The 2011 Legislative Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The 2011 session is set to begin Feb. 7. This session, I plan to focus primarily on the budget and ensure that public safety funding remains intact. I will also support education reform, health care reforms, and maintaining our roads and bridges.

The state faces an estimated $500-600 million revenue shortfall in 2011. In the past two years, the Rainy Day fund and stimulus monies had helped fill holes in the budget. This year, those funds will not be available.

I expect that we will be looking at the consolidation of certain state agencies. Most states that are comparable to Oklahoma use fewer agencies to provide the same services provided by numerous central agencies in Oklahoma. For example, Montana has one agency representing the same services as provided by our Department of Central Services, Office of State Finance, Office of Personnel Management, Employees Benefits Council, Merit Protection Commission, State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, Archives and Records Commission, Department of Libraries, and a series of retirement system organizations. A mandate to achieve 20 percent savings through the consolidation of some of these agencies would yield an annual savings of $10.6 million.

Education reforms that could be discussed this session include: proposals to reward teachers based on performance, professional development for math and elementary school teachers, and remediation for teachers that perform below standards. Past reform efforts have included professional development for reading teachers and a statewide teacher evaluation system that allows districts to reward teachers based on year-to-year improvements in the education of their students.

I recently learned that local school districts have outperformed districts statewide on the Academic Performance Index put together by the State Department of Education. The state average API score is 1092. Just a few examples of local schools that scored higher are: Kingfisher High School scored 1388 out of 1500, Gilmore Elementary School scored 1397, Okarche Elementary School scored 1397, Okarche High School scored 1318, Vici Elementary School scored 1299, Lomega Elementary School scored 1289, and Taloga Elementary School scored 1215. API scores are put together based on ACT scores and participation, attendance, dropout and graduation rates, state mandated tests, and Advanced Placement scores.

I would like to encourage folks to take advantage of the annual Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, a two-day event at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Feb. 4-5. More than 2,000 volunteer professionals will offer free dental care including cleanings, fillings, extractions, and root canals. There is no eligibility or income requirement to attend.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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