April 22 Legislative Update

Post date: Apr 21, 2011 1:45:36 AM

Here's an update on state education legislation as of 4/22/2011:

Pension System Bills

HB 2132 is awaiting consideration on the senate floor. It would require that any cost-of-living adjustments for participants in state retirement systems be directly funded by the legislature. The resulting change in the actuarial assumptions for OTRS, which now presume a 2% COLA (at a present cost of $170 million), would reduce the unfunded liability of the system but likely freeze pensions for existing retirees for years to come. Sponsors say the change would reduce the unfunded liability of the state's five retirement systems, now at $16.5 billion, by more than $5 billion.

SB 891 has been passed by the house and returns to the senate. It was amended to require school districts to pay the same 16.5 percent retirement rate of contribution to OTRS for part-time retired teachers as is paid overall into the system for full-time teachers. Currently districts pay a 9.5 percent rate for both full-time teachers and part-time retired teachers. But while full-time teachers pay another 7 percent into the system, working retirees do not. This bill would have districts contribute 16.5 percent on working retirees. The measure would not take effect until July 2012 in its current form.

SB 377 is awaiting consideration on the house floor. It would raise the retirement age for those entering OTRS after November 2011 from age 62 to age 65 and no longer provide a "rule of 90" early retirement provision for new members of the system. Existing members are not affected: there is no change to the "rule of 80" for those who entered the system before July 1992 and the "rule of 90" still applies to those who entered after July 1992 but before November 2011.

Note that on 4/22 the House passed SB 794 which is similar to SB 377 but addresses the Public Employees Retirement System. Currently non-elected public employees have the same set-up as teachers with a retirement age of 62 and a rule of 90. It was amended as passed to retain the rule of 90 for new non-elected public employees while setting a minimum retirement age of 60. So even if one met the rule of 90, one could not retire until reaching 60 years of age. Currently state and county elected officials follow the rule of 80 with a minimum retirement age of 60; the bill shifts the retirement age for such officials to age 65 for those with fewer than 10 years in office and to 62 for those with at least 10 years in office.

Teacher Dismissals

The governor has already signed HB 1380, co-sponsored by our own Senator Ford, stripping teachers of the right to appeal a dismissal to district court in trial de novo. A dismissal by the local board of education will now be final, although under federal law a teacher could still file a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination. Wrongful termination lawsuits are usually made on the basis of discrimination, retaliation, an employee's right to refuse to commit an illegal act, or an employer not following its own termination procedures. The law will take effect 90 days after the session ends, so likely in late August.

SB 534 from our own Senator Ford is awaiting consideration on the house floor. The latest version before the House makes the following strikeouts and italicized additions to the reasons for teacher dismissals:

Subject to the provisions of the Teacher Due Process Act of 1990, a career teacher may be dismissed or not reemployed for:

1. Willful neglect of duty;

2. Repeated negligence Negligence in performance of duty;

3. Mental or physical abuse to a child;

4. Incompetency;

5. Instructional ineffectiveness;

6. Unsatisfactory teaching performance;

7. Commission of an act of moral turpitude including, but not limited to:

a. an act of dishonesty,

b. sexual harassment of a student or another school district employee, or

c. threats to inflict bodily harm on a student, patron of the school district, or school district employee.

For purposes of this paragraph, the application of corporal punishment in compliance with school district policy shall not be considered the commission of am act of moral turpitude; or

8. Abandonment of contract;

9. Insubordination including failure to comply with a reasonable directive from administration of the school district of which the teacher is aware;

10. Failure to comply with the standards of conduct for teachers as adopted by the State Board of Education which is deemed to interfere with the continued performance of the duties of the teacher; or

11. Failure to comply with the policies of the school district.

Retention of Third Grade Students

The house has passed a version of SB 346, which now returns to the senate, to require students entering first grade in 2011-2012 to master grade-appropriate reading skills by the end of third grade to be promoted to fourth. Districts would be required to establish a reading program to offer intensive accelerated reading instruction to third graders who fail to meet standards and to each K-3 student assessed as deficient in reading. Exceptions are granted to students who have had less than two years of instruction in an English-language-learner program and to those with disabilities. Students not promoted would be required to receive intensive reading instruction through tutoring, mentoring, extended school time, etc.

Vouchers

HB 1744 has been passed by the senate, with amendments, and returned to the house. It would allow the State Department of Education to provide parents of special education students with so-called "scholarships" to attend private schools at public expense. The same program this school year led a number of Tulsa-area districts to decline to process applications, saying the existing law was unconstitutional.

SB 969 is awaiting consideration on the house floor. It provides "taxpayer credits" to effectively allow parents to send their children to private school, including parochial schools, at the public's expense. The scheme tries to avoid the unconstitutional public funding of private and parochial schools by allowing parents to effectively redirect some of their taxes from the public schools to their children's private school. Qualifications are that a student attend a school on the state department's "Needs Improvement" list or any student in a family with an income equal to or less than three times the amount qualifying for free and reduced lunches. Once a student qualifies, that student and any siblings continue to automatically qualify for the credit until they graduate from high school or are 21 years old.