Education legislation

Michael Smith

Lawmakers in the Oklahoma Legislature have filed hundreds of bills ahead of the next legislative session, with a slew of them involving the state’s education system. Many of the bills attempt to address a statewide shortage of certified teachers, while others look to update the education experience in the state.

Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, has filed two specific pieces of legislation regarding children of active duty military members. “Right now in Oklahoma, someone in active duty military being transferred into the state cannot register in public school until they actually have established their residency in the state,” he said.

According to Simpson, military members transferred into Oklahoma have to establish residency before their children can be registered in public school, which can take up to two weeks. Simpson, who also chairs the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, said the effort initially promoted by the U.S. Department of Defense is to help ease the transition for military families.

“This allows them to pre register...even though they may not have permanent housing yet,” he said.

A similar bill filed by Simpson adds language to existing state statutes regarding children of active duty military members and virtual charter schools. “The interstate compact on education for military children does not include language for virtual charter schools,” he said.

Charter schools remain a main target of proposed legislation before the legislature reconvenes next month. Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, filed two bills that would put more oversight on charter schools. Both bills would require a charter school’s sponsor to provide more detailed records of instruction time and administrative costs.

“These changes will help ensure our virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools are utilizing state funds legally and providing a high-quality education,” Sharp said in a statement.

A number of bills filed in both the House and Senate take various approaches to addressing a critical shortage of certified teachers in Oklahoma schools. Current law allows school districts to hire a teacher without certification for up to two years, but Senate Bill 1115, also sponsored by Sharp, would allow school districts to renew emergency certifications indefinitely with certain restrictions.

Another measure, House Bill 2853 sponsored by Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, would allow the Oklahoma State Department of Education to decide which school districts would have more rigorous standards for emergency teacher certifications. Still other measures filed by lawmakers look to attract certified teachers by extending the teacher pay schedule from 25 years to 35 years, or by recognizing some out-of-state teaching experience.

Simpson said he will spend the next few days researching other bills filed by his colleagues ahead of the legislative session. One education topic he said would be a priority is mental health in school.

“I am working with the Department of Education and Department of Mental Health, trying to determine where we’re spending our mental health money, making sure we’re getting the most bang for our buck,” he said.

The Oklahoma Legislature will reconvene on Feb. 3.