KGOU

Emily Wendler

In graduate school at the University of Montana, Emily Wendler focused on Environmental Science and Natural Resource reporting with an emphasis on agriculture. About halfway through her Master’s program a professor introduced her to radio and she fell in love. She has since reported for KBGA, the University of Montana’s college radio station and Montana’s PBS Newsbrief. She was a finalist in a national in-depth radio reporting competition for an investigatory piece she produced on campus rape. She also produced in-depth reports on wind energy and local food for Montana Public Radio. She is very excited to be working in Oklahoma City, and you can hear her work on all things from education to agriculture right here on KOSU.

Interim Superintendent Aurora Lora talks with reporters Tuesday about the latest cuts to Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Oklahoma City Public Schools announced another $10 million in budget cuts on Tuesday. 

Interim superintendent Aurora Lora presented a long list of things that will be eliminated or changed in order to achieve these cost reductions:

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister testifies February 10 before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.
Edworkforce Committee / Flickr (Public Domain)

State officials are telling schools to brace for one more round of cuts before summer.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told districts $13 to 17 million will be cut from school funding in the next month.

"This is really going to be gut-wrenching for districts to receive this news at this time at such a truly large amount of money,” Hofmeister said.

That will affect schools' abilities to pay their bills, and may force them to dip into any savings they may have. Hofmeister blamed the cuts on lower-than-expected gross production tax revenue.

University of Oklahoma president and former governor and U.S. Senator David Boren during a press conference Thursday as his group delivers 300,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office.
YesFor779 / Twitter

Oklahoma voters will decide whether or not raise sales taxes by a penny to fund education this fall.

State Question 779 will raise about $615 million for $5,000 teacher pay raises, among other education initiatives. University of Oklahoma president David Boren has been leading the charge for the penny sales tax. The grassroots effort Oklahoma’s Children – Our Future had 90 days to get 124,000 petition signatures to get the question on the November ballot. They delivered 300,000 to Secretary of State Chris Benge’s office Thursday – more than a month before the deadline.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools administration building.
Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma City Public Schools has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education to address the disproportionate discipline of black students in the district.

Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan accepts the award during a ceremony at the Oklahoma State Fair Park in August 2015.
Oklahoma State Department of Education / Facebook

The three-day filing period opened Wednesday morning for candidates running for state and federal office. More than two dozen educators are considering politics as the state continues to deal with deep cuts to public schools. An unofficial head count shows about 30 teachers running for office.

Don Wentroth said he simply wants a better learning environment for students.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister testifies Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.
Edworkforce Committee / Flickr (Public Domain)

Oklahoma’s new academic standards passed through the legislature Monday, and are now officially in effect.

It’s been a long road for the new math and English curriculum.

Lawmakers repealed the Common Core version in 2014, and mandated the Oklahoma State Department of Education write new ones.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Oklahoma City Public Schools announced Wednesday it will cut 208 teaching positions next year. District officials are attributing the move to what they're calling a catastrophic budget crisis.

Superintendent Rob Neu says he's not sure which teachers will be affected just yet.

"It is my hope that all 208 will be through natural attrition, whether it be retirement, or people leaving the profession, or transferring," Neu said.

Truman Elementary School library
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The House and Senate each passed their respective versions of legislation dealing with proposed academic standards in math and English language arts Monday.

There was heated discussion at the state Capitol, and both bills require more work.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, debated relentlessly to pass the standards as they are so that they could be implemented as quickly as possible. He says time is of the essence.

But House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said there are a few mistakes within them that need to be addressed first.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appears at a rally in Oklahoma City on February 26, 2016.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Republican presidential primary frontrunner Donald Trump returned to Oklahoma City on Friday for a rally at the Cox Convention Center, where he quickly went on the offensive against his two closest rivals, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Trump criticized Rubio for his attendance record in the Senate, his record on immigration and for his poor debate performance in New Hampshire, which Trump labeled as a “meltdown like I’ve never, ever seen.” He also said Rubio sold a house to a lobbyist for whom he was writing legislation.  

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The state Senate Education Committee voted unanimously Monday to eliminate high school end-of-instruction tests. Oklahoma high schoolers currently have to pass 4 out of 7 high-stakes EOI exams to graduate.

