By Rep. Mike Sanders
A new annual event at the Oklahoma State Capitol is the education rally. I wholeheartedly support those of you who participated and want to devote one of three columns summarizing this legislative session to education issues. In my second column, I will summarize public safety accomplishments this session. My third column will look at long-term fiscal decisions made this session.
The biggest accomplishment for education this year was the flat K-12 budget. There was intense pressure to cut education, because of the estimated $611 million hole in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. We came up with enough budget fixes to spare our schools a cut.
We were unable to achieve an increase for schools this year, but over the last two years gave common education over $191 million in new money. The House planned on a teacher pay raise this year but realized that with the $611 million hole we could not do that this year. A measure to increase the minimum pay of teachers in Oklahoma was drafted, but ultimately left for consideration next year. I know that the education budget must increase over time to address increased enrollment and rising costs at schools. I expect that in future budget years, there will be increases, just as there have been in the past few years.
Recruiting teachers is becoming an increasing problem in Oklahoma. Two measures signed into law this year are intended to help school districts with recruitment. House Bill 1521 will allow school districts to offer teachers a one-time incentive payment. Senate Bill 20 will allow the state education board to issue a teaching certificate to an out-of-state teacher with five years’ experience at an accredited school.
High-stakes testing for third grade students is one of the hottest topics among educators and parents. We voted to modify Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act this year. Senate Bill 630 awaits the signature of Gov. Mary Fallin. In 2014, we created student reading proficiency teams to allow probationary promotion for students not reading at grade level. This year’s legislation extends the use of those teams and probationary promotion through the 2017-2018 school year. The legislation also phases in higher reading proficiency requirements beginning in the 2016-2017 school year. Finally, the legislation directs students in kindergarten through third grade to be screened at both the beginning and end of the school year. If they show they can read at a third-grade level during any screening period, they will satisfy the law’s promotion requirements.
Senate Bill 706, which awaits the governor’s signature, delays the full implementation of the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System (TLE).
Several measures made it far in the process, but will have to be taken up again next year. Further fixes to the A-F grading system, were tied up in the process. There were also several bills to reduce testing. We will hopefully get them all the way through next year.
Session End, Part 1 – Education Wins
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