Schools to implement new laws and rules as classes begin across the state
Several recent changes in Oklahoma education laws have teachers and administrators evaluating legal interpretations and implementing new rules.
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Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, August is “back to school month” across the state and in the last year there have been several changes in school policies directed by the legislature. These include bathroom access, gender identification in athletics, teaching of history and diversity and books in school libraries. Do schools have clear direction now on how to implement those changes this year?
Shawn Ashley: The State Department of Education published its eighth Red Banner Book, an annual compendium of all the bills passed during the 2022 regular session. Now, the department says that book is not intended to be all inclusive nor serve as legal advice. But it does provide a general overview of the new laws and legislative actions that are affecting public education. And what we have seen anecdotally is that school districts are implementing those laws in various ways. What we have not seen is the State Board of Education take up any emergency or permanent rules to implement those new laws. Now, in fairness, not every bill needs administrative rules to clarify how they are to be implemented. Some of the bills are pretty straightforward and the board probably won't pass administrative rules for their implementation. The board meets monthly so it can begin that process whenever it deems it's appropriate.
Dick Pryor: The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book report for 2022 just a few days ago. It ranks Oklahoma 40th among all states in overall child well-being. The report ranked the state 45th in education. Do reports such as these resonate at the state capitol among legislators?
Shawn Ashley: I think they do. We often see reports like these cited in debates, in committee and on the floor. And if you look at education specifically, as we were talking about just a moment ago, it is usually one of the top subjects on legislators’ minds every session. However, we usually see competing proposals, which the authors say will improve education in Oklahoma. Some of those bills have passed, others haven't. But what we have not seen in some time, perhaps since House Bill 1017 was passed 32 years ago, is a comprehensive plan and an agreement on how to improve education in Oklahoma.
Dick Pryor: Over the last three and a half years, we've seen a considerable amount of churn among agency heads and in important state government positions, a lot of coming and going. There are several vacancies right now. Is there a through line that connects these key personnel changes?
Shawn Ashley: I think there is. And I think it's Governor Kevin Stitt and his management style. When former Commissioners of the Land Office Secretary Elliot Chambers announced his resignation, which was effective August 3rd, he said Stitt asked him to leave the private sector and join the public sector for just a couple of years, which is exactly what he did. And Stitt has acknowledged he does not ask his appointees to agency leadership positions to stay through his term or terms of office. So, it's not surprising to see some departures as his first term nears its end. Currently, Stitt needs to appoint a new Commissioners of the Land Office secretary, a Department of Human Services director, a Department of Corrections director to replace Scott Crow, who resigned Tuesday, and a Department of Tourism and Recreation director.
Dick Pryor: We sometimes talk about the proliferation of state emblems, such things as state flower, state flying mammal, state astronomical object, state steak, and several state songs. Soon, Oklahoma will also have an official state horse. It's the quarter horse. How was the quarter horse picked up and what did it take to get it officially recognized?
Shawn Ashley: Designating a state horse was the request of one of Representative Randy Randleman’s constituents, his granddaughter. But it took four legislative sessions for that bill to become law. That really illustrates how much work it can take to get a bill passed. Lawmakers first haggled over which horse should be named. Randleman's granddaughter had suggested the colonial Spanish horse because it was that horse that brought all the other horses into Oklahoma. That dispute kept the bill from advancing in 2019. COVID-19 stopped it in 2020. And the argument over which horse was best for Oklahoma resumed in 2021, and the bill died on the House floor. Senator Blake Stevens helped orchestrate the compromise that led to the American quarter horse being named the state horse of Oklahoma. And the bill finally passed during the 2022 regular session.
Dick Pryor: And that designation becomes official in November. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.