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From teacher pay to free speech, education bills queue up for session to begin Feb. 5

With the start of the 2018 legislative session days away, lawmakers have submitted a flurry of proposals related to education.

They range from the expected  proposed salary boosts and other financial compensation for teachers   to the unexpected, like bills to allow schools to sell and place ads on school buses and to permit students to apply their own sunscreen.

The intent of many other proposals is still unknown, as many education-related bills were submitted as "shell bills," written with no substantive text and to be amended later.

"Historically, we don't get too excited about every bill. We know that most of them go by the wayside," said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. The group is tracking almost 400 bills this session and is especially focused on teacher pay and a long-term funding plan for education.

"Sometimes, we have to get to a crisis level before we have people step up to be statesmen and leaders and ensure that we find a solution. I think we're there now," Hime said.

The session starts Feb. 5. Bills to watch include:

Lunch shaming

Senate Bill 1104 would curtail practices that embarrass students whose school lunch accounts are overdue, such as throwing away meals, denying a student a regular meal or requiring a student to work off his or her debt. It also would require schools to beef up efforts to qualify low-income students for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

School choice

House Bill 2732 would require private schools that receive vouchers, credits or scholarships from the state to make public information about the school's special education program. HB 3537 would raise the cap on the state's Equal Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides tax credits in exchange for donations to private schools, to $10 million per year.

Teacher pay

There are many repeated attempts to increase teachers' minimum salaries by $3,000 to $5,000. Taking a different tack, teacher-turned-legislator Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, proposed HB 2733, which would implement a high-need bonus of $2,500 per year for National Board Certified teachers who work in high-poverty schools.

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