April 17, 2023
This week Oklahoma lawmakers completed their 10th week of the 2023 legislative session this week. Bills not heard by a committee in the opposite chamber by Thursday’s deadline are now considered dormant for this session. The exception are those bills assigned to House A&B and the deadline for those measures is April 19. Surviving legislation has until April 27th to be heard on the floor of the opposite chamber of origin.
Stitt selects Katherine Curry as new secretary of education, replacing Superintendent Ryan Walter
Since Ryan Walters was sworn into office as state superintendent of public instruction in January, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has faced questions about whether it was appropriate to retain Walters simultaneously as his secretary of education, a Cabinet position that acts as a liaison between the governor’s office and 40 executive entities, including the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education.
On Tuesday, with Walters facing an uncertain confirmation process in the State Senate, Stitt pulled the plug on his political ally’s ability to draw dual state paychecks as superintendent and secretary. Stitt selected OSU assistant professor Katherine Curry to replace Walters as secretary of education, and he rearranged other proverbial human accoutrements in his Cabinet on Tuesday as well.
“Katherine brings a wealth of experience to oversee the many different areas of education across the state, including higher education and career tech,” Stitt said in a press release. “I look forward to her leadership and service as we work towards making Oklahoma a top 10 state in education.”
Curry thanked the governor for his decision.
“I’m excited to partner with Gov. Stitt in his pursuit of making Oklahoma Education top 10,” Curry said in the same release. “Oklahoma has some of the best teachers in the nation, and I look forward to walking alongside these educators to continue creating the strongest educational ecosystem in the country.”
Curry holds graduate degrees from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, and she joined the OSU faculty in 2011 as a professor in the College of Education, School of Educational Studies.
Walters had been selected as Stitt’s secretary of education in September 2020, but Stitt’s reelection in November to a second term means all of his Cabinet secretary positions will need to be confirmed again before the Legislature adjourns in May.
“I am excited to have Dr. Curry on our team,” Walters said in Stitt’s press release. “The governor and I are passionate about improving K-12 for all students, improving higher education, and supporting our great teachers to make Oklahoma a top 10 state for education. We are all committed to transparency and accountability to ensure all education institutions are in line with Oklahoma values.”
Asked whether it was his decision or Stitt’s decision to make a change in the secretary of education position, Walters said that “him and I have been working on this for a while.”
“The governor and I have been working to add someone to the team — very excited to have her on the team,” Walters said following the conclusion of a Statewide Virtual Charter School Board meeting Tuesday. “The governor and I are going to continue working to make us top 10 in every aspect of education. That includes K-12, career tech and higher ed, so (I am) happy to have a new partner on the team.”
Leaders of the State Senate, which confirms or rejects gubernatorial appointments, had provided limited comment on whether they might reconfirm Walters owing to questions about whether it was legal and appropriate for the state superintendent of public instruction to receive a second state salary as secretary of education.
“We’re looking into that. Some issues have been raised about it. We know there’s the Sandy Garrett example, but I know there are some nuanced differences,” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) said Feb. 9. “We want to make sure that we comply with the law, and if they are qualified and are given a fair shake, I obviously — he’s my constituent, and I ran his confirmation before his election. But that’s a new wrinkle, so we’re looking into it.”
On March 7, Attorney General Gentner Drummond sent a letter to Treat advising that Walters simultaneously holding the secretary and superintendent positions likely violates a state law prohibiting a person from holding dual offices. The letter, while non-binding, cited multiple state statutes and prior court cases.
“It is my conclusion that Mr. Walters cannot simultaneously serve as Secretary of Education and State Superintendent,” Drummond wrote.
Treat did not release the letter until after Stitt removed Walters as secretary, more than a month later.
Asked if Treat had further comment on whether Walters had the Senate votes necessary for confirmation, spokesman Alex Gerszewski did not respond prior to the publication of this article.
