In his 2021 State of the State Address, Governor Kevin Stitt had one major "ask" for Oklahoma education: changing the state's student transfer rules and public school funding formula. He received his wish before the calendar turned to April. As KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley explain, the bills moved quickly and the governor has already signed them into law.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Governor Kevin Stitt has scored an early victory with two strokes of the pen on education bills he had pushed for in his State of the State address. Probably the biggest one revises the state school funding formula; the other expands the state's open transfer policy. The governor called this “the most transformative education reform” in state history. That’s strong. What do these bills do?
Shawn Ashley: Well, House Bill 2078 changes the way state aid is distributed to school districts. Currently, they can look back at their enrollment numbers for the past three years and pick the highest of those to use in determining how much money they receive from the state. This bill reduces that lookback period to the preceding two years, therefore, shaving one year off the calculation. Governor Stitt and the bill's proponents say there are approximately 55,000 students today who are double counted and double funded, first at the school they left and then at the school they're attending. When all is said and done, that amounts to about two million dollars in funding that they indicate is going to the wrong school districts.
Senate Bill 738 expands Oklahoma's open transfer system. And what it does is to require school districts to use the capacity-based system rather than the current rules that are in place. And it also eliminates the ability of school districts from which a student is leaving to veto that departure.
Dick Pryor: What are state education leaders saying about these bills?
Shawn Ashley: Secretary of Education Ryan Walters praised both bills like the governor, saying they were a huge step forward for students and parents in the state of Oklahoma. Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, however, said it was one step forward and probably two steps backward. She said the bill expanding the open transfer policy probably would benefit parents and students. But changing the state aid funding formula would ultimately hurt some school districts.
Dick Pryor: Two bills that allow a person fearing for their safety to drive their vehicle into protesters and escape criminal or civil liability have passed committees in both houses. What spurred these bills?
Shawn Ashley: The proponents of those measures point to two different incidents, one which happened in Oklahoma City and one which happened in Tulsa over the summer when various protests were taking place. In the Oklahoma City incident, the driver of the motor vehicle involved allegedly did nothing, although they were surrounded by protesters, according to the bill's proponent, Senator Robert Standridge, and was ultimately injured. In the Tulsa case, the driver of the vehicle drove into the crowd, injuring at least one person severely. But no criminal charges were filed against the driver. According to the proponents of the measure, what this does is give those individuals a way to attempt to escape and defend themselves if they fear for their well-being after they have considered other ways to get out of the situation without injuring someone.
Dick Pryor: SB 627 started off as a bill to recreate the Red River Boundary Commission, but now it's something completely different. It would prohibit virtually any public body from mandating gender and sexual diversity training. How does such a dramatic change in bill language happen?
Shawn Ashley: Yeah, there really are a couple of elements at play here. First of all, the language changing the bill was inserted as a committee substitute. That is language that totally rewrites essentially everything in the bill. Now, Senate Bill 627 as a Red River boundary bill was s Title 74 state government bill. The new language, while doing something entirely different, is also a Title 74 bill. And the chair of the committee carrying the bill indicated that that is a germane change to the bill because it remains within Title 74. Now, the language may be familiar to our listeners because this is language similar to that that was in House Bill 1888, which was heard on the House floor earlier in the year. However, that bill never went to a vote. Had that bill failed, the language essentially would have been dead. It could not have been used as the committee substitute to replace another bill. But since there was no vote taken, the language remained alive and was resurrected this past week.
Dick Pryor: This bill could have even broader implications. Gender and sexual diversity training is not defined. What are the authors talking about?
Shawn Ashley: Well, the author, Representative Danny Williams, has been rather cagey in his descriptions of this. He's never really offered a definition of what's involved, really saying that these are the type of issues that simply should be discussed at home.
Dick Pryor: Okay, thank you, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at www.kgou.org and www.ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.