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Oklahoma schools delay testing linked to federal funding

April 9, 2018

Kulsam Ghiar, a sophomore at Edmond Memorial High School, speaks during a rally in the rotunda of the state Capitol as protests continue over school funding, in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma school districts tried to figure out Monday how to meet a requirement to conduct standardized tests for students to receive federal funds while many teachers and students are not in the classroom during a strike of educators.

Schools in many districts remained closed for the start of a second week as thousands of educators and their supporters again packed the Capitol seeking more funding for public schools. For many of those schools, the required exams were scheduled to begin this week, but had to be delayed because teachers didn’t show up for work.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced plans Monday to extend testing deadlines for at least one week. Schools now have until April 27 to assessments for grades 3-8.

“This extension is essential to better support students and ensure an appropriate transition back into classrooms,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “This extension hopefully will prevent jeopardizing of federal funding or incurring penalty.”

Most Oklahoma schools are back in class, but many of the state’s largest districts have remained closed as teachers refused to return to work and instead thronged the Capitol. School district officials in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the two largest cities, said classes would be canceled for a seventh consecutive day Tuesday with the walkout expected to continue.

Gov. Mary Fallin late last month signed into law a $6,100 a year pay raise and more funding for schools, but teachers demanded even more money and walked off the job. They want GOP leaders to eliminate an income tax deduction for capital gains and for the governor to veto a repeal of a $5-per-night lodging fee, although Republican leaders have so far not agreed to do that.

Oklahoma teachers have joined a revolt that started in West Virginia, where educators walked out for nine classroom days and ultimately secured a 5-percent raise. And in Kentucky, where teachers marched on their Capitol last week over proposed changes to their pension plans, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said Monday he plans to veto a tax increase designed to boost funding for public education.

The Oklahoma walkout came just as schools were preparing to administer tests to students. Federal law requires states to administer certain tests and authorizes the U.S. secretary of education to withhold federal funding for states that don’t comply, although it’s not certain just how much money the state could lose. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education didn’t immediately respond to questions about how the walkout could affect federal funding.

Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, said how much federal money the state could lose for failing to meet testing requirements is up to federal officials.

“Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Education would have wide berth on what sort of penalty would potentially be incurred,” Bacharach said. “How much money we’re talking about could really vary.”

Many teachers say that while they’re concerned about the impact of the walkout on students’ test performance, they are more concerned about securing proper funding for schools.

“It may affect the test scores, but getting funding for our schools is important,” said Heather England, the testing coordinator for Peary Elementary School in Tulsa. “It’s about the future of our entire public education system.”

Jordan Sheffield-Mix, a grade-school teacher from Tulsa, said her students typically enjoy a week of test preparation that includes organized meals, uplifting notes from parents and even a visit from high school cheerleaders encouraging students to do their best.

“None of that’s happening, and that’s a huge piece of testing — making sure students are fed, well-prepared and know people are behind them,” Sheffield-Mix said.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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