Measures advancing in state House: Athletic Safety, Conservation, Scholarships, Mandate controls
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Published: 15-Feb-2015

OKLAHOMA CITY – A measure intended to provide some degree of protection for high-school athletes was endorsed last week by a legislative panel.

House Bill 1051, which would provide an incentive for school districts to “improve the overall level” of safety in sports they sponsor, cleared the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education, by a 10-0 vote. The proposal, by Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, advanced to the full committee.

Other measures the Education Subcommittee embraced included proposals to encourage energy conservation in Oklahoma’s 500+ public school districts, exempt schools from state mandates for which insufficient funding has been appropriated, and expand the state’s college scholarship program to include high-school children who are in state foster care.

In a related matter, another legislator informed the panel he is working on a measure to widen the state scholarship program to include more children from middle-income families.

Safe Sports School Act

H.B. 1051 would direct every public school district to review the Safe Sports school criteria published by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and evaluate “how to improve the overall level of sports safety in the school district.”

To “incentivize” schools to hire a sports/athletic trainer, the bill would allow the State Department of Education to award grants of $7,500 each to school districts that achieve a Safe Sports School Award. Up to 15 school districts per year could receive one of the awards, and the pilot program would expire after five years, Kirby related. “Preferences shall be given to school districts that have not previously hired a comprehensive athletic healthcare team coordinator,” H.B. 1051 stipulates.

A $7,500 award “is not enough to hire a sports trainer,” but it would be an incentive to do so, Kirby told the committee. State Supt. Joy Hofmeister is “on board with this,” he said, even though the cost would be more than half a million dollars if a maximum number of awards were issued over the five-year period.

“Oklahoma is a sports state,” Kirby said, but is “second from the bottom in the nation” in its number of sports trainers. Only an estimated 13% of students in Oklahoma secondary schools have daily access to a comprehensive athletic healthcare team at football, baseball, basketball and/or soccer games, the legislator said.

“This is a huge problem,” said Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, a retired Hall of Fame high-school football coach. “More injuries happen in practice than at the ballgames.”

More than 300,000 high-schools students across the nation sustain a concussion each year, records indicate, “and countless more are challenged by heat illnesses, asthma, diabetes, etc.,” Kirby reported.

Legislation intended to prevent concussions among Oklahoma youths who participate in athletic events was knocked out of bounds by the House last year and never returned to the field. Senate Bill 1790 failed on a 39-46 House vote and was never revived for reconsideration.

If a youngster practicing or competing in an interscholastic athletic event “exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with having sustained a concussion or head injury,” the athlete must be benched by a licensed trainer, the child’s coach, or the referee, S.B. 1790 would have mandated.

Furthermore, the youth would not be allowed to return to the field or the court that day until/unless the child were evaluated by a licensed health care provider “trained in the evaluation and management of concussion” and received written permission to return to the competition.

At least one opponent of the bill, Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, objected to the measure’s penalty provisions. A first-time violation of the proposed law would result in a one-month suspension “from involvement in any athletic activity…” For a second violation, the suspension would be for the remainder of the season. A third violation would result in permanent suspension from involvement in any athletic activity whatsoever, the bill mandated.

Renegar and several other representatives disliked the bill’s training requirement, too.

Paid and volunteer coaches, referees, and the staff of youth sports organizations, all would have been required by S.B. 1790 to complete annual concussion training provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “or a comparable program identified by the state which produces a completion certificate.”

At least one House opponent contended that requirement might discourage volunteers from donating their time to youth sports, while other opponents objected to imposing another expense on schools already coping with lean budgets.

In the 2012-13 school year, tens of thousands of Oklahoma boys and girls in grades 7-12 participated in school athletics, records of the National Federation of State High School Associations show. The official total numbered almost 100,000 participants, although many athletes competed in multiple sports.

The sport that had the greatest participation in Oklahoma that year was basketball: more than 18,000 athletes, including 9,993 boys at 338 schools and 8,102 girls at 330 schools.

