suggested tweaks of the proposal.

House Bill 1684 would mandate that 80% of a school year “shall consist of five-day school weeks,” with “not less than six hours devoted to school activities” each of those days.

A local school board could elect to extend one or more school days to more than six hours in order to reduce the number of school days “for up to 20% of the school year,” so long as the total amount of classroom instruction time amounted to at least 1,080 hours per year, HB 1684 provides.

Report on Incidence, Distribution of State Taxes

A biennial report on the incidence and distribution of state taxes would be developed by the Oklahoma Tax Commission under a measure approved Monday by a House panel.

House Bill 2209 was approved 4-0 by the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on General Government. It now will be referred to the entire A&B Committee.

HB 2209 would require the state Tax Commission to submit to the Legislature every other year a report on “the overall incidence” of income and sales taxes and other excise taxes. The report would have to include data:

  • about “overall income distribution,” using some “appropriate” measure of equality and inequality;
  • by income classes;
  • about “other appropriate taxpayer characteristics.”

HB 2209 also would direct the Tax Commission to prepare “an incidence impact analysis” of the effect on “representative taxpayers” of any legislative measure that would increase, decrease or redistribute state taxes by more than $20 million.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

20 Feb
0

RELEASE: House Democratic Caucus – Hemorrhaging State Budget

Opening Salvo in 2018 GOP Gubernatorial Contest Focuses Attention on Hemorrhaging State Budget, ‘YVC’ Panel Notes

OKLAHOMA CITY (19 February 2017) — The Republican contest to decide who will succeed Mary Fallin as Governor of Oklahoma opened last week with a double-barreled blast at the state’s chief executive officer.

“Your Vote Counts” moderator Scott Mitchell noted that 2002 gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson released a two-and-a-half-minute video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyCEXVGNQds] Wednesday that mentioned just about every one of the 164 services on which Gov. Mary Fallin suggested the 4.5% state sales tax should be imposed as a means of establishing a permanent, reliable source of revenue for the State of Oklahoma, which has three consecutive years of huge revenue deficits.

The next day Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb resigned from the governor’s Cabinet. “…I cannot support her proposed tax increases,” Lamb said. “While Governor Fallin and I have disagreed on issues from time-to-time, our differences on this important topic are so significant they preclude me from continuing to serve on her Cabinet.”

(In a recent post on his blog, “My Back Page,” Blanchard Schools Supt. Jim Beckham recalled that Governor Fallin threw Janet Barresi “under the bus” because “it was no longer politically correct” nor in Fallin’s best interest to support her State School Superintendent. “[A]s Fallin jumped into the lifeboat off the sinking Titanic, she waved bon voyage to Barresi,” Dr. Beckham wrote, then added, “Well, what goes around, comes around – when it comes to politics.”)

“This is about getting the [GOP] primary started,” Mitchell said. He pointed out that Richardson, a Tulsa attorney, ran for Governor as an Independent in 2002, placing a distant third behind Democrat Brad Henry, the winner, and Republican nominee Steve Largent. Lamb is expected to be a gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

“This makes it a lot more difficult for the governor to continue to work on tax reform,” said Rep. Jason Dunnington. It is “disconcerting,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said, when the state’s lieutenant governor abandons his seat on the governor’s Cabinet “instead of sticking in there” and “working harder” to “help make a better future” for the state. “Average Oklahomans can’t leave their jobs when things get tough,” Dunnington said.

The Richardson/Lamb hubbub complicates efforts to resolve the state’s $900 million shortfall “and what we need to do” to plug that gap, said Rep. Leslie Osborn, who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations and Budget. Fallin “came out with a million tax increase ideas, which was probably too much and scared everybody to death,” the Mustang Republican said. But rather than propose solutions, Lamb and Richardson “threw up their hands” and shifted “to the far right.”

According to Osborn, 85% of all state agencies have had their budgets cut 40% in the last 10 years. “If we don’t want to do any revenue-raising measures – which would be small and few – we can cut them another 20% this year,” she said. “But do we want to keep cutting district attorneys’ councils and firefighters and the Highway Patrol and education?”

Oklahomans “want us to govern from the middle,” she said. “We need to come together and make a decision on what we want the future to be.”

“If the power shift continues to the far right and we continue to cater to those” who promote unconstitutional legislation that prohibits women from choosing their own health care, and legislators who “try to put a gun in every 2-year-old’s hands because we say it’s their God-given right,” Dunnington said, then “we’re getting farther and farther away from what we really need to do, which is focus on core services of government…”

Although the governor’s tax plan “is on the rocks,” Mitchell said, a proposed $1.50-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax that was defeated last year is back on the negotiating table this year. If it can’t pass the Legislature, “there’s not a chance in the world” that any of the governor’s other proposals will pass, either, Mitchell predicted.

The cigarette tax is “the template,” Osborn said. Polls indicate it is supported by 75% of Oklahoma voters. Moreover, the proposed tobacco tax increase would “shore up” mental health, rural health care, rural hospitals, the state Health Care Authority, the state Department of Human Services, and services for foster children, she said.

“If this doesn’t get bipartisan support,” Osborn said, echoing Mitchell, “it will be very difficult to get any revenue-raising measure” through the Legislature. “And then we’ll just have to keep cutting our way to prosperity.” The Legislature continues to evaluate state agency operations with an eye toward consolidating and streamlining wherever possible, she said, “but it’s also time to invest in our state.”

“This is really about the health of Oklahoma citizens,” Dunnington said. The proposed cigarette tax increase “would be a first step,” he said. “There are many other revenue measures out there … a lot of tax loopholes” that could be sewn shut. Oklahomans “are tired of the politics at the Capitol,” Dunnington said. “What we need to do now is … make sure we’re funding core services of government and taking care of the people in Oklahoma.”

“Your Vote Counts” airs Sunday mornings on KWTV in Oklahoma City, and afterward is streamed on the station’s website at “www.news9.com/yourvotecounts”.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

17 Feb
0

RELEASE: ODP Statement on Pruitt’s Confirmation as Head of EPA

For Immediate Release
February 17, 2017
 
Media Contact:
Angela Allmond, Communications Director
405-536-2417
Oklahoma Democratic Party
 

The White House Agenda – Dismantle the EPA with Scott Pruitt’s Confirmation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Scott Pruitt’s confirmation today is another glaring example of the White House’s interest in dismantling efforts to protect our environment and our children’s future, all for big oil and gas profits.

Climate-change-denier, Pruitt, spent most of his time as Oklahoma’s Attorney General fighting the EPA with frivolous lawsuits against clean air and water concerns with the support of big oil and gas. By joining Trump’s administration, the door is wide open for Pruitt and his energy entourage to begin breaking apart EPA regulations to meet big oil interests.

The vote came to 52 yes votes and 46 Senators voting no. Two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota broke away from their caucus to cast yes votes – votes that could have halted Pruitt’s confirmation. There were also two Senators who did not cast any vote: Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Republican John McCain of Arizona. These three Democrats would have prevented the disastrous future of the EPA if only they had done what was right, like the rest of the caucus, and even two Republicans Senators, did today.

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The mission of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is to represent working people in Oklahoma and the best way to accomplish that is to elect Democrats to all areas of government. Oklahoma Democrats are progressive and sensible. We are optimistic about the future, and we are determined to see Oklahoma’s traditional values upheld. More information about the Oklahoma Democratic Party can be found at www.okdemocrats.org or by calling (405) 427-3366.