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IPPRA Directors' Blog: 2023 December Update

December, 2023

A Deep Dive into Oklahoma's 2023 Education Legislation: A Rollercoaster of Conflicts and Compromises

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The 2023 legislative session in Oklahoma was nothing short of a rollercoaster, featuring intense clashes between the governor and the legislature, the House and the Senate, and even Republicans among themselves. However, amidst the chaos, the session managed to produce a collection of education legislation that promises to shape Oklahoma's schooling landscape for years to come.

The ASPIRE Plan Unveiled: Governor Stitt dubbed the collection of legislation the ASPIRE plan, a compilation of nine separate bills born out of negotiation and compromise. At the forefront of this legislative bundle is The Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, a game-changer that provides vouchers for families to use toward tuition and fees at accredited private schools within the state. 

Three Standout Features: Oklahoma's voucher legislation distinguishes itself on three fronts. First, it operates through the tax code, administered by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Second, the value of the credit adjusts based on family income to address concerns of favoring affluent households. Third, the legislation sets hard caps on annual expenditures, providing assurance that the program wouldn’t blow out the state’s budget.

Balancing Act for Rural Concerns: Fears that the private school tax credits would primarily benefit urban and suburban students led to a strategic pairing with investments in public schools. House Bill 2901 injected an additional $500 million into the school funding formula, benefitting districts statewide. Furthermore, $125 million was allocated to the Redbund Fund, supporting districts with below-average taxable property wealth. One unnoticed provision in HB2901 links spending caps on Parental Choice Tax Credits to future spending on both public schools and the Redbud Fund. In effect, the legislation permanently linked state spending on public schools to spending on private school tax credits.

Benefits for Educators: In a bid to boost the teaching profession, the legislature approved paid maternity leave for public school educators and salary raises based on experience. These measures aim to attract and retain quality educators while indirectly addressing the teacher shortage.

Small Changes, Big Impact for Rural Districts: Several minor adjustments to school funding criteria collectively direct more dollars to rural Oklahoma districts. Changes include an increase in the transportation factor, a higher pupil weight for economically disadvantaged students, and a raised enrollment threshold for small school districts.

One-Time Expenditures: While most education appropriations are recurring, the legislature earmarked funds for a three-year School Resource Officer Program and literacy improvement initiatives.

The 2023 legislative session in Oklahoma may have been tumultuous, but it resulted in a compromise that, while not pleasing everyone, presents a comprehensive package set to reshape education in the Sooner State. From private school tax credits to rural district support and educator benefits, the legislation reflects a complex web of compromises and strategic decisions that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on Oklahoma's education landscape.