Republican House members envision education-related policy changes for upcoming session

OKLAHOMA CITY – With the 2016 session of the Oklahoma Legislature slated to start on February 1, a trio of Republican legislators are submitting measures addressing education policy.
Members of the state House are under a Thursday (January 21) deadline to submit proposals for consideration this year.
As the state deals with a revenue shortfall and local schools are looking for ways to cut costs, the Oklahoma State Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) is generating more than $800,000 during the next 10 years from broadcasting high school sporting events – money that local school districts will never see, said state Rep. Bobby Cleveland this week.
According to a letter sent to Cleveland by OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley on December 18, the OSSAA entered into a contract with Fox Sports Southwest in 2011 that allows Fox to produce and broadcast OSSAA playoff and championship sporting events through the 2015-2016 school year.
Under the terms of the contract, Fox pays the OSSAA an annual rights fee to broadcast the events. According to the letter, the “. . . initial fee for 2011-2012 was $40,000. The annual fee increased by $2,500 each year of the five-year term, to a total of $50,000 for the 2015-2016 school year.”
In addition, the OSSAA entered into a 10-year “network agreement” in 2014 with the National Federation of High School Associations to pool broadcast rights and generate revenue for other high school events via online streaming.
Under that contract, OSSAA allows the Federation to telecast or stream online sporting events not covered under the Fox agreement in exchange for an annual fee. According to Sheakley’s letter, the OSSAA “. . . receives an annual fee of $45,000 for the initial three years of the contract. The annual fee increases to $60,000 for the latter seven years of the contract.”
Cleveland said the contracts may violate state law, but that his primary concern with both contracts is that they are structured in a way that local schools will likely never see any of the revenue.
According to a state House staff release, Sheakley admits that there is no “revenue split” provision in the Fox Southwest contract. In addition, the Federation contract is structured so that local schools will only receive a portion of net revenue from the online subscription services and associated advertising that is generated. 
“In these down revenue times, I think we can all agree on the importance of revenue sharing with schools and clearly adhering to purchasing best practices and state law,” said Rep. Cleveland, R-Slaughterville.
“The fact is, the OSSAA is able to generate this contract revenue at the expense of our schools, and they should be sharing some of that money with those schools.” 
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has labeled the OSSAA a ‘quasi-state agency,” which would prohibit the organization from entering into any contract that extends beyond the current fiscal year according to state statute, said Cleveland.
Cleveland said he intends to file a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would subject the OSSAA to the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act and put the organization under more legislative oversight.
In 2014, Cleveland authored the law requiring the OSSAA to adhere to the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act and the Oklahoma Open Records Act. 
Cleveland also intends to request an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the legality of the OSSAA entering into multi-year contracts. 
In other education policy news, Rep John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, has announced a plan to create an education fund that would allow Oklahomans to make a permanent investment in the education of children. 
According to a press release Montgomery circulated in December, his legislation would create a public education endowment or foundation similar to the one the University of Oklahoma operates. Under his plan, Oklahomans could make a tax-deductible contribution that would generate returns far beyond the life of the donor. 
“Oklahomans are not interested in blatant gimmicks that overpromise and under deliver to fund public education with no accountability for where dollars are spent,” said Montgomery, R-Lawton.
“The public should have the choice to directly support teachers in their towns instead of being forced to foot the bill for 30 percent raises for bureaucrats on the other side of the state. Oklahomans who do not believe they pay enough in taxes can put their money where their mouth is and directly support public education.” 
The endowment would apply for federal 501(c)(3) status, which would make contributions to the endowment tax deductible at the federal level. Until the endowment received 501(c)(3) status, contributions would be tax deductible against the state income tax, Rep. Montgomery said.
He noted that the bill would allow the endowment to make expenditures on teacher pay raises, performance or other bonuses, classroom materials, teacher education and training courses and the possibility of a teacher mentorship program. 
“We want to make sure these funds are used to support teachers, not to be used for another explosion of administrative spending,” said Montgomery. 
The endowment would be able to take in a tax check off, which would allow Oklahomans to send back part or all of a tax refund that they may receive. The endowment would also create a website where contributions could be accepted online through a secure connection.
Montgomery said the expected revenue returns could be “in the tens of millions, or it could be hundreds of millions. It really depends on how much Oklahoman’s value education. By pulling together, this could be a gift that keeps on giving if we let it.”
Saying he was acting at the behest of educators in his district, state Rep. Justin Wood, R-Shawnee, has introduced a bill that would outlaw the use of what he termed “a complex and controversial means of evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores.”
House Bill 2269 would prohibit the use of Value Added Modeling in teacher evaluations.
Value Added Modeling (VAM) is a statistical formula used to estimate the impact individual teachers or schools have had on student achievement while accounting for differences in student background.  
“It is questionable whether we should be using standardized test scores at all to evaluate our teachers,” said Wood, R-Shawnee. “But, without a doubt, the use of VAM has proven unreliable.”
In the past year, states using VAM in teacher hiring and retention decisions have seen a surge of litigation claiming the model produces unfair and sporadic results.  Last month, a New Mexico court issued a preliminary injunction against VAM use throughout that state while litigation is pending.
“The most influential factor for me is that teachers and administrators in my district have expressed serious problems with this type of evaluation.  I believe Oklahoma should be proactive and outlaw the use of VAM before these controversies arrive at our doorstep,” Wood stated.
H.B. 2269 would mandate a one-year delay in the implementation of the quantitative portion of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation system while the State Department of Education adopts a new means of evaluating without the use of VAM.