- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, Oct. 27, 2016

Corrections Department does the right thing with its fiscal jackpot

State prison employees will have a little something extra to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

The state Board of Corrections has approved one-time stipends of $1,750 for all of its employees who have been with the agency for at least six months. Those who have been with the agency for less than six months will get their stipend after they’ve been around half a year.

For most of the about 4,000 workers, the money should be distributed by late November.

The money comes from more than $10 million the corrections department got as a result of the state finishing its budget year with an unexpected surplus. After three budget failures repeatedly rolled back appropriations, the state had a few dollars left over. After considering other options, Gov. Mary Fallin decided to send the money back to the agencies in proportion to the amount they were cut during the budget failures.

That creates a one-time pool of money for state agencies to spend.

The corrections board decision is the right thing to do with the money and the right way to do it.

It sends the money where it is most desperately needed - to the agency’s underpaid, overworked employees.

Starting salary for an Oklahoma prison guard is $22,014 a year.

Thirty-six percent of corrections department workers haven’t had a pay raise in 10 years and 37 percent are eligible for food stamps based on a family of four.

Distributing the money as an across-the-board stipend weights the impact in favor of the department’s lowest paid workers, the guards and parole officers who put their lives on the line on a daily basis.

At the same time, making the payments a one-time stipend is financially prudent. The state almost certainly will have less money to spend next year than it does this year. The leftover fiscal 2016 money isn’t recurring revenue for the state and almost certainly won’t be figured into the department’s base budget. So making the money a part of the corrections workers’ salaries would be designing the system to fail.

Kudos to the Corrections Department for taking care of its people and the people of Oklahoma at the same time.

___

The Oklahoman, Nov. 1, 2016

Study shows nontraditional Oklahoma teachers no cause for concern

Concern has been raised regarding the number of emergency-certified teachers in Oklahoma, individuals who don’t possess traditional teaching credentials. It’s often suggested these men and women are the generic knock-off of a real teacher. New research conducted by the 1889 Institute, an Oklahoma-based education and research organization, should put those fears to rest.

After reviewing state data, researchers Byron Schlomach and Baylee Butler conclude, “The low rate of use of emergency certification, and the quality of teachers who are emergency certified, shows the emergency certification program addresses a credentials/jobs mismatch, not a skills/jobs mismatch. While the state might consider some modifications to the emergency certification system, it appears to be effective.”

Ideally, schools might not need emergency certification to fill teaching jobs. But there are instances where it provides value. Butler and Schlomach note emergency certification can even be required to hire someone with years of classroom teaching experience.

The authors point out that Oklahoma requires separate certifications for Early Childhood and Elementary Education. As a result, “a teacher switching in the summer from teaching 3rd grade to kindergarten may need to be emergency certified.”

Schlomach and Butler examined two calendar years of emergency certifications that came before the state Board of Education. Under state law, such exceptions can be issued only when a teaching applicant has either passed an associated teaching test or is registered to take it, and an exemption must be directly requested by a school administrator.

From January 2015 through September 2016, more than 2,100 individuals were alternatively certified. That’s fewer than 2.5 percent of all Oklahoma teachers each year.

Those receiving emergency certifications typically have a degree directly related to the field they will teach (such as someone with a chemistry degree teaching chemistry) or a closely related degree (a chemistry teacher with a science degree). Overall, 70 percent had relevant educational backgrounds. Only in the area of social science did fewer than half of emergency certificate recipients not have related degrees.

“The bulk of certification exceptions (emergency certifications) go to individuals who have educational backgrounds highly relevant to their area of certification, with many meeting the strictest requirements,” Schlomach and Butler write.

In July 2016, they note, there were 304 emergency certifications granted. But 122 of those were renewals, a sign that “the school district found the emergency certified teacher satisfactory .”

Heavy use of emergency-certified teachers is also relatively rare. Butler and Schlomach found 36 percent of all certification exception requests came from only three school districts: Oklahoma City, Putnam City and Tulsa.

So emergency-certified teachers are the rare exception, not the rule in Oklahoma schools. And when they’re employed, they typically have relevant subject matter background. The main knock on emergency-certified teachers is that they lack training in classroom management. But Schlomach and Butler note few first-year teachers enter the profession fully prepared, even when they have completed a traditional teaching program.

Although emergency teaching certificates may not be ideal, this study shows their use in Oklahoma isn’t cause for alarm.

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Stillwater NewsPress, Oct. 30, 2016

SQ 792 best for consumer

One of the seven state questions voters will face is 792, the modernization of Oklahoma’s beer and wine regulation.

The measure, if passed, will work in tandem with Senate Bill 383, passed earlier this year by legislature that would set the new rules and guidelines for the state’s laws regarding alcohol. If SQ 792 fails, then nothing regarding SB 383 would take effect. If 792 passes, SB 383 would take effect in October 2018.

Some of the biggest changes will be the move from 3.2 percent alcohol by weight beer to up to 8.99 percent alcohol by volume beer. Oklahoma is one of five remaining states with 3.2 beer and limited access to wine.

Wine up to 15 percent alcohol would be allowed. Both the wine and the beer would be available to shoppers in grocery and retail stores; available any day of the week from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next day. Liquor stores would be able to refrigerate beer and other spirits, and hours would change from 10 a.m. to midnight. Liquor stores could also expand to sell other products, but they still couldn’t be open on Sundays.

It will also allow for direct shipment from a permitted winery to an Oklahoma resident, which is currently prohibited.

We fully endorse a Yes vote on state question 792 for the modernization of Oklahoma’s alcohol laws. Oklahoma is unnecessarily behind the rest of the country in this regard. It’s high time to catch up with laws that are supported by most Oklahomans, and crosses the political aisles.

This is a consumer-driven choice. It has the drawback of benefitting big box retailers over mom and pop liquor stores, but big box retailers exist because of consumer choice. People patronize Walmarts and Targets over smaller stores because they enjoy the convenience and the price.

Some liquor stores will survive and some will fail, but we also still have the opportunity to take further measures to help them stay competitive. That’s the best part of 792, it would allow for further legislation to take the conversation whichever direction the market dictates.


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