OKLAHOMA CITY – Sen. Ron Sharp is concerned about the level of education being taught in Oklahoma’s public charter schools since charter school teachers are not required to be certified under current federal law. For this reason, he has filed Senate Bill 881 to require all public schools, both traditional and charter, to employ only certified teachers and that those individuals only be allowed to teach the subjects in which they are certified.
The retired teacher explained that under the 2003 federal No Child Left Behind Act, all public school teachers had to be designated as "Most Highly Qualified" but in 2016, the Every Student Can Succeed Act (ESSA) repealed the No Child Left Behind Act eliminating the profession’s high qualification standards.
“The teacher qualifications under the No Child Left Behind Act were very high and included college coursework and testing. Federal funding wasn’t provided to school districts that didn’t meet that criteria,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “But since the Every Student Can Succeed Act has eliminated those requirements, only traditional public school teachers must meet Oklahoma teacher certification requirements. There are no requirements to be a public charter school teacher in our state, not even a high school diploma. Yet, taxpayer dollars are being used to pay them. Most parents aren’t aware of this and it needs to be fixed.”
Sharp went on to explain that the State Department of Education has established new state standards in compliance with the ESSA, but charter schools are granted immunity from state standards and oversight.
“Like all teachers of my generation, I was proud of being a certified teacher of 38 years and considered myself in a profession with high standards. The current situation in Oklahoma has demoralized teachers who have completed the rigorous certification process,” said Sharp. “In nearly every profession, there are licensing requirements but there’s a major loophole in the
licensing of charter school teachers. These are the people who have the greatest impact on our young people and their futures. We must hold them accountable to ensure students are getting the highest quality education possible.”
The retired teacher who taught in Shawnee Public Schools for 39 years pointed out that many charter schools assert they have certified teachers on staff but that, for the most part, if they are certified, they are teaching subjects they are not certified in. His bill requires all teachers to be certified and to teach within their certification area.
SB 881 also pertains to those private schools receiving public money from the Lindsey Nicole Henry Disabilities program. It will provide more accountability to ensure public money is not being wasted on non-certified and unqualified individuals providing services to children in the program. Since the repeal of No Child Left Behind, Sharp said what little oversight there was over the scholarship program has been removed and needs to be restored.
Oklahoma currently has 30 public charter schools.