Treat discusses House-Senate impasse over education bills
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat weighs in on stalled education bills and response to Volkswagen bypassing Oklahoma for a manufacturing plant.
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Shawn Ashley: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Dick Pryor is under the weather. My guest today is Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, a Republican from Oklahoma City. This interview was conducted on Tuesday, March 21st. Senator Treat, it's good to have you with us.
Sen. Greg Treat: Thank you for having me.
Shawn Ashley: The House has passed an education package that includes school choice tax credits for parents who put their children in private or home schools. House Speaker Charles McCall said he won't hear any of the Senate's education proposals if the House plan is amended. Can the House plan pass the Senate without amendments?
Sen. Greg Treat: I thank you for that. I'm going to answer your question here in a second. But first off, that's not the way the process works. It's a bicameral legislative process in Oklahoma. We're not Nebraska. Each chamber gets an equal say. There's a reason there's a Senate author and a House author on every bill. We're co-equal partners in this arrangement, and we will not be told that we cannot amend one way or another. The House plan, as it came over, would not pass the Senate absent modifications.
Shawn Ashley: You mentioned on March 9th that there were not 25 votes to pass the package as it is. What are senators’ concerns? Where are the disagreements over this proposal?
Sen. Greg Treat: There's a reason the phrase the “devil's in the details” exists. When you have kids in certain school districts that will get an additional $50 through the formula and kids in other districts get $745 through the formula, we're just trying to fact find and figure out how does this impact? Is it fair? Is it equitable? I'm obviously a school choice proponent, very much favor putting choice into the equation and empowering parents, but it's not at any cost. We've got to make sure 90% plus of the kids are going to continue to be educated in the public school system. We need to make sure it's robust and strong throughout the state, not just in specific areas.
Shawn Ashley: The Senate announced a comprehensive education plan before the start of the session. Senate Education Chair Adam Pugh was leading that effort, and many of those bills have passed out of the Senate. What are the most important education proposals in the Senate package?
Sen. Greg Treat: Yeah, thank you. I think that the teacher pay raise, as Senator Pugh has envisioned it, is very well thought out. It's a $3,000 raise for those five years and under, $4,000 raise between five and ten, $5,000 for ten and above, and it's just a really well thought out plan that was… You know, he went out to meet with superintendents, with school board members, with parents, with teachers throughout the state, and put in a lot of thought into his plan. So, I would say the Pugh plan, as far as education goes, maternity leave for teachers is extremely important. School safety measure by Duane Pemberton is something that we really…I put together a task force over the summer to look at school safety, a bipartisan group, and this is some of their recommendations. School board reform, getting more people engaged at school board elections. And there's a myriad of others, along with looking at the formula that currently seeks to equally distribute money throughout the state.
Former state Senator Gary Stanislawski had some recommendations we really haven't acted on in the last few years, and then LOFT (Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency) came back and doubled down on some of those recommendations during this interim. So, we're not just looking at one or two bills, we're looking at the whole plethora of bills that we're advancing. We advanced many of those on Monday. We advanced Senator Pugh's education payment plan or teacher pay raise today (Tuesday). And we're going to continue - we're not going to be bullied into not running Senate education priorities.
Shawn Ashley: Let's shift gears for a moment. After Volkswagen selected a site in Canada instead of one in Oklahoma for its electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant, you announced a plan to form a select committee to study the current economic landscape in Oklahoma in an attempt to attract more employers and major investments. Where are you in the process of selecting members for that committee, and when do you think it will get to work?
Sen. Greg Treat: I think it'll get to work next week, depending on when we get a chance to communicate to all of those. We've had breaking news out of the Oklahoma Supreme Court today (Tuesday) that kind of has delayed some of my ability to get around and talk to people. But I'm very serious about getting it, meeting and having those open and bipartisan. The members of the committee will be members of the Senate. The way the select committee process works in our Senate rules they need to be members of the Senate. That doesn't preclude me from having a parallel track with an advisory committee that may advise. I'm exploring that option right now.
I've had more interest in this than anything I've ever put out as a senator or the Senate President Pro Tem. I've had interest from all corners of the state, and I've had interest from all sectors of the state, from education to manufacturers, higher legal minds. There are a lot of people with a lot of ideas on why we haven't captured these last two opportunities. We're not going to get everything we go for, right. When you're going out to try to land new projects. You're going to fail more than you succeed, but if you don't learn in those failures, you won't get better. And what I'm modeling this after is - it's a bold thing to say – but I’m modeling it after Mayor Ron Norick. After United Airlines chose Indianapolis over Oklahoma City, they took a real reflective look at what Oklahoma City was lacking and we found out that there were some areas we could improve. And there's been a renaissance in Oklahoma City since they made those recommendations. And I hope this is transformative in that way, too. I want to applaud our successes, but I don't want to ignore where we failed.
Shawn Ashley: Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, thanks for being our guest on Capitol Insider.
Sen. Greg Treat: Thank you so much.
Shawn Ashley: For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at KGOU.org. Until next time, I'm Shawn Ashley.
Announcer: This is Chip Brantley, co-host of the NPR podcast White Lies. Before we found the man in Vancouver, before we sued the State Department, before we snuck into the graveyard of a federal penitentiary, all we had were the photographs - photographs of a group of Cuban men standing on the roof of a prison in rural Alabama. That's this season on the NPR podcast White Lies.