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Democrats seek information about status of education grants

Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol


Announcer: Capitol insider sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association. Physicians dedicated to providing and increasing access to health care for all Oklahomans. More on the 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. Governor Kevin Stitt has finished consideration of bills sent to him during the 2023 regular session. Overall, Shawn, how many did he sign and how many did he veto?

Shawn Ashley: Governor Stitt signed 344 bills and joint resolutions into law and he also allowed 15 other regular session bills to take effect without his signature. Now, a bill becomes law without the governor's signature if he neither vetoes nor signs it during the five-day period he has to act on it while the legislature is still in session. Stitt vetoed 52 other regular session bills. Nineteen of those vetoes were overridden by both chambers. So those bills, too, become law.

Dick Pryor: What stands out about what the governor did?

Shawn Ashley: Probably Governor Stitt’s use of the veto pen. I can't recall any recent governor having vetoed more than 50 bills in a single session. Of course, 20 of those vetoes came in a single day in late April when he was trying to push the Senate to come to an agreement with the House on the private school tax credit and education funding plan. Many of those vetoes were overridden. But even if you take those away, those 20 vetoes, 32 was still a pretty high, but not necessarily unusual, number of vetoes.

Dick Pryor: The special session called to deal with the state budget is continuing. The House met last Monday. What did they do?

Shawn Ashley: The House voted to override Stitt’s veto of House Bill 1005X, a bill that permits tribes that have entered into motor vehicle registration compacts with the state to extend those compacts until the end of 2024. The House also adopted a resolution that would push back the required Sine Die adjournment of the special session to the end of July rather than June. So right now, we have this awkward situation where the House does not plan to adjourn the special session until the end of July, but the Senate is planning to do it at the end of June.

Dick Pryor: Do they have to get together on that?

Shawn Ashley: Yes, they will. The Senate is scheduled to meet June 26th, when it is expected to take up Stitt’s veto of Senate Bill 26X, a bill that permits tribes with tobacco tax compacts to extend those compacts to the end of 2024 and the veto override that was passed by the House of House Bill 1005X. And it will also need to consider that House resolution that extends the special session until the end of July. Now, the House has not yet said whether it will come in on June 26th or if it will wait until sometime in July to come back and take up the Senate Bill 26X veto.

Dick Pryor: Okay. That's perfectly clear. Not so much. House Democrats have asked the state auditor and attorney general to help them get information about the status of grant programs at the State Department of Education. What do they want to know?

Shawn Ashley: House Democrats have asked State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd whether grants previously received by the Oklahoma State Department of Education were properly spent or whether the state may have to pay back some of those grants. They also want a complete list of all current grants and a history of grants received by the department to ensure that the state is not missing any funding opportunities. Representative Trish Ranson said some of her constituents are concerned about the potential for reduced federal funding. They also want Attorney General Gentner Drummond to comment on any current investigations into the distribution of grant funds, such as the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund. An audit by the U.S. Department of Education's inspector general found more than $30 million of GEER funds may have been spent by program participants on non-education related items.

Dick Pryor: Why do legislators need to go to the AG and auditor to obtain this information? Can they not get what they want from the State Department of Education?

Shawn Ashley: Well, there have been some questions raised about the accuracy of some of the information Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters has provided the legislature, specifically regarding grant funding, during his appearance earlier this year before the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. Representative Andy Fugate, the House Democratic Caucus’s floor leader said, “the State Department of Education has been less than forthcoming.”

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.

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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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