Education Policy Dominates in the Final Days of the 2023 Session

Oklahoma City — With the end of the 2023 session of the Oklahoma Legislature at hand, there is still much work remaining, but a big hurdle was cleared on Monday, May 15.

The budget negotiations reached a critical milestone with the House of Representatives, Senate, and the governor’s office reaching a deal on the state’s K-12 school funding levels.

In the agreement to be submitted by the Republican-held super-majority, lawmakers will vote to allocate an additional $625 million into public education above last year’s levels, with $385 million going to support teacher pay raises, ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 based on the educator’s years of experience.

Another $115 million will run through the School Funding Formula for distribution.

There is also $125 million that will be distributed through the “Redbud Fund” for schools.

In 2021, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 229 –- the Redbud School Funding Act.

This law directs a portion of medical marijuana tax revenue for annual distribution to eligible charter schools and public school districts for acquiring and improving school buildings.

For Fiscal Year 2022, $38.5 million was apportioned to be used for these grants, which these funds were distributed to 330 school districts.

School districts and eligible charter schools that are below the state average in local property taxes and the county-wide millage per student are eligible to receive these funds.

Additionally, to be considered “eligible,” a charter school must provide in-person or blended instruction to a minimum of two-thirds of enrolled students as the primary means of instruction, as per the State Department of Education’s website.

It was important for legislative leadership to pass a proposal by midnight this Thursday, therefore giving lawmakers five legislative days to potentially override a veto by the governor, either with the entire bill or with line-item provisions, prior to the constitutionally mandated close of the regular session at 5 p.m. on the final Friday of May.

There has been talk that lawmakers might be called into a special session to override vetoes made by the governor, but that is not allowed as an option under the established process in Oklahoma.

Because a special session is not one of the two regular sessions in the two-year Legislature in which bills are normally filed, there is no constitutional deadline to adjourn other than the election of new lawmakers in even-numbered years.

If lawmakers simply ran legislation through a special session with no set date to end the annual session, that would go against the established constitutional protections outlining the checks and balances given to the governor by the people in the Constitution.

In the remaining time before the constitutional deadline to adjourn, there are vetoes that the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) views would positively benefit the state if overridden.

House Bill 2820 would reauthorize the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) to keep the station on-air. Senate Bill 291 would permit victims of child abuse to file or have filed for them a petition for a Victim’s Protection Order (VPO).

Senate Bill 429 would allow public school students, including public university students, to wear tribal regalia to graduation ceremonies, whether held at a public or private location.

Each of these should become law based on their positive impact on the state.

It has been interesting to watch the process unfold this year, but the finish line is approaching. OICA will announce our annual legislative report card and our lawmakers of the year very soon.

Note: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023. According to OICA’s promotional materials, “The organization was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.” The group’s mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”