Stitt adjusts other cabinet positions
Earlier Tuesday, Stitt announced the broader changes to his Cabinet, including:
  • creating the secretary of operations and government efficiency position;
  • creating the secretary of workforce development position; and
  • eliminating the secretary of science and innovation.
Stitt’s press release noted that a governor’s Cabinet can consist of no more than 15 positions, and it said Oklahoma Chief Operating Officer John Suter would become the new secretary of operations and government efficiency.
The press release stated that Stitt’s secretary of workforce development will be formally announced following a recommendation from the Governor’s Workforce Transformation Task Force.
School Safety Measures Move to House Floor
Two pieces of legislation designed to help improve school safety have been approved by the their House committees and could be heard on the House floor in the coming weeks.
Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Amber, presented Senate Bill 100 to the House Common Education Committee and Senate Bill 101 to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee this week. Both bills were approved unanimously.
Senate Bill 100 requires every school district to undergo a risk and vulnerability assessment from the Oklahoma School Security Institute or a nationally qualified risk assessor by July 1, 2026, and every five years after. The assessment must include recommendations for improving school security.
Under SB100, a district, university or CareerTech must undergo a risk assessment in order to be eligible for an Oklahoma School Security Grant. If a school receives a School Security grant, it must spend grant money on items recommended by the risk assessor or provide de-escalation and behavioral threat assessment training to employees.
SB101 requires the State Dept. of Education (SDE) to establish the School Resource Officer Grant Program, which will provide rural and underserved schools with startup grants for school resource officer (SRO) programs. The measure requires any SRO participating in the grant program to complete the active shooter emergency response training provided by CLEET.
To qualify for a grant, a public school must:
  • Employ an SRO or enter into a contract or memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a local law enforcement agency; and
  • Provide 50 percent matching funds, which may be provided in partnership with a local law enforcement agency.
“Time is of the essence when it comes to school safety,” Lowe said. “Senate Bill 100 would help identify areas of improvement for schools in the event of a threat, and Senate Bill 101 would provide grants to help schools hire school resource officers trained for active shooter emergencies. I’m encouraged by the support of these bills and look forward to presenting them both on the House floor soon.”
Both bills were authored in the Senate by Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee.
Oklahoma schools must report gender in sports programs as Walters slams Biden rule
In a first step toward rebuffing a proposed Biden administration rule on transgender athletes, the state Department of Education is demanding that all Oklahoma school districts produce a report on all the sports they offer broken down by gender and grade level.
Schools also must share whether any of their athletic programs violate a state law that prohibits transgender athletes from participating in female sports at public schools and colleges.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved the request to seek information on districts’ sports programs as State Superintendent Ryan Walters takes aim at a proposed federal rule that would bar schools and colleges from implementing outright bans on transgender athletes.
At the special board meeting, Walters slammed the Biden administration for pursuing the new rule and doubled down on his vow to sue Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration if the proposal takes effect.
“What we’ve seen from the Biden administration and their redefinition of Title IX is one of the most outrageous things we’ve ever seen from a president,” Walters said.
Oklahoma is one of more than a dozen states that bar transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports at public schools or universities. If the federal rule takes effect, Oklahoma school districts could face a federal civil rights investigation or lose federal funding if they follow state law and violate the updated federal legislation that prevents discrimination based on sex.
Under the proposed federal rule, schools would still be allowed to implement eligibility rules that could restrict some athletes from participating, as long as those restrictions do not directly target transgender athletes.
Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Nicole McAfee said it’s a shame that Walters and the State Board of Education are reinforcing discrimination against transgender students. Freedom Oklahoma is an LGBTQ advocacy group.
“The Title IX rule proposal, which has offered State Superintendent Ryan Walters a new platform to attack trans people, does hardly enough to protect the most vulnerable members of our community,” McAfee said in a statement. “While it’s important to clarify that of course Title IX does not allow blanket discrimination against women and girls, including trans women and girls, as we’ve seen become law in 20 states, including Oklahoma, and counting, it also needs to be made clear that there’s no circumstance where trans discrimination is acceptable.”