The next most-popular sport was football, which attracted more than 16,300 participants: 14,949 boys from 201 schools that fielded 11-man teams, plus 1,395 boys from 49 schools playing 8-man football.

Other competitive school sports in Oklahoma that year included:

Softball: more than 11,600 girls, including 7,182 fast-pitch players at 305 schools and 4,435 slow-pitch players at 207 schools
Baseball: 9,312 boys at 315 schools
Outdoor track and field: more than 11,000 youngsters, including 6,221 boys at 254 schools and 5,042 girls at 250 schools
Soccer: more than 7,000 athletes, including 3,785 boys at 85 schools and 3,548 girls at 90 schools
Cross-country: 2,662 boys and 2,385 girls, at 158 schools
Golf: 2,165 boys at 183 schools, and 1,370 girls at 156 schools
Tennis: 1,345 boys at 83 schools, and 1,325 girls at 81 schools
Swimming and diving: 781 boys at 46 schools, and 654 girls at 44 schools
Wrestling: 3,636 boys at 110 schools
Volleyball: 3,357 girls at 90 schools

Energy Conservation

The Oklahoma School District Facilities Energy Conservation Program would be created by House Bill 1340, by Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City.

The objectives and scope of the program would be to “target a cumulative energy savings of not less than 20% by the year 2020 when compared to the 2015 fiscal year utility consumption.”

Although prices of crude oil and natural gas have plummeted in the past few months, invariably they will climb again, history shows.

The “20 by ’20” program would produce an estimated $100 million in energy savings over the next decade, Dunnington said, reporting that Tulsa public schools saved $8.6 million in 34 months after initiating various energy conservation measures.

“This is an example of Democrats trying to save the public some money,” the first-term legislator said later.

Unfunded/Underfunded Mandates

House Bill 1290 by Casey, R-Morrison, would enable local school districts to “avoid unfunded and underfunded state-imposed mandates created by state law and associated State Board of Education rules.” With approval of the local school board, a school district would be “deregulated from any unfunded or underfunded mandate and associated State Board of Education rule placed upon the school district” by the state Legislature, H.B. 1290 provides.

The bill would direct the State Department of Education to create and publish each year.

A list of all state-created mandates and associated State Board of Education rules;

The amount of funding necessary to implement each mandate and associated rule;

The current level of funding provided by the Legislature to implement each of those mandates and rules.

A mandate would be considered underfunded if the level of resources provided by the Legislature “is at or below 75% of the funding necessary to implement the mandate…”

College Scholarship Proposals

Eligibility for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) would be expanded by House Bill 1848 to include minors in grades 8-10 who are in foster care, if they meet the various program requirements. The legislation would provide children in foster care with “an opportunity to get a college education,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/fallin-launches-new-panel-to-steer-justice-reform-top-house-democrat-calls-for-implementation-of-jus), principal author of the proposal.

Currently “only a handful of foster kids” advance from high school into college, Inman indicated.

OHLAP provides awards equivalent to all or part of tuition expenses for students who complete the program’s requirements while in high school. The awards may be used at accredited Oklahoma public and private colleges and for certain courses offered at public career technology centers.

House Bill 1533 would establish a program to provide scholarships for “middle-income students” attending state colleges and universities. Income criteria would be established by the State Regents for Higher Education.

OHLAP is “a great access program” but “doesn't have anything for middle-income students,” said Rep. Todd Thomsen, principal author of H.B. 1533. Many middle-class families earn too much to qualify for grants or other incentives, but don’t have enough disposable income to finance a child’s college education, he said.

The Ada Republican pulled his measure from consideration last Monday (Feb. 9), but said he would bring it back to the subcommittee after he has accumulated more specifics about a qualifying student’s grade point average, family income limits, and other matters.

EDITORS NOTE: This is adapted from a release prepared by House media staffer Mike Ray. 

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