Oklahoma editorial roundup


EPA director travel

Tulsa World

If we were supposed to be shocked to learn that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is going home on weekends, we’re not.

A fishing expedition request for Pruitt’s EPA expense accounts by an environmentalist advocacy group pretty much discovered just that, and that he was spending some public money along the way and met with people that the advocates don’t approve of.

The New York Times first reported the results of a Freedom of Information request for Pruitt’s expense accounts filed by the Environmental Integrity Project, which has a history of blocking development and encouraging regulation. The findings: Pruitt returned to his Tulsa home at least 10 times in his first three months in office, costing taxpayers more than $15,000.

During his trips home, Pruitt made some stops, including an informational meeting at the Brainerd Chemical Company in Tulsa and a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Colorado.

As outrages go, it’s not worth much.

The Washington press corps and the environmental lobby might prefer that the EPA boss be held captive on the East Coast and that he hear nothing but the opinions of “green” lobbyists, but the people out in fly-over country like it when we’re being heard, too.

We prefer it when the people at the top of the nation’s bureaucratic pyramid get out of the Beltway once in a while to talk to ordinary Americans. If Pruitt is coming home to see his friends, family, neighbors and some of the people he regulates, then good for him. That sounds like the acts of a balanced man who wants to know the thinking of the public, not just the pro-regulation lobbyists.

It’s apparent to us, and we suspect to Pruitt, that environmental extremists are determined to find anything they can use against him, including this not-so-damning evidence that he hasn’t abandoned his family.

Charter school funding

The Oklahoman

The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association is suing the state, challenging the long-standing practice of providing far less funding to educate children in public charter schools than what is provided to educate students in traditional schools, even though all involved are public school students.

While the association may have a good legal case, it has an even more compelling moral argument.

“Right now we have a system where one public school student is valued less than another,” said Barry Schmelzenbach, president of the charter association.

Under current law, public charter schools primarily receive state-appropriated funds, while other public schools receive state appropriations, local property tax funding, motor vehicle taxes and funding from the state land use trust.

On average, charter schools receive around 83 percent of the per-pupil funding that traditional public schools receive. As a result, many charter schools have been housed in makeshift locations ranging from church basements to repurposed dance halls.

Yet the results generated by charter schools are often far superior to those generated by their better-funded counterparts.

Charters comprised just 15 percent of schools in the Oklahoma City district, but accounted for half of district schools receiving an A grade on state report cards in 2015.

Oklahoma City’s traditional schools include numerous sites that are half-empty. In contrast, some charters now have waiting lists and are forced to determine admission via random lottery, despite being housed in substandard facilities.

Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City was ranked the state’s most challenging high school by The Washington Post, and ranked 112th out of 2,323 schools nationwide. Harding has landed on TheBestSchools.org’s list of the nation’s 50 best schools, and was named the ninth-best Transformative High School in the Nation by Newsweek, an honor bestowed on schools that “achieve a remarkable amount in relation to the poverty of their communities” and do not restrict admission based on academics.

Data collected and recently released by The 74, a nonpartisan news site covering education, found that graduates from the nation’s top charter networks go on to earn four-year college degrees at far higher rates than students from similar socio-economic backgrounds who attend traditional public schools. In some cases, the charter school graduates earn college degrees at a rate up to five times higher than their traditional-school counterparts.

Opponents of equalizing funding for all public school students argue it will somehow take money away from traditional schools. Yet those same critics typically refuse to back consolidation in Oklahoma’s school system, even though the excessive number of districts and continued financing of many underused sites is a financial drain.

Legislation has been filed in recent years to equalize funding, but lawmakers have balked. They should reconsider and address this issue rather than have courts take control.

Ideally, the state would reward success. All charter school officials are asking is to be treated as well as a failing school.

Textbook funding

The Journal Record

Oklahomans have made the bed and it’s not very comfortable.

Students and teachers are in a bind over textbooks. The Legislature made clear that Common Core wasn’t for Oklahoma when they voted to opt out in 2014. Having a custom curriculum for Oklahoma students is a fine idea – we see no reason that education must take a one-size-fits-all approach – but it’s also more expensive. Like any other printing job, a single setup with a long press run makes the per-copy price low. Short press runs are much more expensive because the material waste and labor costs are spread across far fewer units. And if Oklahoma must have its own standards it must have its own textbooks.

It might be worth the trade; all are familiar with paying more for a customized product and there’s nothing wrong with deciding it’s worth the price. But this year the Legislature effectively took away the textbook money. Approximately $35 million per year was given to the Department of Education to disperse specifically for textbook purchases. That money is still there, but it no longer has to be spent on books. And with a state education system that’s in the poorhouse, most schools will find more urgent needs. That will leave classroom teachers using old books or no textbooks at all.

The state can’t afford to retain teachers, either. The state Board of Education recently approved 631 more emergency teaching certificates, bringing the total for the coming academic year to 850. That’s more than double the number issued by this time last year. The mantra that teachers can make more money in almost any other state has been repeated so often that it’s accepted at face value. And that drives professional educators – veterans and newcomers alike – to greener pastures.

This year the Legislature boldly promised more money for teachers. They didn’t deliver and Oklahomans sure want to blame them for our sorry state of fiscal affairs. But most sitting legislators ran on platforms of lower taxes and less regulation – and they’re delivering.

Less than a year ago, Oklahoma voters shot down a statewide sales tax that would have been earmarked for education, including teacher pay raises.

That combination presents a pretty clear message: Oklahomans would rather have an extra $2 per week in their wallets than an exemplary school system.

And that’s made a very uncomfortable bed.

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