The state’s more than 500 school districts will have 21 days to comply with the Department of Education’s request. Receiving responses within three weeks will give the state agency time to comment on the proposed federal rule within the 30-day comment period, Walters said.
“We want to be able to show them with data that empirically in the state of Oklahoma, we are able to do what every generation has been able to do up to this point, which is have men’s sports and women’s sports in our schools,” Walters said. “It’s not that complicated of an issue here.”
State Board of Education member Kendra Wesson said the Biden administration’s rule is a clear example of federal overreach.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Legislature already acted on the issue of transgender athletes’ participation in school sports, she said.
“It’s important that we stand in defense of laws passed in Oklahoma because those laws are the voice of the people,” Wesson said.
The proposed rule is expected to go through a lengthy approval process.
As several other GOP-led states are exploring lawsuits to stop the proposed rule from taking effect, Walters predicted that conservative states will band together in their efforts.
Although the Biden administration rule is opposed by those conservative states, it has come under fire from some LGBTQ advocates for not going far enough. Democratic Rep. Mauree Turner, Oklahoma’s first and only nonbinary state lawmaker, signed onto a letter urging Biden to go back to the drawing board.
“We urge the Biden administration to revise this proposed policy in a way that allows trans people to fully participate in the sports of their choosing, and does not perpetuate unfounded and harmful claims about athletes,” according to the joint letter from 14 transgender and nonbinary state legislators.
Oklahoma board votes down Catholic charter school but the process isn’t over yet
With the eyes of the nation watching its decision, a state school board in Oklahoma voted against what could be the first religious charter school in the country, but the process isn’t over yet.
The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to disapprove an application to create St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
Board members turned down the application not on constitutional grounds but because of questions over the school’s governance structure, its plan for special education students, and its ability to prevent commingling of private and public funds, among other logistical concerns.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will have the chance to address the board’s questions and resubmit its application. Board members would have 30 days after receiving the updated application to decide whether to approve or reject it.
The question of whether the board would agree to direct taxpayer funds to a religious school is still unanswered.
Legal challenges on the decision are likely next
A legal challenge is likely to follow whichever decision the board makes, potentially from the Catholic Church or from a group opposing the concept of a religious public school.
St. Isidore of Seville would be a free, publicly funded charter school educating students online in all parts of Oklahoma. The school would promote, teach and enforce Catholic doctrine, including the church’s beliefs on sexual orientation, gender identity and morality.
The board’s decision not to approve the first draft of a school’s application wasn’t a surprise, said Brett Farley executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, which represents both the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.
“This is fairly normal for their application process,” Farley said. “It gives us more time to address their concerns, and so we’ll do that and come back and present those and see where we go.”
Attorney General Gentner Drummond warned the school would create a “slippery slope” toward state-funded religion.
Drummond withdrew an opinion from his predecessor, John O’Connor, who gained nationwide attention in December for declaring recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings compel Oklahoma to allow religious charter schools.
Board members voiced concern they could lose legal representation from the state and face personal liability in a lawsuit over the matter.
Remaining rooted: Collaboration sown in history impacts the future of Oklahoma agriculture
Agriculture has been a dominant force in the Oklahoma economy since before the territory became a state. After overcoming desperation during the Dust Bowl, the state regained a place as a top of farming state, with more than three-quarters of the state as farmland, according to okcommerce.gov.
Today the state continues to stand out in the field of agribusiness, yet, despite a long history with agriculture and food production, Oklahoma is also home to a number of food deserts.
Now Oklahoma’s extensions, local food advocates and family-owned farms are partnering to improve food systems in efforts to provide more opportunities for more Oklahomans for one thing — access. Access to food, access to opportunities and access to the things that come from being afforded both.
