Several new bills will go into effect across the state next week, many of which pertain to education.
Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, and Sen. Frank Simpson R-Springer, discussed just some of the education legislation becoming operative July 1.
Senate Bill 441 will provide Oklahoma educators with a $1,200 across-the-board pay raise for the 2019-2020 school year, as well as expanded instruction hours that will go into effect during the 2020-2021 school year, Townley said.
Townley said she voted for the bill based solely on the pay raise. While she understands the need for expanded instruction hours, she believes the new policy will not affect much in that aspect.
The bill offers school districts three options to fulfill classroom instruction time, but even with a minimum of 165 school days, Oklahoma doesn’t measure up to most other states with a minimum of 180, she said.
In addition to SB 441, a bill addressing mental health needs in schools will go into effect July 1.
Senate Bill 446 requires that school districts develop resources to recognize, evaluate and address mental health needs among students. This involves the use of many community resources, including those from the Oklahoma State Board of Education and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“It is a good idea that’s going to require some work before that really goes into effect because a lot of research and a large amount of work has to be done before it gets where it needs to be,” Simpson said.
However, Simpson said strides are already being made towards developing these resources. Oklahoma District 42 Sen. Brenda Stanley was able to pass additional legislation that establishes a pilot program placing mental health professionals in local school districts.
The legislation provides around $150,000 to fund such professionals and should allow for there to be at least three placed within a school district, Simpson said. Lone Grove Primary School and Dickson Middle School are also looking at implementing mental health programs for students in the upcoming school year.
“That’s a program we hope works and we’re going to evaluate that and see how it works,” Simpson said. “But that’s one of the things that we need, is more counselors in our schools that have mental health expertise, not just academic, that can help a lot of our troubled kids.”
In addition, Townley said she was co-author for a bill that requires an annual training program of one to two hours to help educators spot signs of dyslexia.
“That’s so important, because with dyslexia, the earlier that it’s caught, children have less issues in school,” Townley said.
Often times children with dyslexia are bullied or seen as trouble makers simply because they are misunderstood, Townley said. House Bill 1228 will act as a refresher for teachers that will ideally help them be mindful of the issue and address it appropriately, she said.
Lastly, Senate Bill 33 added vapor products to the Tobacco-Free Schools Act, which prohibits their use on school property. This bill is aimed at limiting youth exposure to vaping products, amid increasing rates of use. In 2018, more than 3.6 million youth said they use e-cigarettes.