In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss why lawmakers have once again failed to meet the legal deadline to fund public education and the Stitt administration's plan for more state agency audits.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. And Shawn, we've reached the halfway mark of the session, eight weeks down, eight weeks to go. This is a good time to evaluate where we are as the calendar turns to April.
Shawn Ashley: Well, as everyone likely remembers, we began this legislative session with a record number of bills-- 2,815. But, as we move into the final half of the legislative session, that's been more than cut in half. There are approximately 810 bills still alive currently making their way through committee, and ultimately probably around 400 will end up on the governor's desk. The big holdup right now is probably the budget, as it is every year as we begin to move into April. A.
Pryor: An evolving story concerns the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which has asked for a $16 million supplemental appropriation. Now, the Stitt administration is seeking an audit of OMES. The agency was audited just a year ago, and came out OK. Why is the governor asking for another audit now?
Ashley: Well, quite simply, as you said, the agency needs $16 million to make it through the end of the year. They explain that what has happened is that the services they are providing state agencies are costing more for them to provide than they are receiving from the state agencies. It is now up to the legislature to decide whether they receive that money.
Pryor: Nine more agencies may have audits done too. What are they going to be looking at and specifically what is their focus going to be for higher education and common education?
Ashley: Yes, the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission was created in 2017 to do performance audits of the 20 largest appropriated agencies. They did six in 2018, and then Gov. Stitt, after he was elected, called upon the commission to look at doing nine more. They have proposed doing performance audits on these nine, but when you look at higher ed and common ed, what they want to do is a little different. They want to look at the programs and the policies within those agencies that are being successful and how those might be replicated in other areas of the agency and in individual school districts or colleges and universities. This would be a limited performance audit unlike the audits being performed on the other agencies.
Pryor: Shawn, again this year the legislature missed its legal deadline to fund K-12 education. This is the 17th year the legislature has had this mandate, and lawmakers have only complied with it once.
Ashley: That's true, and that one time came in 2018, last year, right before teachers were coming to the capitol to express their concerns over teacher pay and education funding in general. Right now, it just seems like they're not there in the budget negotiations in order to move forward on appropriations for common education. Negotiations are ongoing, but there are some differences. A bill has been passed by the House and is awaiting consideration in the Senate that would provide for a $1,200 pay raise for teachers in the state, but some in the Senate are looking more at money that would go into the classroom.
Pryor: Why was this law originally passed?
Ashley: One of the concerns deals with the deadline for signing teachers to new contracts, which is April 10, so school districts needed to know how much money they were going to be receiving so they could determine how many teachers that they could hire. There was also the issue of the fact that oftentimes the budget is not approved until the very end of the legislative session, when school districts are looking at graduation and finishing out the year and not be able to pay attention to what's going on at the state legislature, as lawmakers often hastily ran through the budget.
Pryor: Are there any consequences to missing the deadline?
Ashley: No there are not. The law has no teeth, no enforcement, no punishment if lawmakers fail to do so. So they will just move forward as they have in previous years, and at some point they will come to an agreement on an overall state budget, including the State Department of Education and move forward with that.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. Thanks, Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
Pryor: If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.