Written by Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent
It is as American as baseball and apple pie: complaining about our elected officials. And while we have a constitutional duty to gripe about everything which does not perfectly suit us, we should also give credit when credit is due. As tough as last year was in Oklahoma, our legislators stepped up to the challenge at hand. No one survived the session unscathed, but public schools escaped the worst of it, and our legislators still managed to craft some very good education legislation.
They made it easier for out-of-state teachers to be certified with HB 2946 – a big deal in a teacher shortage, especially in a district like Lawton that relies heavily on teacher imports. The state also provided a little more flexibility in hiring and compensating new teachers with HB 2967. HB 3115 redefined textbooks for the state of Oklahoma, effectively opening the door to schools to buy the hardware necessary to use digital resources. Of course, we lost textbook funding this year (about $800K for Lawton), but it is an important move as schools transition to digital resources. As everyone knows, LPS has set aside over one million dollars for textbooks this year, so our teachers now have more options as they work with our principals to invest in the right resources. I am eager to see the path our educators forge.
In the sports arena, we added steps to protect competitors from concussions (SB 1164) as well as clearer guidelines to prevent recruiting violations for athletes (HB 2615). For student discipline, legislators adopted SB 911, a very practical law which allows schools to use campus site-service as part of discipline plans. We can now put students to work in their own schools when they misbehave, which is much more productive than suspending them. Elimination of the End-of-Instruction (EOI) exams through HB 3218 might be the biggest news for students, however; it also provides students who failed EOI’s hope for getting their diploma. And for increased success after graduation, HB 2535 allows districts to establish apprenticeships, internships, and mentorships for elective credit. Also known as the AIM bill, it originated right here in Lawton as a cooperative effort between our Chamber of Commerce, LPS, and Representative Montgomery.
On the teacher side, HB 2957, championed by our very own Representative Scooter Park, eliminates some of the impossible components of the teacher evaluation system. HB 2616 paves the way for increasing bandwidth to schools, and several smaller bills reduced red tape for districts. Not to be outdone, the Federal Government even made some improvements in education by replacing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA relieves several testing requirements and other mandates that robbed states of local control. Representative Cole, Senator Langford, and Senator Inhofe played key roles in ESSA as well as restoring a small amount of funding to Impact Aid, which is the Federal support for our military-dependent children.
Sadly, we lose Representative Ann Coody and Senator Don Barrington this year to term limits. We will miss them both dearly, but I cannot imagine that they will miss Oklahoma politics. Thank you both for your service! And thanks to all of our legislators for working so closely with Lawton Public Schools and surrounding districts in recent years. LPS hosts monthly legislative breakfasts during session to ensure that we all move forward with respect, collaboration, and common goals. The sniping, complaining, and armchair-quarterbacking will never end for these public servants, but we can occasionally engage in an activity even more American than apple pie: honoring those who have done great work. Of course, don’t get too comfortable; the next session is not far off, and we will all become political commentators once again.