Oklahoma Legislature education bills
House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) speaks to media Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Tres Savage)

One day after a pair of education funding and reform bills advanced with amendments out of Senate committees, Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall doubled down Tuesday on his ultimatum that his proposals not be changed by the opposite chamber. An hour later, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat fired back, saying he would not “give into threats.”

“We’re not going to give into bullying,” said Treat (R-OKC).

HB 2775 and HB 1935, tied together as one package, would increase the state education budget by half a billion dollars — including appropriating for a teacher pay raise — while also creating a new school choice refundable tax credit for private school and homeschool families. After they advanced out of the House Feb. 22, McCall said that if the Senate amends the bills, “they are voting to kill the legislation.”

The Senate did just that on Monday, amending both bills in committee hearings to change the House’s across-the-board teacher raise, add a merit-based teacher pay raise program, set an income cap on the tax credit and change the amount of money parents can claim for private or homeschooling options for their kids.

“What they have done by amending the House [bills] in committee yesterday is they have completely changed the [proposal],” McCall (R-Atoka) said in a press conference. “It is no longer a win for every student in the state of Oklahoma and every parent in the state of Oklahoma. In fact, it’s not even a win for every teacher in Oklahoma any longer, nor is it a win for every school district in Oklahoma. So we view this change as completely unsatisfactory.”

McCall, who explained the family history behind his middle name “Adelbert” to journalists prior to the press conference, said he hopes the Senate votes to change the bills back to their original House versions when they are expected to be heard on the Senate floor Thursday.

“If they send it back (to the House) amended, the bill’s dead,” McCall said. “They have essentially killed the bill.”

But Treat said the Senate has “no plans” to change the bills back to the House’s versions.

“I think what Charles and his side advanced was an ambitious and well-intentioned plan, but it simply would not have the votes to pass in the Oklahoma State Senate,” Treat said. “And we have found a pathway to do it. Obviously, if he can’t pass school choice, we’ll work with him to try to get it to where he can pass it, but we’re not just going to bend to any demands or the will of the speaker of the House.”

McCall, who previously expressed opposition to the idea of a private school voucher system, emphasized the House’s version of the package as a win for all education stakeholders.

“In order to to advance the (school choice) tax credit for those who are asking for that option here in in the metro areas, we have to do something for the rural parts of the state that helps education there,” McCall said.

Treat: McCall might be trying to set a trap

education bills
Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) held a press conference on the Senate floor on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, to refute House Speaker Charles McCall’s education package ultimatum. (Bennett Brinkman)

Some senators had initially balked at the potentially $800 million price tag on the House’s package. The Senate’s amended package could take the price down to a more-palatable $630 million, although Senate Democrats have argued that private school-related programs created by other states have run far above their original budgets.

But McCall said he did not care.

“We believe in education in the House, and we believe that it should be a win for everybody — that costs money,” McCall said. “And so we’re less concerned about being chintzy on the investment in education if we can come up with a policy where every kid, every parent, every teacher and every school district wins. How do you put a price tag on that?”

Treat emphasized that the House’s package did not have enough votes in the Senate without the amendments and implied that McCall might not be serious about getting the legislation passed.

“We’re not going to fall into that trap,” Treat said. “If we do an up-down vote on either 2775 or 1935 as it came over, they will fail and they will fail miserably, and that’ll be final action. He can plant a flag and say, ‘Hey, the House passed school choice and the Senate killed it.’ That’s not our desire.”

In his press conference, McCall did seem to walk back some of his previous declarations that the House would not consider any Senate education bills unless the upper chamber heard the package as the House passed it.

“We made it very clear — we will be happy to consider those things that [senators] are interested in,” McCall said. “But under no circumstances would [the Senate] be amending the House bills unless [they are] trying to undermine it or sabotage it.”

But Treat left a warning of his own for McCall.

“That’s not the way this process works,” Treat said. “There are no unilateral decisions made in this building and ultimatums typically don’t pan out.”

(Update: This article was updated at 9:18 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, to include additional information.)