Education took center stage at the Mustang Legislative Breakfast on Tuesday.
Four legislators who represent parts of the Mustang school district applauded gains in school funding over the past two years but said more needs to be done.
Sen. Lonnie Paxton noted that U.S. News & World Report ranks Oklahoma at 47th among states for education.
“We’ve got to do better than that,” Paxton said at the event, held at the Mustang Town Center.
Rep. Brian Hill said he was intent on educational improvement so the state could be more competitive in attracting jobs.
“I don’t want my two kids to have to move to Texas for a better opportunity,” he said.
However, he commended the state’s gains in educational funding, which place Oklahoma high in among states in the region, based on several indexes.
“We’ve moved from seventh among seven to No. 1 or No. 2 in the region,” he said.
State Sen. Michael Brooks said the increased state funding for education two years was noteworthy.
“What we did in 2017 historic, making up for 10 years of failing to fully fund education,” he said.
Although the state has increased teacher pay, it needs to increase spending for other school staff members and for supplies and equipment, he said.
State Sen. Paul Rosino noted that the state has increased funding for education by $207 million over the past two years.
“We are taking education seriously, but I don’t think anybody thinks we’re done,” he said.
The legislators said they were concerned about the decline in oil and gas production, but they hoped the diversification of the economy would prevent hard times for residents or devastate state coffers.
“We’re not seeing a catastrophe like we did 20 years ago,” Paxton said.
He credited Rosino’s advocacy for expansion of aerospace jobs as helping broaden the economy.
Rosino explained why this work is important to him.
“I think aviation and aerospace are the state’s future,” he said.
Hill noted that good jobs are growing in the Oklahoma City metro, including 1,500 that were added when Amazon opened its distribution center last year.
Recruiting new business is important in light of the decline of oil and gas rigs in state from 141 when he took office in November 2018 to 50 today, he said.
He touted excellence of the Mustang Public Schools as a drawing card for attracting new businesses to the area.
Things like the school district’s new Science Academy get the attention of prospects, he said.
“Multiple businesses have toured the Mustang area in the past six months,” Hill said.
“We’re going to see more and more of these companies move here.”
Under the leadership of Gov. Kevin Stitt, the state his increased its financial reserves, Paxton said.
“For the first time in Oklahoma’s history, we have $1 million in our rainy day fund,” he said.
The legislators discussed a proposal for Oklahoma to implement Medicaid expansion that will be on the November general election ballot.
Rosino said he opposeS the measure because it is in the form of a constitutional amendment.
Once adopted, the only way it could be removed would be by a vote of the people, he said.
Although the federal government would cover 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion, it is possible that the requirement state spending could end up higher than expected.
“If the numbers don’t work right, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Paxton said the state should have acted sooner to provide for health care coverage for people who don’t have it.
“One way to fix it is to put it on the ballot,” he said.
“I hope we can do something in this legislative session. It’s our fault we did nothing before.”