We've reached the halfway point of the 2015 session.  One of the biggest events to date this session took place last Monday, when an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 teachers, administrators, parents, students and other supporters came to the Capitol to advocate on behalf of our public schools.
I was proud that so many took the time to come to Oklahoma City, sharing their concerns and views on issues ranging from funding to policies impacting the classroom.  Active citizen participation is exactly what needs to happen for our representative democracy to work as it should. It was a pleasure to host several large groups in my office from District 8.  We are blessed to have many good men and women teaching our children.
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One issue that has been a huge issue for both teachers and parents has been the amount of mandatory testing in our schools.   The goal is laudable, which is to make certain students are getting the education they need to succeed throughout life and ensure schools are delivering that education.  But the concern is that instead of focusing on teaching the breadth and depth of material students need to master a subject, teachers must instead focus on constantly preparing students for tests.
The Senate has approved two bills aimed at addressing this problem.  Currently, students must pass four of seven end-of-instruction (EOI) exams to be able to graduate from high school.  Senate Bill 707 would enable the State Board of Education to instead choose a standardized test that would replace these EOIs.  One possibility might be to simply have all high school students take the ACT.  This exam is widely used as an admission test for college, and the majority of Oklahoma high school students, about 70 percent, are already taking this test each year.  Senate Bill 708 would eliminate tests for grades three through eight that are only mandated by the state, but will retain those that are federally required.  Both SB 708 and SB 707 have been approved by the full Senate and are awaiting full approval by the House of Representatives.
I was disappointed that the majority of the Senate approved House Bill 1749, which would prohibit school districts from automatically deducting dues from teachers' paychecks for the Oklahoma Education Association and the American Federation of teachers. Even though teachers could set up auto pay for these dues through their banks, I opposed this bill for singling out educators.  Ending the automatic deductions won't save the state one dime, and other public employees will still be able to automatically deduct dues for their associations as before.  I think this was wrong, and unfair to our teachers.
Of course one of the main issues for those at the education rally was the call for additional education funding.  But with a $611 million dollar shortfall, balancing the budget this year is going to mean some hard choices must be made.  I am supportive of the Superintendent Hoffmeister's plan to increase teacher's salaries by $5,000 over the next five years.  In order to facilitate the plan, we must continue to make hard decisions concerning all areas of government and prioritize education as a valuable investment in the future.
The Senate has been conducting a series of hearings by the Appropriations Committee to scrutinize budgets of the 12 state agencies receiving more than 90 percent of all state appropriated dollars.  Our task is to identify areas of savings and determine how best to balance the budget while shielding core services, like education, to the greatest extent possible.
From my perspective, one fact must be at the forefront throughout the budget process; the money we are charged with appropriating, and that our state agencies use to provide services, belongs to the people.  We are merely stewards for the taxpayers' resources.  At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to determine how we can best use those dollars on behalf of our citizens, and the responsibility of the agencies to do the best job possible with the resources available.
Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government.  You can call 405.521.5588 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you.