CHARTER schools have a proven record of success, and have often been a godsend for poor and minority children. Unlike traditional public schools, however, Oklahoma charter schools don’t receive local property taxes to pay for buildings. So in Oklahoma and elsewhere, charters are often operated out of dilapidated buildings no one else wants. That could change thanks to a $250 million initiative announced this week by the Walton Family Foundation.
The foundation’s Building Equity Initiative program, which will focus on charters with strong academic results, will help those schools access low-interest loans offered by nonprofit lenders. The initiative will focus on 17 cities, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Demand for charter schools is strong, but space limitations have prevented many students from attending. Nationwide 600,000 students are on charter school waiting lists. Officials with the Walton Family Foundation predict the Building Equity Initiative will allow up to 250,000 more children to attend charters.
Access to quality charter schools could make a huge difference for those children. A 2015 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes determined charter school students in 41 urban areas experienced greater overall academic improvement than counterparts in traditional schools. This was especially true of poor, black, Hispanic and special-needs students.
This is a worthy philanthropic endeavor that should be applauded by all who care about providing all children a quality education. That Oklahoma’s efforts have attracted such significant financial support is also reason to cheer.
Republicans continue to gain in registration numbers in Oklahoma. Whether that means conservatives are gaining ground is another question. According to the state Election Board, Republicans are within eyesight of outnumbering Democrats by 100,000 voters, with 929,989 registered Republicans and 838,665 Democrats. There are also 281,790 independents and 807 Libertarians. As recently as 2000, Democrats comprised 56.7 percent of registered Oklahoma voters. Republicans’ electoral success appears to have preceded the surge in state registration, rather than the other way around. From 2014 to 2016, Democrats’ registration fell by a net 53,000 voters while Republican numbers rose by 26,000. Even so, many Republican candidates are running on platforms this year that have little to do with conservative policy, including support for higher taxes and reduced oversight of government spending in some instances. At one point, the Republican brand meant something in Oklahoma politics. These days, that’s not always the case.
Whatever his other flaws, Donald Trump isn’t afraid to point out the obvious. So it was fun this week to watch him highlight the hypocritical flip-flop executed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., when she campaigned with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump noted that Warren styles herself an opponent of Wall Street insiders, and has even claimed that campaign contributions from Wall Street business officials are “barely disguised bribes.” Yet here Warren was, campaigning alongside Clinton, who has a long history of apparently providing official acts as secretary of state in exchange for contributions to her family’s foundation. And Clinton has no qualms taking contributions from major Wall Street officials. We don’t expect Warren to change her tune, though. Her opposition to campaign donations, like Clinton’s calls for campaign finance reform, appear mostly focused on preventing her opponents from financing campaigns instead of any sincere policy objective.
The chairman of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission said recently that his agency can’t enforce financial reporting rules for county-level candidates due to funding concerns. Similar sentiments have been expressed by Ethics Commission brass since the agency’s creation in 1990. The Legislature has never provided the commission with a large enough appropriation to allow it to properly ride herd on public officials. This year, the appropriation was $739,754, which is about $100,000 less than the commission received last year (and that amount subsequently was reduced due to state revenue failures). Ethics Commission Executive Director Lee Slater says it would likely take an “egregious” violation by a county-level candidate for his agency to get involved. Ethically challenged candidates might like hearing that, but taxpayers shouldn’t. At some point, the chronic underfunding of this agency needs to stop.
School funding waste
Does higher per-pupil funding generate better academic results? Not if the money is wasted. The State Board of Education recently ordered mandatory annexation of the Grant-Goodland Public School due to financial misconduct, falsified records and more. This year the FBI investigated Grant-Goodland for suspected embezzlement involving the local school board chair, district superintendent and deputy treasurer. An independent audit determined that misconduct had occurred involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. An Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs database, which provides information obtained from the state government’s Oklahoma Cost Accounting System, shows during the 2014-15 school year Oklahoma schools spent an average $9,724 per student. Per-pupil funding at Grant-Goodland totaled $11,961, well above the state average and higher than even the 2014 national average estimated by the U.S. Census. Grant-Goodland ranked among the top fifth of Oklahoma schools in per-pupil funding. And it didn’t do the kids a bit of good.
Those who care about the erosion of religious liberties in this country should take note of a case this week that the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to review. It involves the owners of a pharmacy in Olympia, Wash., who objected on religious grounds to that state’s requirement that all pharmacies dispense emergency contraceptives to women. This pharmacy would refer customers elsewhere, but the state said that’s not good enough. Instead, the state insisted, someone on site must dispense the drugs. The owners won their challenge at the district court level, but the reliably liberal 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals overruled. Four Supreme Court justices must agree to accept a case, and that didn’t happen. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito said the court decided important First Amendment issues raised by the case weren’t worth its time. “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead,” Alito wrote, “those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”
At many top universities in this country, students wishing to obtain a history major aren’t required to study U.S. history. You read that right. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that only 23 of the nation’s 75 top universities (as cited by U.S. News & World Report’s rankings) require history majors to take even one U.S. history course. And at 11 of those 23, the courses are so narrow in scope “that it takes a leap of imagination to see these as an adequate fulfillment of an undergraduate history requirement,” the report says. Among the schools that require no U.S. history for their history majors: Yale, Notre Dame, Vassar and St. Louis University. Among the courses that count as U.S. history are “Mad Men and Mad Women” (Middlebury College) and “Hip-Hop, Politics, and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut). Authors of the report said this practice may be due to concerns about endorsing “American exceptionalism” or a belief that students already have a good grasp of U.S. history. “Either way,” they said, “the damage is real.” And this news is distressing, although perhaps not surprising given the many head-scratching stories that emanate from college campuses today.