Fallin, Barresi and legislative Republicans outline transformational education policy reforms
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Published: 30-Mar-2011

In a Capitol press conference this afternoon (Wednesday, March 30), Governor Mary Fallin led Republican leaders in calls for enactment of dramatic education reforms. Joining Fallin and top legislators focused on education policy was former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Bush said education reforms envisioned in Oklahoma link it with Indiana as the most transformation-minded states in America this year.
 
Fallin said educational excellence is “the basic foundation for prosperity and Oklahoma’s economic success.” Restating support for a wide range of policies being pressed in the Legislature, the chief executive said, “we must do everything we can to give children the best education possible.” A “quality, educated workforce” is essential to economic progress, she said. 

Joining Fallin in the Blue Room were Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, Speaker of the House Kris Steele, House Common Education Committee Chairman Ann Coody of Lawton, Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Ford of Bartlesville, Sen. James Halligan of Stillwater, Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa and Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond. 

Superintendent Barresi followed Fallin to the podium, saying she was “honored to work with the Legislature, which is totally committed to education reform.” Outlining “3R Agenda,” she recently unveiled, 

Barresi said Oklahoma must transform its approach to education in order to “prepare children for the 21st Century.” Barresi said the agency she now heads must become “a service organization, not just a regulatory agency.” 

Barresi contended a strong literacy program was essential to the state’s future, as well as accountability systems so “we can know how schools are doing” in teaching reading and other skills. Barresi expressed “joy” to be part of “the excitement over here [in the Capitol] as this Legislature is focused on children.” 

Speaker Steele appeared without his customary glasses, provoking laughter by saying “an 8-month old puppy” had destroyed them at home. 

He pointed with pride to several reforms he believes will make a difference, including creation of a system that gives letter grades to schools, and another to ban social promotions. When Gov. Bush spoke later in the Blue Room event, he pointed to these two as among the crucial element in successful Florida school reforms. 

Steele also predicted elimination of “trial de novo” would reduce the cost of firing bad public school teacher. He repeated advocacy of measures to increase efficiencies and reduce administrative costs. Steele was a key player in passage of the Henry Nicole scholarship program for special needs children, which Rep. Nelson shepherded to passage in 2010.
 
The Speaker has championed governance reforms to enhance the powers of state superintendents and reduce the power of the state Board of Education.

After promising to send the first wave of education reform proposals to Governor Fallin’s desk “soon,” Senator Bingman said he believed “the great people around me” were “making my job easy.” He praised Halligan, Newberry and Jolley, saying their work was “important to Oklahoma’s economic success.” He touted Senator Ford’s Senate Bill 1, the upper chamber’s version of the measure to end trial de novo proceedings. Bingman stated his belief that the election of Barresi – the first Republican superintendent in Oklahoma history – was “probably one of the most importance elections we’ve ever had.” 

During a question and answer period that concluded the Blue Room session, Governor Fallin defended the Republican record in keeping proposed education spending reductions as low as possible. She also said trial de novo would free up resources for classroom instruction because, “rather than spending money on legal fees, we’ll have money to put the best and most effective teachers in our classrooms.” 

Enthusiasm for the school reform agenda was evident among the group, and continued to flow in communications with reporters after the event.
 
Sen. Jolley, principal author of Senate Bill 346, intended to end social promotion, reflected on the press conference discussion in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK: 

“Before Florida implemented this simple reform, nearly half of their fourth graders were functionally illiterate.  Now 70 percent are reading at grade level or higher. We can do the same thing for Oklahoma students.” Jolley is also pressing for Senate Bill 348, the bill to create a “report card for schools using letter grades”of A through F. Rep. Lee Denney of Cushing has pushed the bill in the state House. 

Ford, who represents Craig, Nowata and Washington counties, is principal Senate author of S.B. 1, the trial de novo reform, H.B. 1380 in the lower chamber.
 
In his post-conference statement, Ford said, “Under the current system, ending the contract of a bad teacher can cost school districts tens of thousands of dollars and take months to resolve. School boards clearly have the authority to hire employees.  This simply restores their ability to terminate those who are not acting in the best interest of the students and the district.  Good teachers will continue to have much greater employment protection than most Oklahomans have in the private sector.”
 
Newberry, from Sand Springs, is the author of Senate Bill 969 , a significant school choice bill intended to authorize privately- funded scholarships that for students who in need, or who live in poorly performing districts. Newberry’s bill prevailed with bipartisan support in a House committee this week. 

In his statement, Newberry said, “We must give every student an opportunity to learn, if their current school is not providing that, this is a way that we can engage the private sector and offer a better option. This bill provides more opportunity to students that currently do not have access to quality education.”
 
Former Governor Bush supplemented his comments at the Blue Room gathering with a subsequent statement send to CapitolBeatOK: 

“Providing every student with a quality education is one of our greatest moral and economic challenges. This cannot happen unless we transform the status quo. I applaud the leaders of Oklahoma for their commitment to transform education for the 21st century by holding schools accountable for student learning, placing a command focus on reading, and empowering parents to choose the best education for their child.”
 

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