The Dozens of Education Bills We're Tracking This Legislative Session

Feb 6, 2017

Every year, lawmakers file hundreds of education bills that have the potential to change the way schools operate. Some would implement minor tweaks, but others—like Education Savings Account legislation—are much more controversial.

In this list, we’ve tried to focus on the legislation that affects the bigger picture, and also the legislation that represents larger debates in the state.  

GENERAL INTEREST

  • Student Discipline: SB81 by Ron Sharp would allow schools to suspend students as young as third grade for assault or attempted assault. Current statute allows out-of-school suspension for sixth through 12th graders. HB1520 by Josh Cockroft would allow school district personnel to use physical restraint on students with disabilities to manage behavior only under certain emergency circumstances.
  • Third Grade Reading Test: SB84 by Michael Bergstrom extends the probationary period for third graders who do not pass the third grade reading test. Currently, students who do not pass the third grade reading test are either held back, or allowed to advance to the fourth grade for a “probationary period.” This probationary period is set to end next school year, but this bill would extend it through 2022-2023. HB1760 by Katie Henke would allow the probationary promotion to be in effect forever. SB123 by JJ Dossett would eliminate the requirement that third grade students be retained under the Reading Sufficiency Act, but would maintain supports for struggling readers.
  • School Safety: HB1317 by Josh West Each requires all school boards to ensure that at least one active shooter drill is conducted at each public school within the school district each year.
  • Superintendent pay: SB133 by Jason Smalley caps the amount of money a superintendent of a school district can earn.
  • Four day school weeks: About a quarter of school districts in Oklahoma have gone to a four-day-school-week in order to save money, but SB37 by Kyle Loveless would require schools to be in session five days a week with the exception of holidays and inclement weather. HB1684 by Harold Wright requires schools to spend 80 percent of their year as 5-day school weeks. However, schools could submit a waiver to the State Department of Education for an exemption.
  • School Consolidation: Under SB514 by Gary Stanislawski school districts with fewer than 500 students, that are within 65 miles of each other, would consolidate. 
  • Department Performance: SB 70, SB71 and SB72 by Julie Daniels would require the state auditor to conduct an independent, comprehensive performance audit on the state Education Department, Regents for Higher Education and Career and Technology Education Department respectively.

EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

ESAs and school vouchers are vehicles for school choice. If a parent does not like the public school their child attends, an ESA would allow them to take the money the state spends educating their child, and use it toward private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, online courses or extracurricular activities instead. Education Savings Accounts are very controversial. Proponents say not all children learn the same, and this allows a parent to find the right educational fit for their child. However opponents argue that ESAs and vouchers take money away from already cash-strapped public schools.

Oklahoma already has one voucher program called the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarship. This scholarship, which provides a child with about $6,000 toward private school tuition, is meant for students with disabilities. Many of the proposed ESA programs would extend the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarship to all children.

  • Representative Kyle Loveless’s plans: Representative Loveless has filed three different Educations Savings Account bills. All three plans would allow a parent to use 90 percent of the funds the state spends educating their child toward their choice of curriculum. All three plans also cap the number of students utilizing ESAs at one percent of the student population. SB395 allows any student to apply for the ESA as long as they’re eligible for pre-K, or were enrolled in public school for 100 days the prior year. SB396 limits enrollment to students in a county of at least 50,000 people, and to students’ whose parents make less than $250,000 a year. SB399 would allow only students from four-day-school-weeks to utilize an ESA.
  • Senator Nathan Dahm’s plan: SB625 also allows a parent to take up to 90 percent of the state funds used to educate their child, and caps enrollment at one percent of the student population, but gives priority to students in poverty, students with disabilities, and students in foster care. Parents or guardians must also submit their child’s test results when they renew their request for the ESA yearly.
  • Representative Kevin Calvey’s plan: HB2295 is similar to Rep. Loveless’s plan, however every household would not get the same amount of money under Rep. Calvey’s plan. Depending on the income of the family, a child would get 90 percent, or 60 percent of the state funds.
  • ESA Accountability: HB1638 by Scott Inman requires private schools that receive revenue from the state in the form of a voucher, credit or scholarship, to publish an annual report detailing the services provided to children with disabilities. If the school does not offer any services to children with disabilities, it shall be required to disclose such information. SB164 by Ron Sharp and SB462 by John Sparks are similar. HB1349 by Donnie Condit would require private schools that receive revenue from the state to post student achievement results. 
  • Prohibiting ESAs: SB124 by JJ Dossett would prohibits the use of state-appropriated funds to support private schools serving pre-K through 12th grade, with the exception of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program.

