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PM NewsBrief: Sept. 22, 2022

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This is the KGOU PM NewsBrief for Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Oklahoma State Board of Education backs Hofmeister’s teacher pay raise plan

Oklahoma’s State Board of Education approved a more than $3.5 billion budget proposal Thursday morning.

The proposal includes a $5,000 raise for Oklahoma teachers that has been championed by state schools superintendent and Democratic candidate for Governor Joy Hofmeister.

Board member Estela Hernandez said the plan was sound.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here that is against the teacher pay raise,” she said. “We know that our teachers deserve that and more.”

Hofmeister said the potential raise still has a long way to go as part of the proposal.

The legislature will have final say about what the budget will look like when it puts one together next spring.

Hofmeister had announced Monday she would propose the raise and make achieving it a central pillar of her campaign. The raise would cost roughly $310 million annually.

Oklahoma currently has the fourth-lowest teacher pay among its neighbors per the Oklahoma State School Board Association, and pays less than the regional average. Additionally, the OSSBA has found the state spends the least among its neighbors on education per pupil.

The state last raised teacher salaries in 2018 when they hiked teacher pay by $6,100. An additional $2,000 increase was passed in 2019.

Recreational cannabis question won't be on the ballot in Oklahoma this November

Oklahoma voters will not get to vote on recreational cannabis this November. A state Supreme Court ruling means the ballot measure will have to wait.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court had the opportunity to intervene and put the measure on this year’s general election ballot, but justices declared Wednesday they wouldn’t be doing so.

State Question 820’s proponents had gathered enough signatures and even turned them in early. However, the Secretary of State’s office took weeks longer than expected to verify those, after hiring a contractor to conduct an electronic count for the first time. That delay set organizers back too far to make deadlines for the November ballot. They asked the Court to step in.

The majority published its opinion Wednesday. It agreed: the delay was the Secretary of State’s fault. But the law doesn’t guarantee a right to a specific election date, so the Court couldn’t allow this ballot measure to skip the remaining steps in the process and get on the ballot early.

Recent survey finds Oklahoma has record number of teaching vacancies

A recent survey found Oklahoma has a record number of teaching vacancies across the state according to the Oklahoma State School Board Association annual teacher staffing survey.

Oklahoma schools reported 1,019 teaching vacancies heading into the new school year.

That’s an all time record found by OSSBA, which has run the survey for nine years. It represents a nearly 50 percent increase in vacancies from the previous fall.

The survey found special education positions are especially difficult to fill and the vast majority of districts are dealing with substitute shortages.

It’s a grim picture for a state that’s struggled for years with a teacher shortage and shows no signs of reversing.

Recommended projects to receive ARPA funding

Several plans for how to use American Rescue Plan Act funding will be considered during an upcoming special legislative session.

The Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding on Tuesday recommended over 60 projects from a pool of more than 1,400 submissions to be considered to receive more than $1 billion from Oklahoma’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The recommended projects include initiatives to improve the state’s water, broadband, and healthcare as well as increasing support to nonprofits and workforce and rural development.

Sen. Roger Thompson, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee, says these projects “will improve the lives of Oklahomans for decades to come.”

The House will reconvene for a special session to finalize the projects on Sept. 28.

Muscogee Nation FEMA Declaration

President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration for Muscogee Nation due to severe weather that hit Oklahoma this past spring.

Oklahoma experienced severe storms, tornadoes and flooding in May that caused extensive damage throughout the Muscogee Nation reservation.

The tribal nation was named the recipient of the federal funds, and will operate in the same administrative capacity the state would. Communities within the tribal reservation that went through the preliminary damage assessment with FEMA, the state and the tribe will be able to apply for relief funds through Muscogee Nation.

Bobby Howard, the tribal nation's Emergency Management director, credits relationships they've built with local community emergency managers.

"This proves the sovereignty of the nation to manage the events within our jurisdictional boundaries," said Howard.

A 2019 analysis from the Center for Public Integrity shows tribal nations were on average more vulnerable to natural disasters but more likely to receive less assistance than non-Native communities.

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