Schools Catch a Break

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In a year with so many concerns, I was pleased to hear a bit of good news on the education funding front.

State Budget Director Jill Geiger and Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus explained that a 1017 Fund cash balance was not included in previous monthly reports from the Oklahoma Board of Equalization. This means that at least one anticipated revenue failure will not occur.

That education fund began the current fiscal year with a cash balance of $43.8 million. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services failed to include this carryover money in reports and the board had projected a $19 million revenue shortfall in the fund.

In January, $47 million in state funding was cut from schools’ budgets because of sharp declines in revenue collections in the state’s general fund due to the worldwide decline in the price of oil. Budget officials say that this may not be the end of cuts, as revenues continue to decline, but the overlooked money in the 1017 Fund will absolutely help our schools in the short-term and have an impact immediately.

Another topic of great interest has been the teacher shortage. House Bill 2951 directs the State Department of Education and Regents for Higher Education to develop and implement teacher recruitment programs, with priority given to teacher shortage areas. This bill passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday evening and I supported this bill.

I also want to mention that a bill to consolidate some K-8 dependent schools into larger districts, House Bill 2824, failed to pass out of committee.

Lastly, I would like to mention some news on the topic of judicial reform. A measure that would allow voters to create judicial elections in Oklahoma was approved in committee and will soon be up for discussion by the full Oklahoma House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1037 would create a state question that would eliminate a current nominating commission and make the justices directly accountable to the people.

Several Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions over the past decade have led some state legislators to question the independence of the judiciary. In particular, there interpretations of law regarding lawsuit reform and workers’ compensation reform seemed out of synch with other rulings.

In Oklahoma, three judges are selected by a commission and then the governor chooses from among those candidates. The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission includes six members approved by the Oklahoma Bar Association and nine members chosen by various other means. This process is uncommon among states and the specific concern is that the Oklahoma Bar Association has a strong influence on the commission and could affect its decisions on laws impacting lawyers. 

In next week’s column, I will continue to discuss the progress of bills and budget discussions. As always, I can be reached at(405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.


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