We’ve had an incredibly busy start to this year’s legislative session. We just wrapped up week three and bills have been moving briskly.
One of those bills passing in the House this week was the $1,200 teacher pay raise. The measure now moves to the state Senate. This raise is part of the governor’s education initiative, so it is assured his signature once it reaches his desk. Combined with the $6,100 pay raise given to state public school teachers last year, this moves Oklahoma closer to having the highest teacher pay rate in our region.
Teachers are the No. 1 resource for children in our public school classrooms. By ensuring they have adequate pay, we can keep the best and brightest teachers in our schools and reduce the number of emergency certified teachers and long-term substitutes who currently serve our students. We also will be able to recruit more people to this noble profession.
Of course, teacher pay is only one part of the issue. Now, we can turn our focus to getting more money into our classrooms. House leadership has a slate of initiatives to address our classroom needs. These measures will begin to be heard in the coming weeks.
On another note, the state Board of Equalization met this week to certify revenue that can be used for the state appropriation for Fiscal Year 2020. The great news is we have a surplus. The Board certified just shy of $8.3 billion, which is $574.5 million, or 7.5 percent, above what was available for FY2019.
We have already dedicated a good portion of this surplus to education and to county roads and bridges. However, we must save a portion of this funding to protect us in years to come when the economy, again, experiences a downturn. We’ll be examining other agency budget requests to determine where the remaining surplus should be spent.
I know that rural health care, particularly our nursing homes, are in grave need of funding. I’ve drafted House Bill 1902 to deal with this issue. This measure would increase the Medicaid nursing home reimbursement rate to improve the quality of care for our nursing home residents. It also would improve staffing ratios, increase staff training, and incentivize nursing homes to improve care using a pay-for-performance model that would improve rankings on quality of care.
This bill is scheduled to be considered by the House Appropriations & Budget Committee next week (week 4 of the session).
One other bit of good news to focus on is the passage of House Bill 2484, which would create the Office of Government Accountability in the state Legislative Service Bureau. This office would perform regular audits of agency spending of taxpayer dollars and examine programs to make sure they are the ones most needed by Oklahomans. This goes with our commitment to increase accountability of spending your tax dollars.
I will keep you updated as the session progresses and please feel free to reach out to me with your questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling my office (405) 557-7327.