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Oklahoma education ills an issue in governor race

Tim Talley, Associated Press Modified: September 1, 2014 at 12:33 pm •  Published: September 1, 2014
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An underfunded, little-known Democratic candidate for governor has a new tool to use in attacking the Republican incumbent now that the federal government stripped Oklahoma of its authority to decide how to spend millions in education funds following the state's repeal of national academic standards.

State Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs said Republican Gov. Mary Fallin's role in the repeal of the Common Core English and math standards and its consequences for public schoolchildren are the latest examples of a lack of leadership and flip-flopping, citing important issues such as storm shelters for public schools and the creation of a state health insurance exchange.

"She shrugged her shoulders and did not seem to care what happened. In this instance, it's hurting the kids of Oklahoma," Dorman said. "This is typical of everything we've seen over the last four years in her administration."

Dorman was among legislators who voted to repeal Common Core, but faulted Fallin for failing to assure that new college- and career-ready academic standards would replace them. Federal regulations require that the standards must be common to a significant number of states, like Common Core, or approved by a state network of higher education institutions that certify students who meet the standards will not need remedial coursework in college.

Higher education officials are reviewing old state academic standards that were in effect before 2010, known as Priority Academic Student Skills, to determine if they meet the college- and career-ready academic criteria. But the state sought the waiver before a determination was made.

"Fallin's boards refused to do anything," Dorman said "They completely failed the state."

A spokesman for Fallin, Alex Weintz, did not respond to telephone and email messages for comment last week. After the AP published its story, he sent an email noting Dorman's vote on Common Core but did not respond further to requests for comment.

Fallin, who is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 4 general election, blasted President Barack Obama's administration for Thursday's decision to not extend the state's waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act — a loss of flexibility in using $29 million in education funds.

"Oklahomans spoke loud and clear: We do not want the federal government telling us what to teach our children or how to teach our children," she said Thursday in a statement. "We have great teachers and administrators. The Obama administration needs to get out of their way and let them do their jobs, rather than tying their hands with additional federal rules and regulations."

Dorman has run a surprisingly competitive race against Fallin, which is reflected in a few recent polls. Four years ago, Fallin defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins by 20 percentage points; one current poll shows she holds a single-digit lead over Dorman.

Additionally, Dorman has said that success in the most recent fundraising period — about $27,000 more than the governor from June 10 to Aug. 11 — is evidence that his message is resonating with voters. But the campaign contribution and expenditure reports showed Fallin has raised a total of almost $3.3 million and had almost $1.14 million in funds remaining. Dorman, by contrast, has raised a total of $654,026 and had $142,423 remaining in August.

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