Under Senate Bill 1170, these state-mandated tests would go away, and school districts could choose their own assessment, if it’s approved by the State Board of Education.

University of Oklahoma president David Boren signs a petition February 16, 2016 for a one cent sales tax proposal to fund education.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

The 90-day window for supporters to gather more than 120,000 signatures in support of a sales tax increase for education officially opened Tuesday.

University of Oklahoma president David Boren is leading the drive to put the one cent sales tax on the ballot in November.

“Let the people decide what kind of state that we’re going to have for the future, what kind of state we’re going to have now,” Boren said during Tuesday’s press conference launching the petition.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Oklahoma's House Common Education Committee narrowly approved a Republican-backed voucher program on Monday. The Education Savings Account program allows public money to be spent on students who attend private schools.

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said during committee debate the bill creates school choice options that some families desperately need.

Gov. Mary Fallin delivers her 2016 State of the State address before Monday's joint session of the Oklahoma House and Senate.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin proposed bold changes to Oklahoma's budget, the criminal justice system, and said she wants lawmakers to get behind a $3,000 pay raise for teachers during her 2016 State of the State address.

The $900 million-and-counting budget shortfall lawmakers will have to deal with hangs over everything this session, but Fallin remained optimistic even as she cited a two-year, 70 percent drop in oil prices that's affected state revenue.

"We can do it," the governor repeated.

student in a classroom using a laptop computer
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The State Board of Education signed off on Oklahoma’s new English Language Arts and Math standards during Thursday’s meeting. They now await the approval of state lawmakers.

The Board was tasked with creating new math and English standards after the Oklahoma legislature repealed the Common Core curriculum in 2014.

The new standards were created by a group of Oklahoma educators from school districts across the state, and higher education. They were revised four times, before approval.

Teachers and education supporters rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City in March 2015, asking for better pay.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

State. Sen. David Holt is proposing $10,000 teacher pay raises over the next few years, and says it’s possible without raising taxes.

His plan is three-pronged. School districts would be consolidated and excess money would go to teacher pay. All revenue growth after fiscal year 2017 would go directly to raises, and the state would find another $200 million by reforming tax credits.

Holt said legislators have a moral obligation to raise pay, and help solve the teacher shortage.

Jason McMullen teaching a math class at Har-ber High School in Springdale, Arkansas.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Jason McMullen taught in Oklahoma for 12 years before he finally decided to move to Arkansas. When he left, his salary was $41,000. His wife was a teacher too, and earned less.  

"It just got to a point where it’s hard to buy a house," McMullen said. "It’s hard to pay bills, it’s hard to raise kids."

After all their bills were paid each month, McMullen says he and his wife had about $250 left for groceries and other living expenses.

"I just could not financially afford to stay any longer," McMullen said.

One of the newly discovered 1917 chalkboard drawings from Emerson High School in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City Public Schools / Twitter

Friday morning Oklahoma City Public Schools officials announced they'd found more historic chalkboards from 1917 while continuing renovations at Emerson High School just north of downtown.

high school library
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Due to Oklahoma’s revenue failure, the state Board of Education was mandated to cut expenses to K-12 education by $47 million. At a special board meeting held Thursday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said these cuts could seriously impact some school districts.

“We do anticipate that some school districts will have a very hard time remaining open,” she said.

Joy Hofmeister, superintendent of public instruction, listens to a question from the audience during the "Oklahoma Watch-Out" forum on March 3.
Ilea Shutler / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma budget writers will likely face a $900 million shortfall for the next fiscal year, and declining revenue could force mid-year cuts to current agency appropriations.

But the state's top schools administrator is requesting an additional $78 million for next year's education budget.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says the Department of Education will need an additional $47 million to keep up with student population growth, and an additional $30 million for health care benefits for teachers, which are mandated by law.

Truman Elementary School library
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Education officials around the state are praising Congress for approving the Every Student Succeeds Act that President Obama signed into law Thursday after it passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister the law will give Oklahoma education stakeholders the authority and responsibility over their schools they have long sought. Hofmeister also says the new law will strengthen Oklahoma’s control over teacher evaluations, assessments, and accountability.

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