TEACHER PAY

Teacher pay is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues in the state right now. Oklahoma public school teachers are some of the lowest paid in the nation, and that’s causing many of them to leave the profession, or leave the state for better pay elsewhere. Many public officials have said raising teacher pay is their number one priority. However, like last year, the state faces a large budget hole, which will make raising teacher pay all the more difficult.

  • Raising the salary schedule: A lot of teacher pay bills simply promote raising the minimum state-mandated salary for teachers, but do not provide ways to pay for the increased pay. SB8 by Ron Sharp, SB309 by Marty Quinn, SB137 by JJ Dossett, SB618 by Gary Stanislawski,  HB1524 by Josh Cockroft, and HB1640 by Scott Inman are all examples.
  • Pay increase over time: HB1114 by Michael Rogers proposes raising teacher pay over time. Teachers would get a $1,000 raise next year, a $3,000 raise the following year, and a $6,000 permanent raise by 2019-2020 school year. SB97 by Michael Bergrstrom is similar.
  • Eliminating the income tax: SB302 by Nathan Dahm exempts teachers from having to pay income taxes. HB1497 by Greg Babinec and HB1793 by Kevin McDugle are very similar.
  • Using TSET Funds: HB1245 by Mark McBride, Tammy West and Rhonda Baker would use funds from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund to pay for school counselors, nurses, science programs, and special education services. By paying for these services out of TSET funds, schools could have more money to give teachers a raise.
  • Scholarship opportunities: HB1351 by Monroe Nichols allows children of teachers and school support employees to participate in the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program.  OHLAP allows some high school students to earn a college tuition scholarship.
  • Bonus for large class size: HB1415 by Todd Russ would require school districts to pay an increase in compensation to any teacher whose classroom has exceeded the class size limitations.
  • David Holt’s plan for $10,000 pay raises: This plan is a mult-measure approach. Each bill would generate revenue towards Holt’s plan for $10,000 raises. SB330 would put the first $200 million in new revenue growth toward teacher raises. SB331 would repeal Oklahoma’s sales tax exemption on repair, maintenance, delivery and installation of taxable goods, something that is taxed in 24 other states. SB 332  removes the exemption that allows the state and local governments to abstain from paying sales tax on purchases. SB 333 ends the applicability of the controversial wind energy tax credit at the end of 2017. SB 334 repeals the exemption on sales tax made available to wind energy manufacturers. SB 339 ends the exemptions for non-appropriated state agencies that have been treated differently from the majority of non-appropriated agencies that pay the state 10 percent of their budget. SJR 16 and SJR 17 – These two measures work together to create a citizen commission that would spend three years developing a modern school district map that decreases the number of superintendents from 520 to 200 without closing any school building. SB 336  would allow the Lottery Commission the flexibility it has requested in setting prize amounts, which it believes will increase total revenue. SB 338 exempts teachers from all Oklahoma income tax obligations. 

SCHOOL FINANCE

  • School Funding: SB16 by Kyle Loveless modifies the way school funding is determined. Funding for schools is based on student attendance, which is always in flux. Currently, the State Department of Education looks at a school’s attendance rate for the two previous years, and uses the highest year to determine how much money a school gets at the beginning of the school year. SB16 would change that.  Instead of taking the highest of the previous two years—SB16 directs the SDE to use the attendance from the previous year. SB389 by Gary Stanislawski requires State Department of Education to review the school funding formula every few years.
  • Finance Reports: SB19 by Kyle Loveless and SB243 by Gary Stanislawski would require each school district in the state to make a fiscal report card for each school site in the district.
  • Administrative Costs: The amount of money a school can spend on administration is capped, depending on the size of the school. Currently, administrative costs are focused on superintendents, anyone working directly with him, and the school board. SB394 by Kyle Loveless would require schools to include the costs of principals and vice principals in the calculation of administrative costs.

RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS BILLS

  • Oklahoma Science Education Act: SB393 by Josh Brecheen requires the State Board of Education, school district boards of education, school district superintendents and school principals shall endeavor to create an environment within public school districts that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues
  • Religious View Anti-discrimination Act: SB450 by Mark Allen would require a school district to treat the voluntary expression of a student’s religious viewpoint in the same manner the district treats the voluntary expression by a student of a secular or other viewpoint.

SHELL BILLS

Shell bills are bills that legislators file with the intent of filling in later. Lawmakers filed many shell bills on various topics, but there are quite a few about education. Here are some examples:

  • HB1174 by Matt Meredith creates the School Board Reorganization Act of 2017
  • HB1207 by Dennis Casey creates the Education Reform Act of 2017
  • HB1179 by Ryan Martinez creates the Education Advancement Act
  • HB1513 by Chuck Strohm creates the Oklahoma Public School Deregulation Act
  • HB1514 by Chuck Strohm creates the Education Finance Study Act of 2017