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3.14.23 – Oklahoma City

Bills to increase security in Oklahoma schools and to benefit teachers by, among other things, encouraging child care provided for school employees have made headway in the Oklahoma Legislature.

A measure that would appropriate $20 million for the Oklahoma School Security Grant Program passed through the Senate on Monday. Authored by state Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, Senate Bill 101 would channel money to be administered by the Department of Emergency Management.

“Oklahoma’s school districts have varying safety standards and levels of security,” said Pemberton, who chaired a bipartisan School Safety Working Group tasked with assessing school risks and vulnerabilities and coming up with plans to standardize building security and safety protocols across districts. “These grants will help schools afford any necessary improvements.”

As proposed by the bill, 85% of grant funds would be available for public schools, tech centers, and private schools, while the remaining 15% would be available to institutions of higher learning. To qualify, schools would have to undergo a risk and vulnerability assessment conducted by the Oklahoma School Security Institute and agree to expend funds as recommended by the assessment.

In a release, Pemberton noted that the OSSI was created on the recommendation of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut in 2013.

“Protecting the safety of our citizens is our greatest responsibility, especially when it comes to our children,” the lawmaker said. “The only concern our students and school staff should have (should be about) learning, never whether their well-being is in danger.”

The Senate also voted to advance Senate Bill 169, authored by state Sen. Todd Gollihare, R-Kellyville, which would require local first responders to take part in at least one security drill at schools each year.

Current state law requires all public schools to conduct at least four drills each school year.

“Having multiple drills is helpful, but if there was a real threat, I believe the students, teachers and administrators would be much better prepared if they have an opportunity to work with local law enforcement officers and emergency medical providers who would be on the scene,” Gollihare said.

Child care grants

Another measure advanced by the Senate, SB 16 by state Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, would create a pilot program to provide child care grants to school districts.

“As a former teacher and from speaking with other educators, I know one of the major problems is having access to child care or being able to afford it if its available,” Bullard said. “This will create a two-year pilot program where districts can apply for grants to either provide on-site child care services, contract with a local daycare, or help employees pay for such services. This is a common-sense benefit for families that will hopefully keep teachers and school employees in the workforce.”

A fourth measure, Senate Bill 332, proposing to modify the definition of career teacher, also has advanced to the House. Its author, state Sen. Jo Anna Dossett, D-Tulsa, said the bill would benefit younger teachers who might seek new opportunities early in their careers.

“This allows teachers the freedom of movement in those early years to pursue other opportunities without keeping them from attaining the career title,” she said.