Fallin finds Obama grant decision “disappointing” – Superintendent Barresi presses for more spending, board edges forward on evaluation model

 Yesterday (Friday, December 16), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi issued statements reacting to the Sooner State’s failure to secure a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant from the Obama Administration.

In other state education news, Barresi is asking for a budget increase for her agency. The board of education edged forward on a new evaluation model “default” centered around Tulsa, but will allow two competing evaluation systems to continue for another year, at least.

The grant rebuff to the state became clear overnight, as CapitolBeatOK reported this morning.

Gov. Fallin said, “Oklahoma delivered a strong application, and my thanks go out to State Superintendent Janet Barresi, Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki and the many other individuals who worked to put it together. It is disappointing the Obama Administration has once again chosen not to name us as a Race to the Top grant winner.”

Fallin’s reference was to The U.S. Department of Education’s rejection of a bipartisan “Race to the Top” submission in 2010.

That proposal included promised implementation of a variety of reform measures that then-Governor Brad Henry, his Education advisor Kathy Taylor and then-Superintendent Sandy Garrett, all Democrats, had shepherded with the help of Republicans in charge of the Legislature (Sens. Glenn Coffee and John Ford). The bipartisan group thought those changes had positioned the state well to gain access to federal monies, but the grant was rejected.

In the 2011 competition, aimed specifically at federal early childhood dollars, the result was the same.

The statement from the state’s current chief executive, issued by her office, continued, “Despite today’s news, Oklahoma remains a leader in the field of early learning. With over 70 percent of our four year olds participating in some form of early learning program, it will continue to be important to develop and improve our pre-kindergarten services. Today’s announcement does nothing to diminish my commitment to supporting quality early childhood education in Oklahoma.”

Superintendent Barresi, who had coordinated the state’s grant submission at Fallin’s request, working with Cabinet Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki, said in the statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, “While we are obviously disappointed that Oklahoma was not selected, we know our state delivered a very competitive application. I am proud of the multi-agency endeavor that developed the application, and I thank Governor Fallin for her leadership.

“I join Governor Fallin in a shared commitment to continue to find ways to boost learning opportunities for Oklahoma preschoolers, especially for those living in poverty. Our reforms depend a great deal on academic success in the early grades. We must redouble our efforts to ensure Oklahoma children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten."
Yesterday (Thursday, December 14), the state board of education unanimously asked the governor and legislators for a $158 million spending increase for next year.

Peter J. Rudy of Oklahoma Watchdog reported, “Nearly half of the increase – $78-million – would go into the funding formula that passes through to districts.  Barresi says that restores funding to FY2011 levels, reversing cuts enacted last year.  The next-largest increase goes to the Flexible Benefit Allowance – health insurance – for certified and support staff totaling $45-million.  Barresi says there is also money to restore programs that had to be cut this year like the stipend for National Board Certified Teachers ($11.3-million) and training for Advanced Placement teachers ($4-million, double the current year expenditure).”

Rudy noted it was the smallest spending hike the agency has asked for in recent history. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Barresi said a funding boost would ensure “we can implement crucial reforms across the state, while also meeting requirements for teachers’ retirement and flexible benefit allowances that help with health insurance expenses.”

Pointing to the request for the state to pay bonuses to National Board Certified teachers, Barresi observed, “Oklahoma continues to face fiscal challenges, and we’re mindful that any budget request must carefully prioritize and use taxpayer dollars in an efficient and effective manner."

The Fiscal Year 2012 budget for common education was about $100 million lower than the previous year, but cumulative cuts for education at all levels have been lower than for most other state agencies over the past three years, in the course of the Great Recession.

Also at yesterday’s meeting, the board of education allowed three different teacher evaluation models to continue for another year of operations at the school district level 

The Tulsa public school model was recommended to the board by the Commissioner for Teacher and Leader Effectiveness, in a 13-5 vote last week.

The board yesterday made the Tulsa model a “presumptive default” for Oklahoma, but for another year will allow two other models (Marzano and Danielson) to function in some districts.

Superintendent Barresi had opposed the Tulsa model, preferring the Marzano program. Over the past week, she and Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard had exchanged combative letters about state and local prerogatives.

In the background and driving the discussion is a 2010 legislative mandate to dismiss public school teachers who fail to meet standards for two consecutive academic years.