OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation giving all state school districts the ability to expand public education options has received final Senate approval, moving to Governor Mary Fallin's desk on Thursday (April 16).
Senate Bill 782, by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Chickasha, 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," Jolley said, 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."
"Senator Jolley and I appreciate the support of our fellow members, and look forward to Governor Fallin signing S.B. 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 after passage in the Senate.
"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 Ree's, President of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the bill would give more students access to public charter school choices, whether they live in an urban or rural school district.
S.B. 782 allows all districts to adopt a charter school model, and also provides for an appeals process if a charter application is refused. Advocates say the legislation also enhances accountability by authorizing the State Board of Education to close low-performing charter schools. Ree's organization had ranked Oklahoma low in evaluations of public charter school law effectiveness. Although a prominent rural member of the House had claimed charter schools were not “public” like other schools, the charter model was created for Oklahoma in 1999 with strong bi-partisan support – including that of former Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett, a Democrat -- and has existed across the nation for several decades.
Worth noting is that school closure is a governance power already exercised last year at the local level, in the instance of a failing charter here in the state's capitol city.
Shawn Hime of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association said S.B. 782 strengthens local control.
An official with the State Chamber of Commerce praised the authors, and the collaboration between business community and education officials in expanding choice.
"Expanding school choice and adding more accountability to the state's charter schools are vital to improving Oklahoma's education system,” said Jennifer Lepard, Vice President, Government Affairs, State Chamber of Oklahoma.
“More options for parents outside Tulsa and Oklahoma counties will increase the number of students ready for college or a career when they graduate,” Lepard continued.
“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," she concluded.
NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report. In addition to his work in journalism, he a public charter alternative school teacher.