Education bills move through legislative committees

Michael Smith

The first education bills of the latest state legislative session passed through committee on Tuesday. Members of the House Education Committee made swift work of five bills, while their Senate counterparts approved nearly a dozen other bills. All bills approved in committee will move to the full chamber where they originated for consideration.

The Senate Education Committee considered and approved 11 bills, including an additional legislative attempt to tackle a shortage of certified teachers in Oklahoma. According to the bill sponsored by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, teachers who have a valid teaching certification in another state can be issued an emergency certification to teach equivalent subjects and grade levels.

Pugh said that existing laws prevent out-of-state teachers from applying to work in Oklahoma because of expensive and time-consuming roadblocks. “Currently, they have to get re-certified (sic), take competency exams and meet other requirements,” he said in a statement. “Under this bill, they’ll only have to get a criminal background check.”

Senate committee members also approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, that grants some certification exemptions if a prospective teacher is deaf. According to the legislation, which was co-authored by Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, the teacher must demonstrate proficiency in American Sign Language, demonstrate competency in a subject area, and also be sponsored by a certified deaf education instructor.

Bills considered by the House committee involved mostly minor changes to language, like removing specific instances to students possessing “low-point beer” and providing an exemption for some educators who have already started a career path into school administration. Another bill sponsored by Rep. Jadine Nollen, R-Sand Springs, clarifies existing law regarding online school offerings.

“Apparently there was just a little bit of confusion in the way the law was written before,” Nollen told committee members. Current law expressly bans school districts from providing online education materials as the sole curriculum for students outside of the district, but Nollen’s proposed change says school districts can provide online education to students within their district.

“Mainstream public schools can also provide full time online education,” she said.

Other bills considered by the House Education committee would allow for the collection of students’ tribal affiliations, and require the state education board to study potential changes to high school graduation standards.