Two important pieces of legislation made their way through the legislative process recently and they deserve some mentioning.

The first bill is one I've told you about before. House Speaker Lance Cargill's bill to provide Oklahoma students with increased exposure to the arts and state museums overwhelmingly passed a vote of the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

House Bill 2104 grants free admission to state museums for minors on certain days and opens up new monetary grant opportunities so Oklahoma schools can establish visual arts programs.

I've always been a staunch supporter of increased arts funding in our public schools and Cargill's bill creates a revolving fund from which private donations will be matched with state dollars to help establish visual arts programs in schools that currently lack such programs.

The key to this component of the legislation is that no state funds will be expended unless private funds are first secured. This will give supporters of the arts in our schools an added punch to their fund raising efforts, knowing that whatever they raise will be doubled through the state's revolving fund.

"When children are exposed to the arts, particularly in their earliest school years, it can be an important part of their intellectual development," said Cargill (R-Harrah).

"It builds their capacity for critical thinking and creativity. When future generations of Oklahoma leaders and our workforce learn about art during their formative school years, it will greatly benefit them - and our state - later on."

HB 2104 passed the House in a 91-4 vote on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate.

The second piece of legislation also deals with a student's education once they leave high school.

Senate Bill 820 provides a permanent funding source for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (also known as "Oklahoma's Promise") and implements new accountability and performance standards.

OHLAP pays the college tuition of students from families earning less than $50,000 per year who take a rigorous college curriculum, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and exhibit good behavior during their high school years.

However, the program has been underfinanced in recent years. Senate Bill 820 corrects that situation by taking the money needed for scholarships "off the top" of general revenue collections each year.

The bill also contains several major reforms. First, the legislation limits scholarship eligibility to U.S. citizens or other individuals who are legally present in the country.

For years students who were home schooled were not eligible for OHLAP. Often times a home schooled child excelled in college, sometimes above public schooled students.

Now, under the new law, children who are home schooled would be eligible for the program for the first time under the bill if they meet all other requirements and score a 22 or higher on the ACT test.

Senate Bill 820 extends the "good conduct" requirements throughout a student's college years. Current law applies that requirement only to the high school years.

Perhaps the most significant reform is a grade-point-average requirement. Currently, scholarship recipients continue receiving state aid even if they are failing most classes.

The new law will require OHLAP students to maintain the minimum GPA required by the State Regents for Higher Education during their freshman year, with a 2.0 minimum imposed the sophomore year and at least a 2.5 GPA required in the junior and senior years.

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Plans for Pauls Valley’s big birthday party in September are taking shape.

Look in this weekend’s paper for information.

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