Civics, Dyslexia, Unfunded Mandates, Administrative Co-Ops, Incidence/Distribution of State Taxes Debated in House

OKLAHOMA CITY (20 January 2017) – Legislation to require students to be knowledgeable about civics, to eliminate unfunded mandates on schools, and to track the incidence and distribution of state taxes, were debated Monday in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Civics Knowledge Recommended

Legislation that would require all students to pass a civics exam in order to graduate from high school or receive a GED diploma cleared a House committee Monday in a split vote.

House Bill 1941 by Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, was endorsed 10-4 by the House Committee on Common Education.

The legislation provides that starting with the 2018-19 school year, all Oklahoma school students would have to take and pass the United States Citizenship Test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Baker, vice chair of the Common Education Committee, said the course materials and test are available on-line, free of charge. “Nothing would have to be purchased,” she said.

The civics exam consists of 100 questions; a minimum score of 60% would be required to pass. A student could retake the test “as many times as necessary for passage,” the bill stipulates. “They can take it as many times as they need in order to be proficient by the time they graduate from high school,” Baker said. The test “creates a basic understanding of our government and the importance of civic engagement,” she told the committee.

“For the last few years we have decreased testing” for Oklahoma school students, said Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, a former teacher. “What’s the need for this?”

“Only 24% of high schoolers are proficient in civics,” Baker said. “Immigrants to our country know more about our government than American students do.” The dictionary defines civics as the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works.

Democrat Rep. Mickey Dollens, a former classroom teacher at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, indicated that all elected state officials should be required to take and pass the test, too.

Oklahoma students are required to take and pass a U.S. history class, but are not required to pass a U.S. history test, in order to graduate from high school, according to Carolyn Thompson, director of government affairs for the State Department of Education.

Forbidding Unfunded Mandates

House Bill 1115 would prohibit the Legislature from imposing new mandates or amending existing ones “in a way that increases costs on public school districts” unless sufficient funding is provided to pay for them.

“I appreciate the intent behind this, but couldn’t we just vote ‘no’” on new mandates?, asked House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

HB 1115 is intended to be “a reminder for future legislators,” replied Rep. Avery Carl Frix, R-Muskogee, author of the proposal.

The Appropriations and Budget Committee passed the measure, 24-0, and referred it to the House calendar for a floor vote. All House Democrats on the committee – Reps. Emily Virgin of Norman, Steve Kouplen of Beggs, Ben Loring of Miami, Eric Proctor of Tulsa, Jason Dunnington of Oklahoma City, and Inman – supported the bill.

Cost-Saving Co-ops Proposed

A measure endorsed by a House panel Monday would encourage school districts to identify “any possible cost-sharing administrative co-ops” that could be implemented with “neighboring” school districts.

House Bill 1236 received a do-pass recommendation on a 9-1 vote by the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education. Members of that panel include Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, a former school teacher/administrator; Rep. Regina Goodwin and Rep. Monroe Nichols, both D-Tulsa.

HB 1236 now advances to the full A&B Committee.

At a minimum the report would identify potential savings through the use of administrative co-ops or other cost-sharing agreements “in the areas of personnel, licensing, professional and overhead/transportation costs” through an “administrative unification of multiple districts.”

The bill stipulates that no school district would be compelled to dissolve or consolidate with another district if HB 1236 were enacted.

The bill would direct the State Board of Education to develop rules for the creation of awards for school districts that implement “administrative co-op plans.” No less than 75% of any savings reported from the proposal would be earmarked for salary increases for teachers and other school personnel at the participating schools.

Dyslexia Task Force Proposed

An amended version of House Bill 2008 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would create the Dyslexia and Education Task Force.

Over the next year and a half the 19-member panel would create a handbook that would “provide guidance for schools, students and parents in identification, intervention and support” of students afflicted with dyslexia.

The bill was approved 15-0 by the Common Education Committee on Monday.

Also Monday, Dyslexia Awareness Day was observed at the State Capitol, and Decoding Dyslexia OK held a news conference. Dyslexia is a reading disorder.

5-Day School Weeks Debated

A measure that would require most of the school year to consist of five-day weeks was held over to next week because of questions and some suggested tweaks of the proposal.

House Bill 1684 would mandate that 80% of a school year “shall consist of five-day school weeks,” with “not less than six hours devoted to school activities” each of those days.

A local school board could elect to extend one or more school days to more than six hours in order to reduce the number of school days “for up to 20% of the school year,” so long as the total amount of classroom instruction time amounted to at least 1,080 hours per year, HB 1684 provides.

Report on Incidence, Distribution of State Taxes

A biennial report on the incidence and distribution of state taxes would be developed by the Oklahoma Tax Commission under a measure approved Monday by a House panel.

House Bill 2209 was approved 4-0 by the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on General Government. It now will be referred to the entire A&B Committee.

HB 2209 would require the state Tax Commission to submit to the Legislature every other year a report on “the overall incidence” of income and sales taxes and other excise taxes. The report would have to include data:

  • about “overall income distribution,” using some “appropriate” measure of equality and inequality;
  • by income classes;
  • about “other appropriate taxpayer characteristics.”

HB 2209 also would direct the Tax Commission to prepare “an incidence impact analysis” of the effect on “representative taxpayers” of any legislative measure that would increase, decrease or redistribute state taxes by more than $20 million.



Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
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