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Morning Bell: Why this year's 'teachers caucus' is different

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Carri Hicks, a fourth grade teacher at Grove Valley Elementary School, gets a hug from other Grove Valley teachers after filing for Oklahoma Senate District 40 as a Democrat during candidate filing at the Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)
Carri Hicks, a fourth grade teacher at Grove Valley Elementary School, gets a hug from other Grove Valley teachers after filing for Oklahoma Senate District 40 as a Democrat during candidate filing at the Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

Good Tuesday morning. Do you remember the teacher caucus of 2016? Well, just like two years ago, this year's elections for state House and Senate seats include dozens of teachers who are running on a pro-public education platform. However, this year's group of teacher candidates appears to be much bigger, and in some ways more organized. 

"It's not that the (teacher candidates) didn't take their campaigns seriously in 2016, but I do think there is a higher level of sophistication and organization with many of the candidates this year," said Amber England, a political consultant and owner of the firm Strategy 77.

I wrote this week about how at least 74 current or recently retired public school teachers are running for Oklahoma seats this year, some of which decided to run during a two-week teacher walkout earlier this year.

There are another 20 school support workers or administrators running, according to the Oklahoma Education Association

In the 2016 general election, The Oklahoman counted at least 32 teachers running for state office with just a few winning.

Tax repeal group ends effort

The group working to repeal recent tax increases that funded a teacher pay raise will not attempt to file a reworked referendum petition, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn said Monday.

"We don't have time to do it,'' Coburn said in an interview with The Oklahoman. "There's no way we can get it."

Coburn, a leader in the group Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!, said a new petition would likely be challenged by education groups, which successfully argued to the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the first petition was fatally flawed.

The deadline for gathering more than 41,000 signatures on a new petition would be July 18. If the court process lasted as long as it did for challenges to the first petition, the deadline would pass before a high court ruling. 

The tax package was approved to fund teacher pay hikes. It included tax increases on some oil and gas production, motor fuels and cigarettes. It also changed the tax structure of little cigars. The bill included a new tax on hotel and motel rooms, but that was quickly repealed. The motor fuels, gross production and cigarette tax increases went into effect on Monday.

Oklahoma's school plan receives federal approval

Oklahoma's consolidated public school plan has received final approval from the U.S. Department of Education, a required benchmark under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Under ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015, states are required to set specific academic measures for local schools. Oklahoma's school plan, which was put in place last year and includes an eight-year improvement plan, places less of an emphasis on standardized tests, closely tracks chronic absenteeism and seeks to better identify the academic struggles of overlooked student subgroups.

Norman schools will expand drug testing

Norman High and Norman North students who participate in extracurricular activities could soon be subject to random drug testing, reports Keaton Ross of the Norman Transcript.

About 40 students from both high schools would be tested each month under the new program, Norman Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Justin Milner said last week during a Norman School Board meeting. 

The Norman school board will vote at 7 p.m. July 16 to determine the fate of the program.

“We have the opportunity to implement something that can potentially help students,” NPS Superintendent Nick Migliorino said. “There’s no need in waiting; we need to go ahead and move forward with this.”

Got a question, comment or story idea? Email me at bfelder@oklahoman.com.

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›

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