What are some of the problems agriculture in Oklahoma has faced?
The industrial revolution in the late 1800s saw the establishment of land-grant universities even as the rise of factory farms beginning in the 1920s and continuing through the 2000s, led to the demise of many family farms.
“Oklahoma was really targeted where small farmers were already growing food, they were really targeted and transformed into large ag operations,” said Mary Bixler, local food advocate and public information officer for the Cleveland County Health Department. 
Many small farmers struggle to establish profitable margins because they are having to invest in the infrastructure themselves, said Mary Bixler, local food advocate and public information officer for the Cleveland County Health Department.
Today, as work is being done to reestablish small farms, a lack of available infrastructure creates problems. Bixler said many small farmers struggle to establish profitable margins because they are having to invest in the infrastructure themselves. In addition to that, the voices of small farmers and those who need greater access to local food are often ignored.
“With a lot of the community-based grassroots approaches to food sovereignty essentially and like agency in the food system have been siloed conversations and again, people have been left out of that conversation so absolutely there’s not trust,” Bixler said.
Additionally, specialization amongst farmers has suffered due to a historical emphasis on commodity crops — like wheat, soybeans and corn — and their perceived role in sustaining agriculture as an economic industry.
“When we think about commodity crops and things like that, there are subsidies and very, very deep level support that’s out there to help people,” said Josh Campbell, Oklahoma County Agriculture Educator for OSU Extension. “There hasn’t historically been as much of that for the small farmers, especially when we think about specialty crops.”
What is an extension or land-grant university?
Extension universities, or land-grant universities began in the late 1800s across the country as a way to help advance education as the industrial revolution began.
“We’re here to be basically a shoulder to the wheel, helping people in all walks of life with the problems that they have, and so we do a number of things, not just agriculture, although primarily the work we do is rooted in agriculture and kind of our founding mission, 150 plus years ago, was started with the idea of supporting farmers and rural America, that has morphed over generations to anybody and everybody,” Campbell said.
While all states have land-grant universities, Oklahoma stands alone as the only state in the nation with three — Oklahoma State University; Langston University, a historically Black institution; and College of the Muscogee Nation, a Native American university.
Langston University is a public land-grant historically Black university in Langston, Oklahoma. It is the only historically Black college in the state
What is the role of land-grant universities today?
Today, extensions are a key piece in the reestablishment of the small family farm.
“Primarily my work day-to-day involves supporting small farmers, people that are new and beginning farmers, people that are what you might call ‘small acreage producers,’ so people that are growing for farmers market or growing for sale to restaurants, things of that nature and that’s kind of the client that I support the most,” Campbell said.
Campbell helps farmers with finding funding, offering advice on business plans, and more. In addition to helping small farms directly, Campbell and others at the extensions also work with area nonprofits, local food advocates, health departments and more to reimagine how local food systems function as a whole.
“With a lot of the things we’ve experienced as a global society, over the last few years with the global pandemic and now some of the conflict that’s going on in in Europe and other places, I think that as a society and also the American government is realizing the value of local and urban centric food production in a way that we never have,” Campbell said. 
Rebuilt tractors are displayed March 8 at the Oklahoma Youth Expo’s Agriculture mechanics contest at the Oklahoma Expo Hall at the OKC Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.
How do these partnerships benefit Oklahomans?
The obvious benefit to growth in local food movements is keeping money in the local economy.
“When we invest in our small farmers in Oklahoma, we are investing in small family businesses, which ultimately is investing in the communities in which we live and work and strengthening our state as a whole,” Campbell said.
But the work being done by extensions and advocates also looks to use Oklahoma’s agriculture systems to create more solutions to hunger. According to Hunger Free Oklahoma, the state actually ranks among “the top 10 most food-insecure states in the nation,” with food insecurity affecting 15.6% of households.
