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StateImpact Oklahoma recaps the 2024 legislative session

Lawmakers gather for the 2024 State of the State Address by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Kriea Arie
Lawmakers gather for the 2024 State of the State Address by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

StateImpact education reporter Beth Wallis and health reporter Jillian Taylor talk with managing editor Logan Layden about some of this year's legislative highlights.

Education

This year’s legislative session didn’t yield the same magnitude of education funding that Oklahoma saw last year, but lawmakers did infuse $25 million more into the school funding formula. Policies from last year also got some attention: the budget includes a revolving fund for last year’s teacher maternity leave initiative — with a one-time supplement of $2.3 million and an annual commitment of $2.5 million — and a one-time allocation of $16.1 million to reimburse schools off of the funding formula for last year’s mandated teacher pay raise.

Lawmakers continued last year’s focus on teacher recruitment, setting aside nearly $2.7 million to pay student teachers and $8.5 million to scholarships for future teachers. But while some initiatives to retain educators gathered momentum, two initiatives that got far along in the process still failed to make it to the finish line: stipends for support staff and an increase on the earnings cap for retired teachers who return to the classroom.

But the budget for the State Department of Education hasn’t been signed by the governor yet, and a stipulation banning the department from using state funds on media or public relations campaigns has earned pushback from State Superintendent Ryan Walters.

College-bound Oklahomans could also see a boost to help them achieve their postsecondary goals: House Bill 1795, known as the “Sergeant CJ Nelson Act,” has been sent to the governor. It provides a waiver for fees, room and board at state colleges and universities for children of emergency responders who died in the line of duty.

The state income-based tuition waiver program, Oklahoma’s Promise, is also getting a few expansions: Senate Bill 1328 has been sent to the governor’s desk, and it would widen aid access for students who have completed core curriculum to go to CareerTech programs. Senate Bill 11 gives incarcerated individuals access to the waiver program in certain circumstances.

The governor also approved House Bill 3792, called the “Oklahoma Access and Achievement Act,” which expands the program’s eligibility to students with intellectual disabilities to attend CTP programs at higher education institutions — a similar measure, Senate Bill 1624, will expand the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant program to also include students at CTP programs. Senate Bill 1302 will allow students with financial need placed in DHS custody at any point during eighth through twelfth grades to apply for aid before graduation — rather than being cut off at 16 years of age.

K-12 curriculum and credit requirements also saw some significant changes. House Bill 3278 will shake up graduation requirements: it ups the math requirement from three to four years and removes requirements for fine art and world language courses. House Bill 2158 expands financial literacy requirements from coursework only, taught during or after seventh grade, to instead a half-credit requirement that must be taught between tenth through twelfth grades and include subjects like retirement planning and credit scores.

The conversation around how educators teach kids to read is re-emerging, and in Oklahoma, Superintendent Walters has emphasized the need for science of reading training for teachers — going so far as to demand it from Tulsa Public Schools — which, as of the May State Board of Education meeting, has reached 100% completion of training elementary and secondary teachers.

Lawmakers are also going all-in on science of reading techniques, which centers learning around phonemic awareness over other less effective methods. Senate Bill 362 is awaiting the governor’s signature, and it would overhaul what was the Reading Sufficiency Act — renamed the “Strong Readers Act.” It would create the Statewide Literacy Revolving Fund for training science of reading methods, ban schools from using the “three-cueing” system, bolster student screenings for reading deficiencies and require future early childhood or elementary teachers to pass a reading instruction test.

One controversial measure signed by the governor is House Bill 1425, which directs school district boards to adopt policies that excuse students from school for up to three class periods a week for off-campus religious or moral instruction. The bill forbids any district personnel, equipment or resources from being used to facilitate students opting to use this program, and students may be awarded elective credit for their time. The measure prompted the Satanic Temple to announce its Hellion Academy of Independent Learning may soon be available in Oklahoma.

Finally, State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ slew of administrative rule proposals advanced to the governor’s desk, even though the House opted not to vote on it. The rules include tying districts’ accreditation statuses to test scores, adopting a Declaration of Foundational Values for the State Board of Education to guide decision-making and penalizing districts that maintain active employment of teachers under investigation for certificate revocation if those investigations conclude with a revocation.

Health

Although abortion is virtually illegal in Oklahoma, some lawmakers aimed to further restrict it and strengthen fetal rights during the state’s legislative session. But their proposals lost momentum as this session carried on.

House Bill 3013 sought to target people who deliver or mail abortion-inducing drugs to mothers. The penalty for “abortion trafficking” would have cost up to $100,000 in fines, ten years in prison, or both, but the bill died in the opposite chamber.

House Bill 3002 moved a bit further but died before it reached the Senate floor. It would have extended rights to a woman’s unborn child, saying it could also be a victim of battery, and aggravated assault and battery.

Some lawmakers expressed concern about the potential impacts it could have on fertility treatments, saying an unlawful use of force could apply in situations where damage occurs to an embryo during treatments. This conversation came not long after legislation in Alabama that caused fertility clinics to shut down because they feared lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

Some laws related to reproductive and sexual health did make it through this session. House Bill 2152 requires hospitals to make a reasonable effort to report all maternal deaths to the Chief Medical Examiner within 72 hours.

A once-optional practice is now mandatory under the legislation — reported deaths must be investigated. The results from those reports will be sent to the Oklahoma Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which meets to review pregnancy-associated deaths and work on ways to prevent them. The goal is to help Oklahoma address its growing maternal mortality rate.

Senate Bill 1491 is bringing a practice to Oklahoma that’s already legal in 46 states. It’s called expedited partner therapy, which is a harm-reduction strategy that allows patients to provide their partners with medications they’ve been prescribed to treat sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis. They would get their prescriptions from health care providers defined in legislation, allowing sexual partners to receive treatment without being evaluated.

Other health legislation that saw success fell in the area of mental health. House Bill 3015 will lower the hour requirement for supervised practice from 4,000 to 3,000 for three social work licenses, making the state more competitive with hour requirements nationwide.

Oklahoma’s estimated 6,000 licensed social workers are only meeting about two-thirds of the state's mental health needs, and this legislation will help them get to work faster.

House Bill 3449 expands the scope of the Oklahoma State University Medical Authority Behavioral Health Workforce Development Fund and establishes the University Hospitals Authority Behavioral Health Workforce Development Fund. Both funds could help implement a pilot program at behavioral health facilities to invest in and support behavioral health workforce development.

Both can be used for things like training programs, scholarships, grants and psychiatric and psychological residencies.

Some bills related to fighting the opioid epidemic were also considered this session passed. Senate Bill 1344 requires state agencies to secure funding for education and health care services related to nonopioid alternatives.

If requested, these agencies will also assist schools, cities, counties, and public trusts that receive grant funding under the Political Subdivisions Opioid Abatement Grants Act in developing and implementing plans to counteract the state’s opioid crisis. Currently, 71 of these groups have been awarded grants.

A measure that’s currently sitting on the governor’s desk is House Bill 2924, which would appropriate nearly $26 million to the Oklahoma Opioid Abatement Revolving Fund in the Office of the Attorney General from the Legislature-controlled Opioid Lawsuit Settlement Fund. A $20 million portion would be budgeted toward future grants.


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Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
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