Lawmakers moving quickly to fund optometry school expansion at NSU in Tahlequah

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The State Senate moved quickly during the first day of special session to distribute nearly $79 Million in American Rescue Plan funding to various health care and quality of life projects throughout the state, one of the larger projects being a new School of Optometry at Northeastern State University.

Lawmakers returned to the state capitol Monday to carry out two special sessions at the same time. One of the sessions addresses tax cuts meant to provide inflation relief, and the other was requested by legislators so they could have more control over ARPA funding the state received from the Federal government. If they did not call for their own special session on the ARPA funding, the funds would’ve been left up solely to the discretion of Governor Kevin Stitt.

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Senate Bill 8XX passed 35-4 out of the State Senate on Monday. It provides $15 Million in matching funds to NSU’s current fundraising to expand their optometry school and help them build a new building to allow them to offer their program to more students at the same time.

“We like to talk about being a top 10 state. This program is top three in the nation,” said State Sen. John Haste (R-Broken Arrow).

In total, the project will cost $33 Million which NSU has raised through public and private donors.

Senators voting against the project had problems with the Cherokee Nation spending $5 Million on the project and the tribe’s recent announcement that it would no longer fly the Oklahoma state flag within their tribal boundaries.

Haste said the issue of the state flag on NSU’s campus and if a donation to the Cherokee Nation would make them take the state flag down despite NSU also receiving state funds was moot and not an issue.

Other senators voted against all health care funding through ARPA because they believed people were being recruited into a workforce that required them to take “experimental vaccines” that were created to combat COVID-19.

The ARPA bills now move to the State House for consideration.

The $15 Million is just a portion of the total $79 Million in funds given to the state by the Federal government in the American Rescue Plan.