Constituents air concerns about education, upcoming session

By Kaitlyn Dillard

Times Staff

 

Okmulgee residents were able to air some of their concerns with the budding legislative session last Friday during the Legislative Forum. 

Residents showed concern for the trend towards four day school weeks across Oklahoma, including Okmulgee Public Schools, and also voiced their worry about the continued budget problems in Oklahoma. 

House of Representative Scott Fetgatter, House of Representative Steve Kouplen and Senator Roger Thompson shared their hopes for the new legislative session in their opening remarks. 

After opening remarks, the first question was posed to the legislators concerning action on the tobacco settlement funds and how the legislators plan to handle it. 

“It was decided by the voters and will have to be changed by the voters, so we will have to put a referendum out there,” Thompson said. “There is quite a bit of money that is inside that account that they’re investing back in, like in Okmulgee walking trails, those type of things.”

Thompson made sure to reinforce that to change the way how the funds are handled must be decided by the people. 

Executive director of Deep Fork Community Action, Christie Baldridge, took the floor to express her concerns about the repercussions of yesterday’s national budget deal, due to one of the services Deep Fork offers, self-help housing, is directly affected by the budget. 

“People that are in the middle of construction or in the middle of closings. You know we have to say sorry we are going to have to hang on in the middle of construction of your house,” Baldridge said. 

Thompson assured Baldridge that supplementals or across the board budget cuts will help finish FY18.

Legislators then were asked of an overview that the new session will bring to the table. Fetgatter spoke on several bills that he is hoping to get through the house in this legislative session. 

“Personally, I have a house joint resolution filed to repeal State Question 640 from a 75 percent vote to a 60 percent vote,” Fetgatter said. “That is not just to be able to raise taxes easier, it’s so we can fix our antiquated tax codes.” 

Fetgatter also informed his constituents of two other bills he is currently pursuing this legislative session. Informing them that he aims to push through a bill that would tag Humvee vehicles, high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, for roads in Oklahoma, and of another bill that would amend controlled hunt application fees and lottery hunts for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. 

“I think we will see some legislation this year try to change the way we do business in Oklahoma,” Thompson said, taking over the floor to also respond to the question. 

A few of the reforms that Thompson mentions in his response are aimed at making the insurance commissioner and the labor commissioner unelected positions, while also either doing away with lieutenant governor or having the position run with the governor on one ballot. Other reforms would include creating a budget office to look at all the numbers within the agencies. Thompson was also interested in input on the second amendment and how far the law should extend. 

A question from Chandler Torbett turned the legislators’ attention to a new plan, Step Up Ok, that contains budget reform measures. 

Each legislator showed their a shared distrust of the Step Up Plan due to evolving nature.

Education was the last topic that attendees spoke to legislators about, expressing their worry about the trend towards four day school weeks and what that will mean for education in Oklahoma. 

“My personal feelings, if we don’t reverse this trend of four day school weeks, the only way it’s going to be done is statutorily and be required,” Kouplen said. “Cause we changed the rules three years ago to allow what’s happening today to happen, because of the snow storm and the ice storm we had that year and everybody was behind. So, we let them go to hours instead of days to try to make it up.”

Kouplen views the four day school week as detrimental to bringing in new businesses to Oklahoma but also sees it as an incentive to entice teachers into Oklahoma school districts. 

Attendees also expressed similar sentiments to Kouplen on the danger four day school weeks pose on education in Oklahoma. 

“Four day weeks are the absolute worst as far as curriculum, because so much of your curriculum is based on a five day week,” Mary Lewellen said. “You knock out one of those days and you either miss one of your steps in the learning process, or you miss a review day, or you miss some kind of instructional topic.”

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