OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A battle is brewing between two high-profile Oklahoma lawmakers at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Oklahoma House releases Education Plan
In February, the Oklahoma House of Representatives released its two-part Education Plan.
The first part of the House Education Plan, or House Bill 2775, would give public schools $500 million in increased funding, and included raises for teachers and staff. There would be a $2 million cap for districts.
The second part of the plan was named the “Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit.” It offers private and home school students a tax credit to use on things like tuition, fees, tutoring, textbooks, and instructional materials.
It was estimated to cost approximately $300 million.
Parents with children in private schools would get a $5,000 tax credit per student, while parents with home schooled students would get $2,500 for each child. The money would have to be spent up front before parents could be reimbursed.
“This is a fully refundable tax credit that we’re talking about,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, (R-Atoka). “The taxpayer will have to retain all receipts, private school tuition and fees or qualified expense as at proof of the amount to claim the tax credit.”
After the House’s plan was proposed, several lawmakers and education advocates spoke out against the plan.
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, has questioned the bill and said it was not fair to lower income districts across the state.
“Especially when it comes to lower income students, an equal approach is not the right thing to do. An equitable approach is the right thing to do,” said Bennett. “The larger school districts in Oklahoma, including the one that I represent – OKCPS – will be negatively impacted by this.”
The Oklahoma Education Association argued that public funds should not go to private schools, but said it agreed with the first part of the plan.
After the measure was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, The Speaker of the House gave the Senate an ultimatum. He said if changes are made to his original education plans, then the House would not hear any new education proposals from the Senate.
Oklahoma Senate makes changes to Education Plan
After the measure passed the House, it was sent to the Oklahoma Senate. There, it underwent a few changes.
In the Senate’s new amendment to the bill, it planned to implement the state aid formula to determine exactly how much each school district would receive under the plan.
House leaders said that hundreds of school districts would receive less overall in the Senate plan due to using the formula. However, Senate leaders said their changes made it more equitable for school districts.
Officials said large school districts like Oklahoma City, Edmond, and Tulsa would earn less from the House plan because of the $2 million cap.
“The House basically said if you’re a large school district then your students are worth less than a small school district,” said Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada.
However, House leaders say the formula makes it so that 32 school districts miss out on funding entirely.
“In the urban sector, suburban or out in the rural parts of the state, we should be looking for policy that works everywhere,” said McCall.
Senators argued that schools left out of the formula already receive more money than most districts because of their ad valorum tax bases. Meaning their per pupil spending is some of the highest in the state, without the state aid formula.
Senate passes amendments to plan
On the Senate floor, two amendments were passed related to House Bill 1935 and House Bill 2775.
The House originally planned to have $5,000 be available per student of each Oklahoma household and $2,500 for homeschool children.
But the Senate made adjustments, increasing the private school portion to $7,500 per student and lowering the homeschool portion to $1,000 per household.
The Senate also added a cap on income in order to access the $7,500 tax credit. Oklahoma students would not be eligible if their parents’ combined income is over $250,000.
The second amendment passed by the Senate was for HB2775, the funding plan for public schools across the state.
$248 million would go towards increasing the teacher pay schedule:
- $3,000 for 0-4 years of teaching
- $4,000 for 5-9 years of teaching
- $5,000 for 10-14 years of teaching
- $6,000 for 15+ years of teaching.
For teachers that meet certain criteria, an additional $30 million is allocated to districts for another pay increase.
McCall said he still doesn’t support the proposals but will let the House Committee process play itself out.
“The policy in the House needs to include a win for every student, every parents, every school and every teacher in Oklahoma. The Senate’s plan falls short on all four fronts,” said McCall. “We’ll see what the Senate hands over and weigh it out on the merits of the ideas.”
Speaker of the House releases op-ed
On Tuesday, House Speaker Charles McCall released an op-ed about the bills titled “Senate Ed Proposal is a ‘Some Win, Most Lose’ Plan.”
In the op-ed, McCall says the Senate “carelessly” amended the proposals and “butchered” educational choices for parents.
He claims that the Senate eliminated all new funding for “32 rural school districts, reduce funding for 95% of school districts and significantly lower the investment amount for all school.”
Regarding the parental choice measure, McCall said that the Senate’s limits on tax credits for private and homeschooled families “destroyed the universal nature of the program.”
“Furthermore, the limit creates a marriage penalty and incentivizes families that hit the cap to divorce in order to qualify,” the op-ed read.
In the op-ed, McCall says the measures will fail when they head back to the House of Representatives.
“The Senate has indelibly trampled all over the House Education Plan and created a loss for Oklahoma, mostly on the backs of rural school districts. Their package no longer provides a win for every school, every teacher, every parent and every student in the state, and therefore will not be accepted by the House. Their short-sighted attack on rural education proves the House is the only body serious about investing in an education plan that works in all corners of Oklahoma,” the op-ed read.
Battle plays out in public eye
Following the release of the Speaker’s op-ed, leaders of the Oklahoma Senate condemned the move.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said that he believes the Speaker should spend his time negotiating with his counterparts in the Senate rather than airing his grievances in the public eye.
“It is unprecedented and unacceptable for a Speaker of the House to attack Senate members in their districts through the media. Other than proclaiming in a press conference that it was his way or no way, I have not received meaningful communication from the speaker either in private or publicly about real negotiations. The Senate has engaged in a thoughtful process that has resulted in a more significant teacher pay raise and a more responsible and more significant school choice plan,” Treat said.