Bill to create bipartisan review of school finance passes House

Rep. Chad Caldwell

ENID — A bill by a local legislator that would create a bipartisan commission to review the state’s education finances has passed out of the House.

House Bill 1578, authored by Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, passed the House Tuesday by a vote of 64-26. The bill, if it makes it through the Senate and across the governor’s desk, would establish the bipartisan School Finance Review Commission to review school finance, including the state’s funding formula, teacher pay and benefits, and administrative costs.

“In my opinion, education is the most important function of state government,” Caldwell said in a press release. “We must move past treating our schools and the education of our children as if it is simply a fiscal issue and acknowledge it for what it is — a moral issue.

“We, as legislators, parents, and Oklahomans have a moral imperative to work towards providing a quality education for every child, regardless of where they live. This bill initiates the conversation to help ensure our tax dollars are spent as effectively as possible.”

The bill specifies the commission would include appointees from the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, minority leader of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, and minority leader of the Senate. The commission would provide the Legislature with a report on school finance every three years, beginning Jan. 1, 2019, and sunsetting on Jan. 1, 2025.

Caldwell said the intent of the bill is not necessarily to unearth data on education finance — which already is extensive — but rather to remove politics from the process of analyzing and applying that data.

“There is a wealth of information available to people out there when it comes to education finance, and what we spend it on,” Caldwell said. “But, there’s a lot of interest groups supposedly measuring the same thing, and depending on what you include and don’t include, and depending on what your perspective is, you can really twist those numbers to make them represent what you want.”

Caldwell hopes to alleviate that effect with his bill by making sure both parties are represented in producing the commission reports.

“It was really important to me to make this a bipartisan, non-partisan commission,” Caldwell said. “With no elected officials and no special interest groups at the table, they really have a chance to step back from those political pressures to review the information and make a set of recommendations or findings to the state Legislature. It’s still up to us to act on that information, and we may agree or disagree, but it gives us another set of eyes and ears into what is happening with our state.”

Caldwell said he wrote the bill not so much to fix the current funding issues with the State Department of Education, and the state in general, but more so to better plan for the future.

“The goal is not to look back and see what we’re doing wrong, but to look forward and make sure we’re using our tax dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Caldwell said. “We need to be sure we’re using our dollars as effectively as we can for classroom instruction.”

Staffing for the commission would be supported from the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability and the State Department of Education, and the bill specifies a zero-dollar fiscal impact.

A Senate hearing of HB 1578 has not yet been scheduled. 

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