McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

December 17, 2010

A passing grade?

Henry, officials discuss how education changed during the governor's tenure

OKLAHOMA CITY — Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories reflecting on Gov. Brad Henry's time in office.

By Trevor Brown

CNHI Capital Bureau

OKLAHOMA CITY – The nickname of the “education governor” began to follow Brad Henry during his first gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

On promises to improve teacher pay and strengthen all levels of public schooling, Henry captured the governorship and would win re-election four years later. As Henry enters the final weeks of his tenure, education leaders and lawmakers give mixed reviews to the governor's impact on the state education system.

Henry, himself, said he is unsure whether his legacy as the education governor will live on after he leaves public office.

“I'm proud of what we've done in education, but I don't know if that merits being dubbed the education governor or not,” he said. “I'm proud to be called that, and I hope my legacy is remembered as one who did more for education than anyone else … but that will be for the pundits and historians to determine.”

Ambitious efforts

Plaques honoring Henry for his support of  academics are showcased along one of the walls of the State Capitol Building's Blue Room. In a Blue Room  interview earlier this month, Henry said he will be leaving public office with few major regrets regarding his education agenda.

Henry, who is married to first lady Kim Henry, a former teacher, followed his education-centered campaign with several high-profile moves that began early in his administration. Among the major initiatives he oversaw were:

• Pushing the state to pay 100 percent of insurance premiums for teachers

• Boosting early-childhood and pre-kindergarten programs

• Helping create the Education Lottery Fund that provided education with more than $350 million since it began six years ago

• Approving a $475 million capital improvement bond issue for higher education

• Signing the Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) Act to create stricter education standards

Henry said the Achieving Classroom Excellence initiative was one of the most significant changes to the way education works that was made during his administration. When the legislation passed in 2005, it created new graduation requirements for middle and high school students.

More importantly, Henry said it provided money and programs for services to help students who did not meet the standards. For fiscal year 2009, the state provided $8.6 million for the remediation programs, which included extra tutoring and online course work.

“The ACE initiative was a major piece of reform legislation that raised standards and accountability in the classroom for students, for teachers (and) for administrators,” Henry said. “It gave consequence to end-of-instruction exams (so they pass) or they don't graduate.”

The initiative is a phased-in approach and many of the new testing requirements began in the past couple years. However, initial successes are already being seen.

The state Department of Education reported that eighth-graders in the original participating schools increased their math scores by 20.4 percent in the first year during 2006.

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