Executive Director, OkACTE
Deadline Week ends on March 14!
The first major deadline of the Legislative Session came and passed on March 14 as both the House and the Senate moved over 400 bills to the opposite chamber of this, the 54th Oklahoma Legislature. Our tracking list should be updated now to only include ACTIVE bills that made their way through the exhaustive committee and floor processes of the two chambers. So far, things have not gone too badly for Education. There have been comments in both chambers to support an increase in funding for education this session after several years of flat funding and some decreases in overall dollars to support public education in Oklahoma’s K-12 system, CareerTech, and of course, Higher Education. A number of bills were passed to attempt: taking care of the unfunded mandates for education that were passed by previous legislatures, restoring the National Certified Teacher stipend, studying the flawed A to F laws, changing EOI testing, increasing opportunities for CareerTech students in Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship program, and many other issues surrounding public education that are still alive and moved to the opposite chambers for consideration.
Almost daily, we are working with the appropriation chairs, appropriation subcommittee chairs in both chambers and the leadership to “plow the ground” for finally increasing the State’s support for Career and Technical Education. There is still much work to do here. We feel strongly that the House leadership is going to do their best to increase funding for CTE this year. Our challenge is in the Senate and particularly the Appropriation Committee Chairman. We have met with small groups of Senators in informal settings and there is some support from these groups to meet the needs of CTE as has been presented by the Department of CareerTech and many of our other advocates at the Capitol. We are asking for a 19 million dollar increase in the base funding to CTE. We also are challenged by the apparent lack of support coming from the Governor’s office as she proposed a 0% increase in funding for Career and Technical Education in the budget she presented to the legislature in January. A lot of this comes from her desire to increase funding for mental health and a few other agencies as well as her efforts to influence the legislature into decreasing or eliminating the states personal income tax. She has recently softened her stance on funding for education and is now mentioning in many of her speeches that it is time to increase dollars appropriated to common education.
In order to accomplish our goals of increasing dollars for common education and CareerTech we will be announcing some important advocacy efforts over the next few weeks to help turn around the support we need from key policy-makers in this area. We will need our members to make calls and send e-mails asking for support of CTE over the next few weeks. Please keep an eye on your e-mail boxes over the next two months as quick responses to alerts will be very important.
School Safety Issues
All of us who work to keep our schools safe and secure are watching very closely the activity at the capitol around this issue and of course changes in Gun laws. Lt. Governor Lamb’s commission on School Safety and Security has completed its mission and some of those findings will be incorporated in legislation that is poised to move through the process. We will support these bills. However, some overzealous legislators have moved a couple of bills through the process that we feel are not good solutions to the recent shootings that have occurred in schools around the country. One of these, HB 1062 allows School Districts to adopt policies of arming teachers and administrators. Even though there are some teachers who would like to be able to carry weapons in schools, the complexities of developing policies and practices that would protect the innocent in our schools is enormous. These bills will also, in my opinion cause the gun lobby to begin putting pressure on school board members to adopt these policies. This bill also forces the school district to pay for the training of these armed officials without any financial support to the districts. This bill has passed the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. Look for the Senate to hold this up and probably try to move forward more of the language that was designed and recommended by Sen. Lamb’s task force. The bills introduced with the recommendations of the Lt. Governor’s Commission are; SB’s 256, 257, 258, and 259. You can find the text on these bills and HB 1062 on our website at: www.okacte.org.
State Revenue and Income Tax
The discussion of elimination of the income tax and whether or not these proposals by the Governor and legislative leaders are revenue neutral are beginning to appear on the policy makers’ radar. Senate Republicans are offering a plan that lowers the top rate on personal income tax from 5.25% to 4.75% and eliminate some expensive tax credits and exemptions at the same time. This results in net revenue losses to the State’s coffers at somewhere around 108 million dollars but that would not hit for a while. The House Republican’s and the Governor are supporting a plan which would lower the top rate by a quarter of a percent with no revenue offsets. This plan would cost the state about 120 million dollars per tax year. Obviously, in a year in which the legislators have about 215 million extra dollars in available revenue for appropriations, these decisions could affect available dollars needed to increase funding for Common Ed and CareerTech. The Senate bill will go after personal exemptions that effect middle income earners especially those with dependents. So, as you might guess, these plans could move toward a compromise bill or be shelved altogether as they were last year. I am working with a group called TogetherOk whose mission is to provide Oklahomans the real truth about these tax and revenue measures. More information about this group can be found at their website: www.TogetherOk.org .
Happy Spring!! Patrick McGregor, Executive Director, OkACTE