Representative Melissa Provenzano hopes to hold Interim Studies on student aid application program, teacher contracts

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report 

OKLAHOMA CITY – After conclusion of the regular legislative session, State Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, last month filed a pair of interim study requests for the House of Representatives

With one of the proposed studies, she seeks to better understand the state’s outreach efforts regarding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The other aims to look at how teacher contracts are handled throughout the state.

In a staff press release sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations, Rep. Provenzano said the first to examine the overall importance of the FAFSA process as well as the progress Oklahoma has made at increasing the number of students who complete the application.

“Many Oklahoma students wouldn’t be able to attend college if not for financial aid,” Provenzano said. 
“However, they can’t receive financial aid until they fill out a FAFSA. The importance of this form to an Oklahoma student’s future cannot be overstated. It is not without its hurdles, and we must do everything we can to ensure no student who wishes to go to college falls through the cracks on this one. We must dig into the roadblocks that prevent a student from applying.  That’s what this study is about.”

With so many financial barriers to higher education, the FAFSA and the potential aid it represents can be a lifeline to students trying to lift themselves out of poverty, the press release asserted.
“The FAFSA is a gateway to financial aid for college,” said Jennifer Sack, a high school counselor at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington

“The first thing the FAFSA determines is whether the student qualifies for financial aid. But even if you don’t qualify for federal money, the FAFSA is what colleges use to determine what type of aid they can award a student. Even some private scholarships require proof that a FAFSA has been filed.” 

“The more Oklahoma students that fill out the FAFSA the better it is for our state,” Provenzano said. “Our state schools, especially community and junior colleges, benefit by having more students able to attend, but the biggest blessing is that those additional students will have an opportunity to earn a college degree, which we all know can be life-changing.”

As for her second proposed Interim Study, the former educator and administrator hopes to investigate the effectiveness of yearly, semester and quarterly teacher contracts and how those contracts affect students, teacher retention and costs to acquire educators. 

“Due to a lack of resources, our school administrators are constantly having to work miracles to staff our schools,” Provenzano said. “Often, however, administrators are forced to use short-term teaching contracts to do so. We need to study how these contracts and the constant shuffling of educators are affecting our students.”

The Tulsa solon hopes that the study will give lawmakers and the education community more data to fight for additional resources. 

“We have to stop putting our state’s education professionals in unwinnable situations,” Provenzano said. “My hunch, which comes from experience, is that short-term contracts have long-term negative effects on Oklahoma students.”

Senate Interim studies have been approved, and House Speaker Charles McCall’s list of approved studies is expected by Friday (July 23). Senate President Pro Temp Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, surprised long-time Capitol-watchers when he approved all 71 proposals submitted. 

Under both Democrats and Republicans, the majority party has dominated the Interim Study process. While it seems unlikely the Atoka Republican who runs the lower chamber (McCall) will follow the pro tempore’s lead, Treat’s inclusive directive to allow all the proposal Senate studies has provoked hopes for a similar thrust in the House. 

NOTE: Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.