The first week for bills from the House to be assigned to Senate committees and vice versa, it was predicted to be a stalemate with few bills getting heard in committees. This session has already been intense to say the least, with a vast amount of culture war bills, censures, and more there is another area that has also received a hefty amount of drama and discussion.
With Ryan Walters conducting his own damages to education, the infamous education voucher package was set to cross over. However, with in-fighting between Speaker of the House Charles McCall and President Pro Tempore Greg Treat there have been promises that any education bills would be “dead on arrival” in the House if the Senate amended the House’s proposals.
On the House Side:
The two bills at the center of this stalemate are House Bill (HB) 1935 and HB 2775. HB 1935 looks at providing a $5,000 refundable tax credit for private schools, and $2,500 for home school. HB 2775 would provide $300 million for Oklahoma’s public education system and a $2,500 pay raise for public-school teachers.
Both bills have been heavily criticized by education advocates, teachers, and legislators who are retired educators. The voucher system would underserve the majority of Oklahoma students who are already underfunded and would further uplift the wealthy.
HB 2775 would adversely affect larger school districts as it would be on a per-pupil basis with a cap at $2 million. While it would help smaller rural schools to a point, most public-school districts would continue to suffer. The pay raise is insulting, as there are already a vast number of teachers leaving the state. With classrooms already behind, this raise does not represent the education and expertise of educators and neglects the fact that many spend their own money on supplies and countless hours for their students. Teachers deserve better than a one-time measly pay raise. We must push for solutions beyond “better than nothing”.
HB 1935, the school-choice bill, has received a fair amount of well-deserved criticism. It would essentially use tax-payer money to pay for private schools. Furthermore, this bill would continue to defund public education and prioritize wealthier families to send their money and efforts to private schools.
The tax credit at $5,000 would be near useless for families who already cannot afford private schools. With an average of $8,018 a year, private schools also require uniforms and other costs. The range is also vast, with many schools costing $15,000-$23,225 a year.
On the Senate Side:
With agendas being sent late the night before to senators, and meetings being merged, there was much confusion and little time to prepare to hear the education package.
Senate Education and Finance Committees:
HB 1935, presented by Sen. Treat, President Pro Tempore. As mentioned, with threats from the House to refuse any bills (on education) if amended, the bill was presented with a substitute. The Senate amendments increased the tax-credit to $7,500 for each student to attend a private school, and then decreased the home school credit to $1,000 per household.
The substitution received an immense amount of questioning from Senator Dossett, Sen. Hicks, and Sen. Kirt. There were concerns about families excluded, deletion of prior language and the overall voucher scheme.
According to Sen. Hicks, “approximately 90% of Oklahoma families” choose public schools, with 60% of those students living in poverty.
Not to mention Oklahoma’s dismal (and dropping) education ranking.
Also altered from the House version HB 2775, the $2 million cap was removed, and the teacher pay raise was increased to a range from $3,000 to $6,000. The formula was also changed on how to distribute the $300 million, with an overall difference from the House’s original $800 million dollar package to $630 million total.
Both bills proceeded to a floor vote on Thursday and passed. There Sen. Pugh emphasized funding students, not the systems during debate. The bills will now make their way back over to the House for consideration before they have a chance to make it onto the Governor’s desk.
For the rest of the bills we are focused on, next week there are finally committee assignments available on both sides following a week of impasse.
However, the week was concluded by our Annual Iftar with Elected Leaders where we were honored to celebrate these elected leaders who work tirelessly to better quality of life for all Oklahomans!