Oklahoma City —
Oklahoma economic trends underscore
the importance of pro-growth policies
The Oklahoman, Oct. 13, 2013
The soft underbelly of a strong Oklahoma economy is starting to show.
Hailed as relatively resistant to the last recession, the economy here has felt the stings of a downturn but not its most devastating effects. Home prices and employment have consistently fared better than national trends. Oklahoma typically lags going into a recession and lags coming out. The fortunes of the energy industry are more important to our economic well-being than weaknesses in manufacturing or financial services or whatever is dragging down the national economy at any given time.
Now the energy sector, still vibrant overall, is under stress with restructuring at two firms headquartered here, SandRidge and Chesapeake. The latter is thinning its employee ranks dramatically as part of a fiscal wellness prescription. Yet other local energy firms continue to hire.
U.S. Foods is closing one of its Oklahoma City facilities and letting go 176 workers. Scattered reports of smaller layoffs seem to be coming with more frequency, overrunning the expansion announcements of not so long ago. The effects of sequestration and the government shutdown also are alarming, given the high number of federal employees in central Oklahoma. An ongoing shrinkage of the military is particularly concerning statewide.
Still, the latest news on the state revenue front isn’t bad. State Treasurer Ken Miller said in early October that gross tax receipts reached a new high for the third consecutive month, aided by the strength of gross production taxes for oil and natural gas. On the other hand, sales tax receipts in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have been anemic, an indication that people either have less money to spend or are being more cautious when spending.
As the holiday shopping season approaches following major layoffs at Chesapeake, sales tax receipts are likely to show further weakness relative to year-ago levels. Chad Wilkerson, regional economist for the Oklahoma City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas, said last month that the Oklahoma economy has lost some momentum over the past year. But it’s still in good shape compared with many other parts of the country.
When downturns hit, it’s tempting to obsess on the wealth of those who take risks and those who built large companies. Obama does it often. It’s tempting to resent their success. It’s tempting to punish them with tax policy or punish their industries with overregulation, or to blame greed when a downturn begins.
Let’s instead keep our focus on rewarding success, on job creation and on a growth-oriented environment for small businesses.
For education results to rise,
an orderly process is needed
Tulsa World, Oct. 13, 2013
While raising standards for public schools is a good thing, there’s a right way to do it, and a wrong way.
In its recent raising of standards on the Biology I end-of-instruction exam, the state Department of Education did it the wrong way.
The standards were raised too dramatically, too quickly, without adequate buy-in from those involved, and final results were not available in a timely fashion for school districts to respond.
In last year’s biology test, the department included more challenging questions at the same time that it had raised the minimum score for passing. The pass score was announced in August, after the test had been administered.
The test has real consequences. To receive a high school diploma, students must pass tests in Algebra I, and English II and two other areas from among five other choices, including biology.
State education officials say the process was well-discussed and publicized and handled in the same fashion as new tests were in the past, but local educators complain that by simultaneously making the questions harder and increasing the number of questions that had to be answered correctly (after the exam had been given), the state essentially moved the goal post after the game had started.
That’s a fair analogy. Teachers often use pre-tests to gauge student preparations for exams. Naturally, teachers will concentrate their efforts on students who are just below passing level in hopes of getting them over the goal line.
If teachers concentrate on getting students to a 50 percent pass mark, no one should be surprised on high failure rates if the state puts the pass mark at 70 percent.
And it looks like a lot of kids didn’t pass.
Tulsa World reporter Andrea Eger polled officials at seven area school districts and found that nearly 1,600 students who would have passed under previous standards did not pass under the higher ones.
Meanwhile, a member of the state committee of science teachers that deliberated where to set the “cut score” on the exam, told Tulsa World reporter Kim Archer that the pass level was set “much higher” than the panel recommended.
“Many educators are asking what the reason for subjectively deciding to fail half of all students is, when a committee of teachers looked at the test items objectively and came to a different cut score recommendation,” said committee member Brandi Williams, who works at the University of Oklahoma.
The state education department disputes that there was any dramatic difference between the committee’s recommendations and the final standard set by the state Board of Education.
The new pass score deviated from the median suggestion of committee members by only two or three questions, the department says.
Aggravating the situation is the fact that the state didn’t get final results on the exam back to districts until after the school year began, meaning addressing the needs of students to remediate before taking the exam again is made much more difficult.
We agree with state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s assertion that raising standards will raise performance, but standards should be raised gradually.
Teachers, administrators, parents and others need to agree on the process, and results have to be complete in time for districts to deal with the information in an orderly fashion.
Do that, and you not only raise standards, but you have a chance at raising results.
Norman Transcript, Oct. 13, 2013
We’ve been here before
The layoffs at Cheseapeake Energy Corp. will impact the local economy, but it’s not the first time a major employer in central Oklahoma has reduced its payroll. In the past, however, most of the cuts have been in the manufacturing sector.
The General Motors plant closing in 2006 was expected for several years. Even as the local plant was modified for better-selling models, GM insiders knew the plant couldn’t stay open forever.
GM’s shutdown in 2006 left about 2,400 employees out of work and hundreds of suppliers and other auxiliary companies idle. Some of the GM work force went to other plants, but many chose to stay here and pursue other careers.
Dayton Tire shut down the same year, leaving another 1,600 workers idle. Lucent Technology shut down its plant in west Oklahoma City in 2003, eliminating 450 jobs.
Chesapeake grew quickly and expanded into areas far beyond the scope of its core business. Some other Oklahoma City energy companies continue to expand but not at Chesapeake’s level.
Those workers who were let go have the benefit of a better job market than the GM employees. The metro unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and many companies are actively hiring.