OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislative leaders on Tuesday vowed to continue the funding strides made earlier this year in education, but they also hope to work on reforms.
Senate President Pro Tem-designate Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said there is a lot of “fear mongering” going on, at least on social media, that the Legislature will back out of investments made in education.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Treat said. “We are committed to that teacher pay raise. We are committed to that large investment — the largest investment increase in state history.”
“Yes, there will be more funding for education this year will be my guess,” said House Speaker-designate Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “I think that is a priority for all of us.”
The remarks came during the State Chamber’s annual Public Affairs Forum.
About 540 people attended the event at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
Lawmakers in special session earlier this year passed bills to hike taxes on tobacco, gross production and fuel to pay for a teacher pay raise.
Lawmakers will have to wait until later this month to learn from the Board of Equalization projections on available state revenue and how much a surplus the state will have, McCall said.
“We need to look at educational outcomes,” McCall said. “Everyone in the state agrees we want to have better educational outcomes. That is what will benefit the state in the future.
“And those are things on both sides of the ledger. Yes. Money is a part of that but also you have to look at structure. You have to look at change in terms of making our educational system make some changes for better outcomes.”
House Republicans will hold a retreat next week, he said. He believes the caucus agenda will be rolled out early next month.
Treat agreed with McCall that lawmakers also needed to look at reforms.
“We have to agree on what those reforms will be,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader-designate Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said the revenue for the teacher pay raise was critical and a good start, but the state is still a decade behind due to prior cuts to common education and higher education.
“It didn’t stop the bleeding I think to the extent we all hoped it would, but it certainly slowed it down,” Floyd said.
The state still needs to reduce class sizes and ensure schools have the support staff needed, she said.
Voters in June approved State Question 788 to legalize medical marijuana. Lawmakers formed a working group to seek input on implementation and fix gaps in the new law.
The working group sent the recommendations, mainly dealing with testing and labeling, to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Treat said.
McCall said he believes legislation will be filed as a result of the recommendations from the working group.
“I think if you look at every state in the union that has gone down this path, there has not been one piece of legislation that has been a silver bullet that has addressed everything,” McCall said. “States continue to come back year after year and adjust their laws in this realm. This is certainly uncharted territory for the state of Oklahoma.
“But you will see I think a very good, solid framework put in place in legislation that we will build upon and hopefully have just minor adjustments moving forward.”
Medical marijuana is a complicated issue with implications for businesses, law enforcement, and in a variety of areas, Treat said.
“So you will see us continue to work on it this session,” Treat said. “My hope is that we will do something very early to show our commitment to that working group’s work product.”