Legislation giving all state school districts the ability to expand public education options has received final Senate approval and will next move to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk. Senate Bill 782, by Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Lee Denney, amends current law which only gives school districts in the state’s two largest counties, Oklahoma and Tulsa County, the ability to create charter schools.
“This bill will give parents of Oklahoma school children more opportunities to create charter schools that meet the educational needs of their students through innovative approaches and curriculum. Giving parents outside of Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties this same right is a key reform that is monumental,” said Jolley, R-Edmond. “The final bill was truly a collaborative effort. I want to thank the other stakeholders who helped craft a measure that gives more choices for Oklahoma children and their parents.”
“Although charter schools enjoy tremendous flexibility, this bill ensures oversight and accountability requirements must be met,” said Denney, R-Cushing. “Senator Jolley and I appreciate the support of our fellow members, and look forward to Governor Fallin signing SB 782 into law.”
Both the measure and the effort the bill’s authors made to ensure multiple groups had input in the final language drew praise upon the measure’s passage in the Senate on Thursday.
"We are pleased that education groups were allowed to help fashion Senate Bill 782 so that this charter school law respects the authority of local school boards to experiment with different educational delivery systems in order to best serve Oklahoma students and their parents,” said Ryan Owens of the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators.
Nina Rees, President of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the bill would give more students access to the choice of attending a charter school, whether they live in an urban or rural school district.
"According to our recent rankings report, Oklahoma has one of the weakest state public charter laws in the country. The current charter school law allows charters only in approximately four percent of the state’s school districts – mostly those located in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. We expect Oklahoma will move significantly higher in our rankings if this bill becomes law.”
SB 782 not only allows all school districts to adopt a charter school model, but also provides for an appeals process if a charter application is refused. The legislation also creates greater accountability through language that authorizes the State Board of Education to close low-performing charter schools.
Shawn Hime, speaking for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association said the bill represented an effort to strengthen local control.
"Not only does the bill solidify the locally elected board of education as the primary authorizer of charter schools, it empowers local districts with new authority to designate and operate schools in their districts as charters,” Hime said.
An official with the State Chamber of Commerce praised the legislation’s authors, and the collaboration between business community and education officials in creating greater choice for Oklahoma students.
"Expanding school choice and adding more accountability to the state's charter schools are vital to improving Oklahoma's education system. More options for parents outside Tulsa and Oklahoma counties will increase the number of students ready for college or a career when they graduate. This bill is a great example of the business community and education professionals coming together on a positive solution for Oklahoma. We'd like to thank Senator Jolley, Representative Denney and leadership in both houses for getting this bill through the process,” said Jennifer Lepard, Vice President, Government Affairs, State Chamber of Oklahoma.