The fate of Ryan Walters’ administrative rules for the education department rests with Stitt

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks Friday during his weekly media presence.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks Friday during his weekly media presence.

The fate of controversial administrative rule proposals for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, pushed by state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters, now rests with Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The Legislature has opted not to take action on administrative rules for any government agency before the end of the 2024 session, opting instead to shift the political football to Stitt. The governor, who mainly supported Walters during Walters’ time as secretary of education and now as superintendent, said Friday he has not yet decided what he will do.

“We have, I think, about 20 or 25 days,” Stitt said. “We are still assessing all of that. But I know we all want to improve education. We believe in responsibility. But as for the details of those bills, I’m still going through them. Our teams are going through it. But yeah, the legislature hasn’t acted on them, so those are on our desk and we’ll have a response here in the next 20 days.

The Legislature’s inaction on Walters’ administrative rules drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats, who have had little or no say in the process. Republicans have a supermajority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“Statutorily, that is our responsibility and we’re just passing it by,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, a member of the House Administrative Rules Committee.

The education rules saga has drawn attention to a little-known process of creating administrative rules

The process of drafting and approving administrative rules is often non-controversial and occurs out of the spotlight. But the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s aggressive rulemaking under Walters since he took office in January 2023 has raised concerns from both sides of the political aisle and at least two lawsuits, one over a rule on pronouns and another over who has the authority to determine jurisdiction. contents of school libraries. These rules had previously been applied and were not part of the package presented this year.

This year, the state education department submitted 53 administrative rule proposals for consideration. Approved included rules linking school accreditation to high-stakes student testing results, teacher conduct and a district’s policy on implementing the state-mandated moment of silence during each school day.

Walters, a Republican, has campaigned for legislative approval of the rules, speaking about the approval process at state Board of Education meetings and interviews with local media and once launching a lengthy thread on X (formerly known as Twitter).

Opponents have argued that Walters and the board do not have the authority to create new rules. They say the Legislature should first direct an agency to make rules on a specific subject. Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond wrote an opinion last year — which has the force of law without a court decision — reiterating that principle. Democrats, citing this opinion, argue that the rules created under Walters are void because the Legislature did not direct the agency to create the relevant rules.

Under the law, once administrative rules are proposed by an agency, the Legislature may approve, disapprove, or take no action before the rules are considered by the governor.

The Senate committee took no action; The House committee sent resolutions to the floor, but there was no vote on the House floor

The Oklahoma Senate held one meeting of its administrative rules committee during the just-completed session, discussing but not voting on the education proposals. At that meeting, Democratic Senators Michael Brooks of Oklahoma City and Mary Boren of Norman grilled Department of Education lobbyist Lindsey McSparrin on the legal rationale for the bills, and McSparrin often cited the agency’s belief that it has broad powers available when answering questions.

At times, McSparrin declined to answer questions at the time, instead telling Brooks, Boren or the committee chairman, Sen. Michael Bergstrom, R-Adair, that she should contact people at the Department of Education for answers. Bergstrom said McSparrin should provide all committee members with a written response to unanswered questions, which she agreed to. Those written responses were never made public and that Senate committee never met again.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, blamed the House of Representatives’ inaction on the proposed rules as the reason the House didn’t take action on them.

“It was a mixed bag of wishes for the caucus,” Treat said Thursday. “I think we would have adopted them if the House had sent them to us, either with approval or objection.”

Treat acknowledged that among senators: “There were people who were disappointed that they didn’t get a chance to vote on it, but there were also other people who were just as happy that they didn’t have to vote on it one way or another . honest with you.”

The House Administrative Rules Committee, led by Rep. Gerrid Kendrix, R-Altus, met twice after its Senate counterpart. The first meeting, like that of the Senate, consisted of discussion, but without a vote. Kendrix ultimately decided to separate its education proposals from those of all other government agencies and created several resolutions.

During the second House committee meeting, Provenzano and fellow Democrat Amanda Swope of Tulsa proposed a series of 10 amendments to Kendrix’s education rules resolution, which Republicans rejected on party-line votes. The one education rule proposal the committee rejected would have allowed an equivalency score on the Classical Learning Test, a standardized test for college admissions, to be given the same weight as a score on the ACT, another similar standardized test that has long been accepted by higher educational institutions. educational institutions throughout the country.

After that committee meeting, Kendrix said he hoped the resolutions would be heard in the House of Representatives, but cautioned: “I’m obviously not the chairman of the meeting and I’m not the speaker, so I have no control over what that means.” is. I am going to encourage us to continue the process.”

Kendrix’s fears proved justified, as the resolution was not heard by the full House. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, explained Thursday the reason for not doing so.

“Those bills came out of committee, our caucus met and decided whether or not we wanted to pass those bills,” McCall said. “Our group has decided not to do that.

“So with regard to the rules for the state Ministry of Education, they will come into effect once the council (of education) adopts them. The state inspector, those were the rules he presented to the board and they accepted them. The Republicans in the House of Representatives decided that as a group – and we mentioned it internally – but we decided just as deliberately, as the majority, that we would not consider disallowing those rules.”

Provenzano said this action effectively “killed the effort to protect our public schools from a political agenda that led to a state takeover – make no mistake. By incorporating high-stakes testing into the accreditation process, we link A-to-F report card grades to accreditation reports.”

Provenzano accused McCall and House leadership of not bringing the rule proposal to a vote in the full House, “despite overwhelming requests to do so, particularly from rural Oklahoma. This evades the responsibility of the Oklahoma Legislature.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Ryan Walters’ administrative rule proposals are now in the hands of Governor Stitt