Legislators Support Science Education Measure, Suspension for Violent 3rd Graders, Increase in Scholarship Income Limits

OKLAHOMA CITY (13 April 2017) – A state House panel narrowly approved a measure Thursday that ostensibly is intended to “create an environment” in classrooms that “encourages students to explore scientific theories,” but that critics contend is merely a back-door entry to teach creationism alongside evolution.

Committees in the House of Representatives also endorsed measures that would allow aggressive students as young as third-graders to be suspended from school, raise the family income limits for a state scholarship program, and repeal a state history assessment.

The Science Education Act

Senate Bill 393, the Science Education Act, passed the House Committee on General Government Oversight and Accountability on Thursday, three days after it was withdrawn from the House Committee on Common Education.

The vote was 4-3. Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, the lone Democrat on the Oversight/Accountability Committee, voted against the measure.

The legislation provides that its purpose is to “create an environment within public school districts that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.

The bill also mandates that school administrators “shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” Also, teachers would be authorized to help students “understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories…”

SB 393 declares that it just “protects the teaching of scientific information and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

The bill will be referred to the House calendar for a floor vote by the full House.

Out-of-School Suspensions

Senate Bill 81 would lower the grade level at which a student could be suspended from school for violent behavior: from the sixth grade to the third.

State law allows school officials to suspend a student for committing assault, attempting to cause “bodily injury”, or acting in a manner that could “reasonably cause” bodily injury to an education employee or a person who is volunteering for the school.

A violent student can be suspended for the balance of the current semester and the next consecutive semester, state law provides. However, the term of the suspension can be modified by the school district’s superintendent “on a case-by-case basis.”

When a student is suspended out-of-school for more than five days because of violent behavior, his/her parent/guardian is responsible for providing “a supervised, structured environment” in which the student must be placed, and the parent/guardian bears responsibility for “monitoring the student’s education progress” until the child is readmitted to school.

Also, school administrators must provide the student with an education plan that is designed for the student’s “eventual reintegration … into school.” That plan must provide “only for the core units in which the student is enrolled,” state statute stipulates.

The House Committee on Common Education endorsed SB 81 in a unanimous 13-0 vote and referred it to the calendar for a floor vote.

One Less Test

Senate Bill 2 would abolish the requirement to test high-school students on U.S. history, starting with the 2017-18 school year.

Current state law requires the statewide “student assessment system” to include an examination in U.S. history at least once “during the grade span of 9 through 12.”

The Common Education Committee approved the bill, 10-5.

Supporters of the measure included Reps. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, a retired school teacher/administrator; Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, a former high-school English teacher; Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, also a retired teacher/administrator; and George Young, D-Oklahoma City, who has five “traditional” non-charter elementary schools in his legislative district and who recently served as “Principal for a Day” at Lee Elementary School under the sponsorship of the OKC Public Schools Foundation.

“It makes no sense to require a state test in U.S. history when the ACT doesn’t require such an assessment,” Cannaday and Condit said.

Two former educators authored SB 2: Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, and Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa.

Scholarship Limits Increased

The maximum adjusted gross income limit for incoming college/university/postsecondary CareerTech students to qualify for an Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program scholarship would be raised by Senate Bill 529. Currently the limit is $50,000. It would rise to $55,000 in 2020-21, and to $60,000 in 2024-25.

The bill includes a restriction: Starting with the 2018-19 school year, no “Oklahoma’s Promise” scholarship awarded via OHLAP could be used to pay for any remedial, non-credit-earning courses.

Since its inception in 1992, the “Oklahoma’s Promise” scholarship program has helped more than 75,000 Oklahoma students earn a college education, records of the State Regents for Higher Education show.

SB 529 received a “do pass” recommendation from the House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee on a 9-1 vote. Supporters of the proposal included Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, and Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum. The sole vote in opposition was cast by Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa.


Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
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