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Education policy, funding and administrative rules up in the air

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland

Oklahoma lawmakers are still at an impasse over education funding, and the future of proposed State Board of Education administrative rules has yet to be determined.


Announcer: 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. The last week was fairly quiet in the legislature as both houses focused primarily on committee work. Shawn, on Thursday, State Superintendent Ryan Walters urged the legislature to adopt the State Board of Education's proposed rules - that he wrote - that prohibit inappropriate sexual material in schools. The board approved those rules on March 23rd and sent them to the governor and the House and Senate. What does the legislature have to do with administrative rules and these in particular?

Shawn Ashley: Well, like we've talked about previously, administrative rules are the way state agencies implement the laws that the legislature passes, and all administrative rules are subject to review by the legislature and by the governor. The legislature will recommend in a joint resolution that certain rules be approved and that others be disapproved. And the governor either signs or vetoes those resolutions. The legislature can override his veto if they want to see a particular action taken on a specific rule.

Now, lawmakers have yet to consider the state Board of Education rules that prohibit inappropriate sexual material in schools. When they do, it's likely to be interesting. That's because Attorney General Gentner Drummond found in an attorney general's opinion that the state Board of Education and all state governing boards need specific authorization for their rules, not just the general authority to make rules. And the legislature has not passed a law related to inappropriate sexual material in schools. Drummond said rules approved without specific authorization would be null and void. So, it's going to be interesting to see how the legislature handles those rules.

Dick Pryor: Education policy and funding is the top issue in this legislative session, with the House and Senate remaining at odds over competing plans. How involved has State Superintendent Walters been in working with the legislature this session?

Shawn Ashley: Not very, according to some. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, Senate Education Chair Adam Pugh and Senator David Bullard, who authored the merit pay portion of the Senate's education plan, said recently that they didn't have any conversations with Walters about the plan. Asked if they even knew who the State Department of Education's legislative liaison was, they said they didn't. Now, Walters did meet with House Speaker Charles McCall on Wednesday, but we don't know exactly what they discussed. Walters also emailed lawmakers what he said were examples of pornography that had been found in Oklahoma public schools. But most of the schools denied that the books had been in their libraries, or if they had that, they had been removed. Walters was invited to attend a hearing before the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education to address issues like that. But he turned down that opportunity, telling the subcommittee chair that he would be meeting with parents who attended a school choice rally that day.

Dick Pryor: The Senate has not taken any visible steps to confirm Walters as Governor Stitt’s secretary of education, and here it is,April. Should we read anything into that?

Shawn Ashley: Not necessarily. Since 2022 was an election year, the governor's cabinet resets, if you will, and the legislature has yet to take up any of Stitt’s cabinet secretary nominations since he began his second term.

Dick Pryor: There are several bills still alive that would reduce the governor's appointment authority. On Thursday, a bill that would have reduced the number of appointments the governor makes to the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission failed in committee. Does that action signal anything about the potential fate of those other bills?

Shawn Ashley: Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney did not seem to think so Thursday. He's the author of House Bill 1403, which failed. McCortney says he was surprised how such a simple bill was generating so much controversy. Clearly, McCortney said, “there's a lot more going on, and whatever is going on I don't think applies to this bill.” A House bill that would modify appointments to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is awaiting consideration in a Senate committee and a Senate bill that recreates the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department's oversight commission is awaiting consideration on the House floor.

Dick Pryor: And very quickly, what do legislators have to work on in the deadline week ahead?

Shawn Ashley: There are more than 400 bills that could be taken up in committees in the week ahead. Those bills have to pass those committees before they can be heard on the floor of the opposite chamber. Like we've talked about before, there's still something for everyone out there, it seems.

Dick Pryor: Thank you, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org and listen to Capitol Insider where you get your podcasts. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Announcer: “It started as a normal day.” What if the truth about the greatest tragedy of your life was kept secret from you? “Huge explosion occurred.” This is the story of a scandal deliberately buried in the chaos of the Iraq war. “What really just happened?” Listen to NPR’s embedded podcast in its latest series, Taking Cover.

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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