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House Republicans unveil education plan

The cluster of 14 Oklahoma flags at the state Capitol.
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Speaker of the House Charles McCall has announced the House Republican plan for education, which includes increased funding for public schools and tax credits for parents with children in private schools and home-based education.

TRANSCRIPT

Capitol Insider sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, committed to connecting Oklahoma physicians with matters that are important to Oklahoma patients. More on vision and mission of OSMA at okmed.org.

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, members of both major parties have filed bills relating to education for this legislative session. Now, the House Republican caucus has put forth their own plan and place the weight of a supermajority behind it. What are they proposing?

Shawn Ashley: The House Republican plan, which was unveiled Thursday and passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee later that day, has two parts. House Bill 2775 is a $500 million appropriation to common education, and it includes 150 million for the financial support of schools, including a $2,500 salary increase for classroom teachers, $50 million to be distributed in a proportional manner, as are Redbud School grants for school districts that receive below average funding from annual tax revenue, and $300 million to be distributed to public school districts on a per pupil basis to be utilized for specified educational services. The second part, House Bill 1935, is a $5,000 tax credit for parents or guardians of children in private schools and a $2,500 tax credit for parents or guardians of children who are home-schooled. Now, to receive those credits, the parents or guardians will have to prove the cost for the amount of the credit that they are claiming.

Dick Pryor: How does this plan align with the governor's State of the State speech call for more school choice and vouchers?

Shawn Ashley: Well, it's similar, but different. Stitt’s State of the State speech and executive budget proposed a $130 million education savings account, or voucher program, which was reminiscent of the bill that failed the Senate during the 2022 regular session. House Speaker Charles McCall called his caucus's tax credit proposal a measured, logical, comprehensive approach to supporting parental choice that will work in all parts of the state. While presenting the plan Thursday to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, House Common Education Committee Chair Rhonda Baker said, “Let me make this clear. We pushed back against ESAs and voucher considerations just simply because we feel like there's the expanded potential for fraud and abuse.”

Dick Pryor: Governor Stitt has called on lawmakers to ban gender affirming care and surgeries for minors. Two bills about that are already moving forward, Shawn - one in the House, one in the Senate. There are differences, though, between the two bills.

Shawn Ashley: Senate Bill 613 passed the Senate on Wednesday. It prohibits health care professionals from performing gender transition surgeries or hormone-based therapies for the purpose of gender transition on anyone under 18 years of age. That same day, the House Public Health Committee advanced House Bill 2177. It includes the same ban on surgeries and hormone therapies for minors, but it also imposes a total ban on gender transition services for facilities receiving public funds and prohibits insurance companies from covering gender reassignment treatments.

Dick Pryor: These bills may be a good example of how disagreements are bubbling up between lawmakers and could make this session, Shawn, more contentious and difficult than might be expected when the governor and the House and the Senate majorities are from the same party.

Shawn Ashley: Similar but different might be the theme of the 2023 legislative session. We're just two weeks in and already Republicans are showing differences on proposals regarding taxes, educational savings accounts and now common education funding, as well as banning gender transition services for minors. The trick for legislative leaders will be finding the common ground on all of these. Of course, it can be like playing Jenga. Sometimes you move a piece and the whole tower comes crashing down.

Dick Pryor: Yes. And that's what makes this all interesting. 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.

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Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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