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Senate Review

 

March 21, 2019

Several bills relating to public and private education were considered by the Senate during the last week of floor consideration.

Probably the most contentious debated education bill was SB 407, which relates to increasing the tax credit amount directed to provide scholarships from $5 million to $20 million for Oklahoma students to attend a K-12 accredited private school.

Tax credits directly reduce the taxes you pay on a dollar-for-dollar basis. An Oklahoma state income tax credit is like a gift card from the State of Oklahoma that you can use in exchange for paying your income taxes. For example, with a $1,000 tax credit from the State of Oklahoma, you do not pay the percentage of $1,000 in state income taxes.

Tax credits reduce the dollars going to the Oklahoma Tax Commission that could be used by the legislature for appropriation.

For this specific tax credit scholarship fund, the maximum annual tax credits allowed are $1,000 for individual filers; $2,000 for a family filing, and, for qualified business entities, a very generous $100,000 annually. 

Any private school accepting public tax dollars will eventually be required to maintain all public school accounting and transparency standards.

If the House approves SB 407, and it's subsequently signed by the governor, the donor amounts would dramatically increase. The specifics of SB 407 can be researched in detail online.

The issue of the quality of education provided to students by a qualifying private school was not the subject of debate on SB 407.  

The issue of the debate for SB 407 was that it would be directing more public dollars desperately needed to educate the 94 percent of public school children to the four percent that attend private schools. About two percent of students are home schooled. 

In 2018, HB 1010xx was enacted to pay for the teacher and support personnel salary increases in HB 1023xx and HB 1026xx. It was based on the assumption that a growing economy would provide continued funding. However, HB 1010xx did not consider that future tax collections would be reduced due to the tax credits provided in SB 407.

The debate over SB 407 now moves to the House.

Another issue that drew serious debate was SB 441. This bill would require public school districts whose local boards of educations have adopted the 4-day week to switch to a 5-day week. 

Since 2008, the Oklahoma legislature has allowed local boards of education to adopt the 1,080 hour school year, or the 180-day school year.

There are 92 school districts that have made the decision to use the 1,080 hours within a 4-day week. Most districts originally did this to save money due to the necessary reduction of state funding during the devastating economic downturn and collapse of the energy sector. 

After the first year savings, districts discovered they could hire and retain certified teachers by continuing the 4-day schedule. 

Legislators campaign that they support local control. Local boards of educations have adopted the 4-day week because they have determined it is a good fit for their communities. The problem with local control with legislators is accepting the decisions of locally-elected officials.

SB 441 will be debated in the next couple of weeks in the House Education Committee.

SB 57 was defeated last week by Senators. This bill was directed to stop virtual charter schools from providing recruiting bonuses to certified teachers to lure other certified teachers and students from traditional public school districts using state appropriated dollars.

In 1993, Oklahoma adopted a uniformed accounting system designated as the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS).  This system and the education line item budget does not allow for bonus money to be provided for recruitment purposes with State appropriated dollars. 

Of the many issues within the Oklahoma County Commissioner scandal that spanned from the 1950's-70's, providing bonuses using tax dollars was but one. If a quid pro quo of campaign contributions in return for play for play, a serious problem may exist.

The House and Senate bills that survived on their respective floors will exchange chambers next week for further consideration.

 

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