A collection of bills that could reshape public education in Oklahoma passed the Senate on Tuesday.

Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, the education committee chairman, said he authored the bills after meeting with 200 educators, parents and other stakeholders concerned about how to improve Oklahoma’s education system.

In his meetings, Pugh said he learned the top concerns and issues that Oklahomans want addressed to have the greatest impact on schools and educational outcomes.

“It quickly became apparent that we needed to focus on four areas – recruiting, retaining and rewarding our dedicated teachers and schools, along with making reforms to our State Aid Formula and critical programs like early childhood literacy and STEM preparedness,” Pugh said.

The cost of implementing the four areas is $541 million.

Three bills address the state’s ongoing teacher shortage by creating a scholarship program for education students, rewarding mentors and reimbursing those who gain multiple certifications.

SB 529

This bill would create the Oklahoma Teacher Corps Program to cover tuition and fees for each student who enrolls in an Oklahoma college or university, declares a major in an approved program leading to a standard teaching certificate and agrees to teach for four consecutive years in a Title I school district.

SB 522

This bill directs the Oklahoma State Department of Education to provide $500 annual stipends to educators who mentor first year teachers or those in their first year in that particular district.

SB 525

This bill would reimburse teachers who take other subject area certification exams required by school districts to teach additional subjects. The district would reimburse the teacher for each exam passed. 

Co-author Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, who presented the bill, is a former teacher who paid for numerous certifications out of his own pocket.

“This is a great bill and one that will provide much-needed financial assistance to those educators who go above and beyond to get multiple certifications to teach more subject areas,” Bergstrom said. “As districts continue struggling to fill teaching positions, this will help incentivize educators to get certified in more than one area and help schools be better able to fill specific positions.”

SB 531

Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, worked with Pugh to craft this bill, in addition to creating the Rewarding Student Outcomes Act that would provide bonuses to school districts, charter schools or virtual charters that have at least a one-percent increase in the number of graduates who demonstrate college, career or military readiness above the preceding school year.

These bonuses include a $1,500 award for every economically-disadvantaged graduate and a $500 award for every non-economically disadvantaged graduate.

Under this bill, chronic absenteeism would no longer be a factor, as it would modify the A-F accountability system. Rather, the focus would be on a “school climate survey.”

“We must reward those school districts that are truly investing in our youth and preparing them for whatever path they pursue whether it is going to college, into the military or straight into the workforce,” Garvin said.

SB 359

Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, the State Aid funding formula would require that the initial allocation of state aid be based on ad valorem tax revenues that are collected during the preceding fiscal year, rather than adjusted assessed valuation.

The Department of Education would be directed to retain four percent of total appropriations to make midyear adjustments, rather than 1.5%. In addition, the bill would modify the calculation of Foundation Aid and Salary Incentive Aid by removing language regarding the previous year’s protested ad valorem tax revenue.

Another focus for Pugh is ensuring that all Oklahoma students are on reading level by the fourth grade.

“Being able to read is the foundation of all learning, and we need to ensure that our students have all the tools they need to succeed,” Pugh said. “This starts with them reading at level by the 4th grade, and this task force will ensure we’re making the necessary investments to make that happen.”

SB 528

This bill would create an eight-member Early Childhood Literacy Task Force that would study and recommend literacy methods for students in early childhood and elementary grade levels. The committee would submit its report by November 30, 2024.

“These bills reflect the voices, expertise and needs of Oklahoma’s educational professionals, schools and parents,” Pugh said. “I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished and the outpouring of support from teachers, administrators, parents and others passionate about joining us to improve education in our state.”

Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, said although the bills won’t be seen in the House for several weeks, she is supportive of bills that protect public education and believes the public school system is the "cornerstone to our democracy."

“I am in favor of any legislation that supports public education and our teachers,” Ranson said.

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