McBride, Hasenbeck hold Education Interim Studies

Mike Seals - August 19, 2020 11:50 pm

State Reps. Mark McBride, R-Moore, and Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, held two interim studies on Wednesday before the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education, over which they serve as chair and vice-chair respectively.

Both lawmakers hosted the first study – Exploration of Student and School Improvement Models and Digital Improvement Platforms – which looked at meeting the needs of schools, teachers, students and communities in the changing environment of digital transformation.

“Educators are working hard to navigate the challenge of starting back to school amid this COVID-19 pandemic,” McBride said. “Many districts are offering virtual or blended-learning models for their students in case they need to or just desire to work from home. But this has forced us all to take a look at what digital platforms are available statewide to make sure each student has equal access to rigorous education materials and high quality teaching so they are fully prepared for their future.”

Hasenbeck, a former teacher, said COVID exposed a need with which school already were grappling.

“Many of our teachers want to expand their digital learning knowledge, and COVID showed us they can learn these skills at the same time their students are learning,” Hasenbeck said.

“One thing COVID has done is infused more federal dollars into our schools so they can buy hardware and improve internet connections for teachers and students,” Hasenbeck said. “But this study is way beyond that. This is about increasing resources for our students and our teachers.”

She said just in the course of preparing for this study she and other lawmakers learned about many products that Oklahoma already has access to, but also others that will increase reading, math, science and other core skills in students.

Ryan Walters from Every Kid Counts spoke to the committee about the Learning Clearinghouse, with which his organization hopes to negotiate a statewide contract. This would be a place where students could log in to learn things they need to know. Hasenbeck said teachers could use this resource to help students who are either above or below grade level, so those students could be engaged while the teacher helps the rest of the class.

In the afternoon, Hasenbeck held a separate study examining teachers’ health insurance, retirement, retirement credit and flexible benefits and their ever-increasing costs.

“With term limits, we’ve lost some of the institutional knowledge we had in the Legislature about education budgeting,” Hasenbeck said. “I felt it was time for us to have this discussion to give all lawmakers a full understanding of everything that goes into a teacher’s benefits package and the true cost of each item. That way, when we’re having our yearly talks about the size of the education budget, we can fully distinguish between classroom dollars and teachers’ compensation.”

Hasenbeck invited a superintendent to detail the difference between compensation for a traditional versus a retired teacher. She also invited speakers to break down health insurance costs.

Mike Jackson, the new director of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) described how his office might be of use in the future to help lawmakers solve problems such as addressing the rising cost of state employee benefits. The State Department of Education also added to the discussion.


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