Oklahoma State Capitol

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

One week of session down, where do education issues stand?

Education will be an important topic for lawmakers this session. Here's what StateImpact will be watching

  • Robby Korth

It’s obvious that education is going to be one of the major focuses of Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session.

He spent a significant amount of time talking about the subject in his State of the State Address, Monday.

Lawmakers have made it clear that they’ll continue to have education front and center. 

Oklahoma’s Senate Education Committee has already met and advanced a dozen bills forward, including one to give teachers 12 weeks of maternity leave.

Last session, Republican leaders dubbed 2021 the year of Oklahoma’s education turnaround

The jury is still out on if Oklahoma’s education system is truly turned around. 

But a few policy changes making it easier for students to transfer, expanding publicly funded private school scholarships and funding tweaks were signed into law. Similar measures will be front and center this year, too. Though how exactly things are shaking out remains to be seen.

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

Students mill about in the band room at Santa Fe South High School, a charter school in Oklahoma City.

School choice 

Stitt has made school choice one of his priorities of the session. His Secretary of State even tweeted out a video of students from an Oklahoma City Christian high school parroting one of the lines from his address that in Oklahoma “we fund students not systems.”

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat has introduced SB 1647 – or the Oklahoma Empowerment Act – to expand K-12 scholarship opportunities. The measure would give more than $3,000 to students to spend on an array of educational programs, including private school scholarships.

A wide array of people, from Stitt, to local school choice advocates to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have thrown their support behind the measure. Notably absent in endorsing it though, was House Speaker Charles McCall, who sent out a statement Monday heaping praise on seemingly every one of Stitt’s policy priorities besides the school choice measure and limiting the effects of the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling. He told reporters Thursday afternoon that he doesn’t expect SB 1647 to be heard in the House if it makes it through the Senate.

Champions for the bill say these reforms give power to parents to make educational decisions for their kids. Critics say they’re just a further effort to weaken the public school system.

SB 1403 introduced by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, would allow homeschooled and private school students to enroll in public schools on a part-time basis.

School library

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

The library at Cherokee Elementary School in Tahlequah.

Curriculum content

Last year, one of the most hotly debated bills was HB 1775, which was the so-called Critical Race Theory ban that didn’t actually mention CRT. 

Currently, the state is being sued by the ACLU over the bill and received two unfounded complaints about CRT last fall.

Many bills introduced this session impact curriculum content both in Oklahoma and across the country.

It’s unclear how many actually have a chance, but they’re certain to get the attention of journalists and activists.

SB 1141 and SB 1142 – authored by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman – ban diversity training at colleges and universities and ban a portion of LGBTQ content from school libraries.

Durant Republican Sen. David Bullard’s SB 1125 would require schools to put all professional development training they give to teachers on their websites.

HB 2988 by Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland made headlines late last year because it would ban the 1619 Project from being taught in schools and was even condemned by journalist and architect of the project Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Livestream screengrab / Oklahoma City Public Schools

Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education meeting Monday, April 12, 2021.

School boards

Finally, school boards have been placed under the microscope in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SB 1582, authored by Treat, would allow citizens to recall school board members by petition.

SB 1621, authored by Edmond Republican Sen. Adam Pugh, would create a statewide Charter School Board and take away sponsoring authority from local districts around the state as well as universities, and the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and State Board of Education.

Another measure, that appears to be aimed at the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, is HB 2980 authored by Rep. Wendi Stearman, R-Collinsville. That would prohibit state appropriations from paying for membership dues to organizations that are in broader national groups. 

Stearman and others have been critical of OSSBA for not denouncing a National School Boards Association letter earlier this year calling on the US Department of Justice to investigate threats against school board members. OSSBA did not endorse the letter.

Oklahoma’s school boards group didn’t split from the NSBA, but Shawn Hime, the executive director, said he made his objections to the letter known. Any threats against a school board should be handled locally, not by federal officials, he said in an interview last year.