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State Education Department rules expected to pass as Oklahoma House hands them to the governor

The Republican majority in the Oklahoma House decided internally not to vote on administrative rules from the state Department of Education. The lack of legislative action means Gov. Kevin Stitt gets to decide whether to pass the rules.
Janelle Stecklein
Oklahoma Voice
The Republican majority in the Oklahoma House decided internally not to vote on administrative rules from the state Department of Education. The lack of legislative action means Gov. Kevin Stitt gets to decide whether to pass the rules.

There was one glaring exception to the dozens of bills and resolutions the state House considered on its final day of the 2024 legislative session — administrative rules from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Lawmakers did not take up the controversial set of 20 rules, meaning they will go straight to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who gets to decide whether to approve them. Stitt has yet to deny any rules from state Superintendent Ryan Walters’ administration.

The usually dry rulemaking process gained significant attention because of the potential impact the regulations could have on school accreditation. One of the rules would tie a school’s state test scores to its accreditation status, meaning low-performing schools could see their standing with the state drop.

Walters said the rule is necessary to place a greater focus on academic results. Critics of the rules said it would unfairly punish schools with higher numbers of students living in poverty and children with disabilities.

As the days ticked down before the Legislature’s final day of session, it became increasingly clear the rules would not get a hearing on the House floor.

Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the Republican majority decided internally not to vote on the matter after the rules passed out of committee.

“Our caucus decided not to,” McCall said. “And so with respect to the rules for the state Department of Education, those will go into effect as the (Oklahoma State Board of Education) passed them.”

Had the House approved them, the Senate then would have had a similar decision to make — vote on the rules or let the governor decide.

The Senate’s leader, President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said he thinks his chamber would have voted on the rules if it had the opportunity to do so. But he said the Republican caucus had a “mixed bag” of opinions.

“There were some people disappointed they didn’t get a chance to vote on it, but there were some other people that were equally glad that they didn’t have to vote on it one way or another to be honest with you,” Treat said.

House Democrats voiced frustration at their chamber’s inaction. Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, said lawmakers received “overwhelming requests” to block the accreditation rule.

“This shirks the responsibility of the Oklahoma Legislature,” Provenzano said.

Some fear that lowering schools’ accreditation paves the way for school closures or a state takeover in struggling districts, though the rules do not describe this scenario.

Other regulations bound for the governor’s desk include a rule even Republican lawmakers hoped to eliminate.

Some GOP members of the House Administrative Rules Committee opposed allowing the Classic Learning Test, which isn’t widely accepted at Oklahoma colleges, to count toward academic scholar and seal of biliteracy awards. It was the only Education Department rule the committee’s Republican majority agreed to reject.

But the committee’s resolution never made it to the House floor, so the entire package of rules will instead continue to Stitt, who is expected to have a friendly pen.

The lengthy list of regulations adds new “foundational values” for the state Education Department that make multiple references to “the Creator.”

Other rules include potential punishment for schools that continue to employ educators under investigation of wrongdoing, permission to fire teachers who engage in acts that “promote sexuality” within view of a minor and the removal of automatic approval for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association to give school board training, among several others.

In a social media post, Walters said the rules “would raise academic standards, protect students from predators, and remove unethical favoritism towards 3rd-party education associations.”

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.
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