In this Issue:
Local Chamber Gets Involved in RTTT
The Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition (OBEC), an organization that includes the Metro Tulsa Chamber, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and the Oklahoma State Chamber, just celebrated its 10th anniversary and a successful state legislative session that included enactment of several laws linked to Race to the Top (RTTT).
OBEC was founded partially to balance the presence of the many education lobbyists walking the Capitol’s halls, according to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Vice President of Education & Workforce Development, Drew Dugan. “We saw the organized education community working together on issues for decades. Chambers needed to join together for strength. If you look at the number of lobbyists at the state capitol, we’re still outnumbered 3 to 1 but we’re making good progress,” Dugan said.
Race to the Top provided the perfect opportunity to get both businesses and educators at the same table. According to OBEC Executive Director Phyllis Hudecki, RTTT was both a challenge and an opportunity for OBEC to drive changes. “It was difficult to sell our conservative legislators on an idea coming from the Obama administration, even though it represents policies they’ve tried to and wanted to enact for years but were blocked by education groups.” At the same time, “education groups wouldn’t buy into a lot of policies until a large amount of money was on the table.” But both Dugan and Hudecki are pragmatists. As Hudecki said, “We don’t care why people got to the table, as long as they did – we were able to make very important, very progressive changes.”
With the promise of potential RTTT funding, Oklahoma was able to pass legislative changes that weren’t even possible during conservative Republican Governor Frank Keating’s tenure.
The business community got involved early in RTTT, and stayed involved. Key to the process was having an advocate in the Governor’s office as well as legislative support. The George Kaiser Family Foundation, funded by Oklahoma oil man George B. Kaiser, paid for former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor to help support the development of the proposal. Taylor was able to keep the doors open between the Governor’s office and the legislature.
Staff from all three chambers as well as OBEC worked on the legislature. Dugan said, “this is not the first time in Oklahoma that our group has been out there walking the halls. We’ve had three good sessions in a row, built some relationships, and showed some expertise.”
For example, last year the Oklahoma legislature passed a bill to have the state create a statewide student records system. The chambers succeeded in including business people on the special committee organized to accomplish the new system, and it was business that was able to help them come up with some of the plans, and how to implement. The process isn’t done yet, but Dugan believes the state has made more progress in the past year than it has over the past five years.
This year’s successes include a number of new laws, all signed by the Democratic governor.
The new laws require Oklahoma to:
- Adopt the K-12 Common Core Standards;
- Create a teacher and administration evaluation system linked to student performance;
- Change tenure and pay to reflect performance, not length of service;
- Create incentive pay based on performance;
- Receive student data and test scores from school districts in order for districts to be funded;
- Expand the type of organizations that can sponsor charter schools and eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools;
- Implement more flexible spending by removing categorical limitations on fund use; and
- Better track the performance of new teachers.
The new laws also provide some new flexibility, including allowing schools on the “needs improvement” list to apply to be a charter school.
The key lesson of this year’s success in Oklahoma is that it isn’t dependent on winning Race to the Top funding. “The funding was not popular, and being associated with the administration isn’t good to some – but whether or not we get the federal funds, we got the legislation, and we’re very pleased.
The legislation is probably more important than the money,” Dugan said. It was the funding that brought together the ideas and the willingness of the education community to negotiate. And, having worked hard in earlier years to create momentum, Oklahoma was able to capitalize on the opportunity RTTT presented.