KGOU

Education Bills Emerge: Teacher Pay, History Exams, 4-Day Weeks

Jan 7, 2017

Lawmakers will take another stab at increasing teacher salaries, will attempt to stymie four-day school weeks and try to eliminate the end-of-year exam in U.S. history.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

With the filing deadline on Jan. 19, bills have been streaming in, including many related to common education. Additional bills could surface later because of exceptions to the deadline and shell bills whose language is often replaced mid-session.

Last session, major updates for schools were passed: new standards in English and math, eliminating many end-of-year tests and changes to the state’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation system.

This year, legislators will grapple with another budget hole while considering state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister’s request for $2.6 billion, a $221 million increase from the current fiscal year. Also on the table is a new report card rating system for schools, which the legislature must approve if it’s to be implemented in the 2017-18 school year.

A looming criminal case could impact how willing legislators are to work with Hofmeister. Several lawmakers have called for Hofmeister’s resignation because of the criminal charges brought against her, accusing her of conspiracy and campaign violations in her 2014 bid for office. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Education-related bills filed for the 2017 session include:

>Senate Bill 8, which would increase the minimum salary of all teachers by $5,000. The state salary schedule has been unchanged since 2008. The bill, filed by Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, doesn’t include a mechanism to fund the raises.

>Senate Bill 2, which would eliminate the end-of-year exam in U.S. history. U.S. history is the only remaining standardized test that is not required by the U.S. Department of Education. It is given to students at least once in high school. Filed by J.J. Dossett, D-Sperry.

>Senate Bill 12, which would allow private schools to create their own armed campus police force. Public schools are already allowed to do so. Filed by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate.

>Senate Bill 37, which would require schools to be in session five-days a week with the exception of holidays and inclement weather. More than 100 school districts have moved toward a four-day week by extending the school day; school leaders argue it saves money and helps them compete for teachers. Gov. Mary Fallin recently criticized the four-day week, saying it makes the state unappealing to out-of-state companies. Filed by Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City.

>Senate bills 7071 and 72 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. Filed by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville.

>Senate Bill 81, which 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.

>Senate Bill 83 is a renewed attempt by Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, to remove the religious and personal exemptions for childhood vaccinations. Yen, a cardiologist, filed a similar bill in 2016, leading some parents to protest.

Other bills include:

>Senate Joint Resolution 1: Increases to 12 percent the amount of school district debt.

>Senate JR 2: Raises the maximum property tax for school district building funds.

>SB 15: Develop and implement teacher recruitment programs.

>SB 16: Modifying school funding to use the average daily membership of preceding school year.

>SB 19: Requiring schools to create a “fiscal report card” containing the cost of staff salaries and benefits, utilities, classroom supplies, transportation and child nutrition.

>SB 20: Requiring teacher training on appropriate behavior with students.

>SB 29: Eliminating a required background check for teacher applicants if one has been completed within 12 months.

>SB 43: Removing a requirement that colleges notify the OSBI of handgun license violations.

>SB 45: Allowing the Department of Education to contract with current or retired educators for certain services.

>SB 78: Expands concurrent enrollment tuition waivers to high school juniors and increases maximum to 9 credit hours.

>SB 84: Extends the exemption for probationary promotion to fourth grade under the Reading Sufficiency Act to the 2022-23 school year.