“One of the biggest issues that that we are seeing and that we’re facing is we have huge demand for fresh, healthy, local foods and not enough people to supply it,” Campbell said. “When it comes to food economics of local areas and food, what I would call security — food resiliency — a lot of good can be done by investing in food production in and around urban areas and focusing on creating more farmers.” 
As more farms come online through partnerships with extensions, the infrastructure Bixler mentioned has to be put into place to help sustain them and make them successful. Campbell said this is one of the key roles of the government and something they are already working with nonprofits and advocates to troubleshoot.
One way this is happening is with the creation of food hubs. Food hubs have the potential to localize supply chains and increase opportunity for small farmers and retailers traditionally left out of the food distribution conversation while also increasing access for the community.
“It’s not just a farmers market and it’s not just operations that look like Urban Agrarian or Flora Bodega, but it’s like all of them. And it’s chefs purchasing local ingredients and native plants and foods that grow here from local farmers. But it’s also reestablishing a food hub and mobile market so that this food isn’t just available for the people who can get to downtown Oklahoma City farmers market, or Paseo in these rich areas,” Bixler said.
Multiple food hubs are already in the works in Tulsa, including The Tulsa Cooperative Regional Food Hub, a hub through Food On The Move, and a Northwest Tulsa Hub through The Common Good. Meanwhile in Oklahoma City, Bixler said a local advocate has obtained a USDA grant to create a food hub and mobile market.
We need to be able to reach people who arguably, I think, need this food the most, and it has to be subsidized for them because local food is more expensive,” Bixler said.
Judge clears way for lawsuit against state ag over poultry operation oversight
Saying officials were “deceptive” in a response to concerned residents, a state district court judge this week said the Spring Creek Coalition’s fight with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry deserves to be heard in court.
Northeastern Oklahoma residents have complained since 2018 that the state issues permits for construction and expansion of poultry “mega farms” with no public notice and no answers to potential pollution issues aired by neighbors.
After state officials argued that their hands are tied by statute and that the volunteer group has no standing to represent individual residents, Delaware County Associate District Judge Dave Crutchfield ruled Tuesday that the issue needs to be explored in court.
“It’s not the ‘win,’ but it does mean we live to fight another day,” said Matt Alison, attorney with Indian & Environmental Law Group in Tulsa.
An email inquiry to Agriculture Department attorneys was not immediately returned Thursday. The state agency generally does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit claims that environmental concerns need to be addressed and that residents are owed prior public notice and an opportunity to protest any application or renewal of operating permits for poultry farms in the Spring Creek watershed.
“That’s always been the problem,” said Beth Rooney, the coalition’s immediate past president. “People didn’t know anything until there was cement laid right next door to their homes for a giant new poultry operation.”
The issue hit a fever pitch in June 2018, when contractors broke ground for barns that would house 300,000 broilers near the Oaks Indian Mission at the headwaters of a Spring Creek tributary.
The Cherokee Nation stepped in to purchase that particular property from the chicken farmer to preserve the land, but the issue brought out dozens of other landowners enraged by a sudden saturation of hundreds of new poultry farms housing millions more broilers across the region.
The Spring Creek Coalition, a group of landowners and caretakers of what is recognized as one of the state’s most pristine waterways, sued the Agriculture Department. They cited a lack of public notice, no recourse to challenge the building permits and a lack of attention to environmental worries.
Agriculture Department officials have consistently said their hands are tied by guidelines set in the 1998 Registered Poultry Feeding Operations Act and moved to have the case dismissed. Farm applications that check all the boxes for the Poultry Act simply must be approved, according to department officials.
Department attorneys also argued that the volunteer interest group did not have standing to sue because it could not represent individual plaintiffs. They further argued that the group raised only “potential environmental damages” and could cite no specific damages suffered.
The judge agreed with Alison, whose argument raised a precedent that supports the group’s right to sue on behalf of its members and further noted that the potential for pollution issues is obvious.
