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Oklahoma Senate Approves Education Spending, Reform Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday approved a dueling vision for public school reform that includes increased raises for teachers and a differing tax credit plan for private school and homeschool families.

Senators’ $630 million education funding plan differs from the ideas championed by the state House and could lead to a showdown between the Republican-controlled chambers that have starkly different views of what’s needed to bolster public school outcomes, recruit and retain teachers and increase school choice.

The Senate’s plan now returns to the state House.

Senate President Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said he hopes his House counterparts take the measure up, “take it seriously” and that “earnest negotiations” can begin.

The Senate’s plan invests:

— $284 million to give all teachers a permanent raise ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 depending on years of experience. State Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, said the average teacher raise is expected to be $5,300.

— About $100 million to provide $7,500 tax credits for private school families and $1,000 credits for homeschool families. A $250,000 income cap applies.

— $30 million to provide “qualitative pay” bonuses of up to $5,000 for the best teachers.

— A $216 million investment in the state aid formula that will be distributed equally across the state regardless of zip code.

“It’s time for us to begin working together … and work toward the common goal of funding education at historic levels and providing choice for kids who are perhaps looking for an alternative,” Pugh said.

Daniel Seitz, spokesman for Speaker Charles McCall, said the Senate’s version of House bills 1935 and 2775 will not advance through the House.

He said McCall, R-Atoka, though, is open to negotiations.

“We believe the House plan framework is the only plan that will pass through the House,” Seitz said.

He said McCall is looking for a plan that will work in every corner of the state, and McCall believes the Senate plan does not.

The House’s $800 million education package would:

— Provide $2,500 raises for all teachers.

— Distribute $50 million to districts that receive below-average funding from local property tax revenue.

— Make a $300 million investment in the state aid formula. However, no district would be allowed to receive over $2 million regardless of size, which means smaller districts would proportionally receive more funding per student compared to their urban and suburban counterparts.

— Create an uncapped $5,000 annual tax credit for parents of private school students and a $2,500 one for parents of homeschoolers. GOP leaders had estimated 60,000 private and home-school students would benefit from the plan, which is expected to cost up to $300 million a year.

State Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, said the Senate’s proposed tax credit plan creates a “separate and unequal system of schools in Oklahoma.”

She said they will be unequal academically, in accountability, financially, in accessibility and in equity.

Boren, who voted against the tax credit creation, said the state’s investment in private schools would likely be Top 10, while the state’s investment in public schools will remain Bottom 10 nationally.

Source : Norman Transcript