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After mediation, GOP leaders roughly $50 million apart from education deal

After mediation, GOP leaders roughly $50 million apart from education deal

After nearly three months of acrimonious negotiations between the House and the Senate over a massive education funding and reform package, leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature have made significant progress toward a deal that would pump upwards of $600 million into public education and create new refundable tax credits for private school and homeschool families.

While last week ended with Senate and House leaders grousing about their counterparts in dueling press conferences, negotiations resumed and made headway Monday at the Governor’s Mansion just east of the State Capitol. Lawmakers entered the year with more than $1 billion in additional recurring revenues they could appropriate and about $4 billion in state savings accounts. Questions about economic development opportunities and calls for tax cuts have combined with requests for teacher pay raises and school choice  reforms to shape this year’s session.

For about eight hours, former Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor served as a mediator over the education negotiations among the three legs of the proverbial political stool:

  • House Speaker Charles McCall (who brought his chief of staff, Rick Rose, and House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols);
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (who brought his chief of staff, Jeff Peters, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Adam Pugh); and
  • Gov. Kevin Stitt (who brought his chief of staff, Brandon Tatum, and Secretary of State Brian Bingman).

With a portion of time dedicated to shuttle diplomacy between the Senate (upstairs) and the House (downstairs) in the Governor’s Mansion, the McAlester attorney’s Monday mediation helped break the policy logjam that has turned this year’s regular session into one of Oklahoma’s least functional efforts at self-governance in recent memory.

The House moved off of its demand to create the constitutionally questionable Oklahoma Student Fund, and the Senate agreed to reduce the teacher raise amounts and fund those raises even for districts “off” of the state funding equalization formula. As an alternative to the House’s desired “Student Fund,” negotiators developed a proposed “grant program” for funding school district innovations that would be prioritized for rural schools in its first year.

But that final portion of Monday’s negotiation was received poorly Tuesday in both Republican Caucuses, with rank and file legislators calling the concept confusing and bristling over the idea that Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters and the State Board of Education would be tasked with administering and approving applications to the grant program.

Read the complete article here.

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