Friday, March 17, 2023

Pugh's education reform bills pass Senate by overwhelming margins

Pugh’s education reforms pass Senate overwhelmingly

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 14th) – The Senate overwhelmingly gave its bipartisan support Tuesday to the first round of major education reforms that will be moving through the process this session. Senate Education Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, authored the bills after months of meetings with educators, parents and other stakeholders about how to best improve Oklahoma’s education system.

“For the past year, I’ve met with hundreds of superintendents, teachers, parents and school administrators, along with various education advocacy groups, to see what their top concerns were and what issues we can address to have the greatest impact on our schools and educational outcomes,” Pugh said. “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.”

Three of the bills would 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 creates 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 teacher preparation degree program leading to a standard teaching certificate, and agrees to teach for four consecutive years in a Title I school district.

SB 522 directs the 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 requires a school district that requests a teacher to take other subject area certification exams in order to teach additional subjects to reimburse the teacher for each exam passed. The bill was presented by co-author Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, a former teacher who had to pay 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.”

Another important area to be addressed is recognizing and rewarding those school districts that are continually improving student outcomes. Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, worked with Pugh on crafting SB 531 to create the Rewarding Student Outcomes Act to provide bonuses to school districts, charter schools, or virtual charters that have at least a one-percent increase in the number of graduates demonstrating college, career, or military readiness above the preceding school year. These would include a $1,500 award for every economically-disadvantaged gradate and a $500 award for every non-economically disadvantaged graduate. The bill further modifies the A-F accountability system by removing chronic absenteeism as a factor.

“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.

Under SB 359, the State Aid funding formula will be modified, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, by requiring that the initial allocation of state aid be based on ad valorem tax revenues actually collected during the preceding fiscal year, rather than the adjusted assessed valuation. It also directs the State Department of Education to retain 4% of total appropriations to make midyear adjustments, rather than 1.5%. It also modifies the calculation of Foundation Aid and Salary Incentive Aid by removing language regarding the previous year’s protested ad valorem tax revenue.

Pugh is also dedicated to ensuring all Oklahoma students are on reading level by the 4th 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 creates an eight-member Early Childhood Literacy Task Force to study and make recommendations regarding the teaching of literacy to students in early childhood and elementary grade levels. The committee would submit their 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.”

The Senate will be taking up additional education reforms ahead of the March 23 floor deadline.


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