“It should be intuitively obvious that raising hundreds of thousands of chickens in a confined space creates a high ‘possibility’ of polluting the air and water of the areas around such operations,” the judge wrote.
The coalition established water quality testing standards with 24 consecutive months of tests at multiple locations starting in July 2020. Quarterly tests are performed now, Rooney said.
The certified tests showed that nutrient loading, a term for increasing presence of materials such as nitrogen and phosphorus, is happening in the stream and that eColi bacteria also are present, “especially in upper tributaries,” Rooney said.
Department of Agriculture counsel also argued that Spring Creek residents only filed protest letters and failed to “request a declaratory ruling,” an Agriculture Department process that checks issues, with a magistrate serving as a hearing examiner.
Crutchfield again agreed with Allison’s contention that the process offered no relief, regardless of the approach.
“General Counsel (Teena) Gunter’s email to Matthew Allison (sic) on December 30, 2020, was deceptive,” the judge wrote. “She may not have intended to deceive but her email presents Spring Creek with false alternatives — you can either send your letter of protest to me or use the Declaratory Action under OAC 35:1-5-1. She didn’t tell Allison that if you chose to send me your letter of protest, I’ll throw it in the trash and forget the whole thing.”
Given that it appeared either administrative approach would end the same, the judge ruled that moving forward through the courts was the only logical option.
Alison said the parties now will work to set a future hearing date.
Oklahoma Senate committee supports congressional term limits
A call for imposing term limits on lawmakers in Congress gained some momentum this week in Oklahoma.
Members of the Rules Committee of the Oklahoma Senate voted 15-1 to pass House Joint Resolution 1031, which calls for Oklahoma to join other states in proposing a term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Nationally, an effort to impose limits on how long members of Congress might serve is being spearheaded by the nonpartisan, grassroots nonprofit U.S. Term Limits, or USTL.
According to USTL, there are two ways that term limits might be imposed. Congress could propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote. Some lawmakers, notably Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have called for limits of three terms for U.S. representatives and two for senators. However, such proposals have been considered long shots and have failed in the past.
Term limits might also be implemented if 34 state legislatures were to convene a meeting to write a constitutional amendment.
According to polling by RMG Research, 73% of likely voters in Oklahoma support congressional term limits, and limits garner strong support across party lines.
Following its passage by the committee, HJR 1032 will move to the Senate floor for a final vote. If passed in both the Oklahoma House and Senate, Oklahoma would join other states in the call to convene a special convention of states for the purpose of proposing term limits on Congress.
If 34 state legislatures were to pass similar resolutions on the topic, a term limits amendment would still have to be ratified by 38 states to become part of the U.S. Constitution, the USTL said.
“The people of Oklahoma are lucky to have public servants who see what is going on in D.C. and are willing to take action to fix it,” USTL President Philip Blumel said. “They know that Congress won’t set term limits on itself. Therefore, it is the obligation of the states to do so.”
U.S. Term Limits, based out of Washington, D.C., advocates for term limits at all levels of government. Since it was established in the early 1990s, it has assisted in enacting and defending term limits on state legislatures in 15 states as well as congressional term limits in 23 states.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled 5-4 in the case U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton that states may not individually enact term limits for their members of Congress.
CTE Priority Measures
OkACTE tracks and monitors legislative bills. These bills can vary from CareerTech education policy, common education policy, education funding, teacher pay raise, tax credits, licensing, Ad Valorem, retirement, state employee pay raise, guns, economic development and much more.

Of these bills, we've compiled a listing of CTE Priority Measures linked below.

Visit oklegislature.gov to view entire text of the measures.

April 2023
April 19: Senate Measures from House Full A&B Committee Deadline (Senate Bills & Senate Joint Resolutions) 
April 27: House & Senate Third Reading Deadline, Opposite Chamber (Bills & Joint Resolutions) 
May 2023
May 27: Sine Die Adjournment (5:00 p.m.)