Legislation expanding public school choice passes House

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 21-Apr-2010

Several restrictions on charter school creation and expansion will be removed if legislation passed by the House today becomes law.

The changes in Senate Bill 1862 will expand public school choices for Oklahoma schoolchildren. The bill, by House Speaker Chris Benge, deletes the limit on the number of new charters that can be established in any given year.

“Charter schools have shown some success in our state, and there is no reason, with proper supervision from the state Board of Education, more students should not have access to varying educational options,” said Benge, R-Tulsa. “We can’t be so scared of change that we miss an opportunity to be innovative.”

Benge has put a lot of his own energy into the charter school reforms. Earlier this month, when CapitolBeatOK asked what he thought the response of Governor Brad Henry might be to final passage of the measure expanding charter schools in Oklahoma, Benge replied, “I think there’s a good chance he will sign a bill or bills this year. We have been in conversations with the executive branch on ways to position Oklahoma for the ‘Race to the Top’ competition, and to advance that process.”

Former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, now an education advisory to Gov. Henry, has said charter school expansion is a crucial factor to make Oklahoma stand out in the federal “race to the top” competition for scarce funding dollars.

In today’s bill, the criteria for charter school sponsorship is expanded in the legislation to include school districts that have a site on the School Improvement List, technology center school districts if the local school district has a site on the School Improvement List, and by comprehensive or regional higher education institutions only when the local school district has a site on the School Improvement List and when the institution has a branch campus located within the charter’s school district.

Finally, the legislation requires charter schools to comply with graduation requirements established by Oklahoma law.

“This bill will simply give us another education tool as we seek to offer our students every chance to succeed,” said Rep. Lee Denney, a Cushing Republican, who carried the bill on the floor. “Change is needed if we have any hope of improving student performance in our state.”

The bill passed the House with a vote of 64-35 today and will now move a to a conference committee for further consideration.

Speaker Benge and President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee have pressed for charter school expansion, an area of rare agreement between political conservatives the Obama administration in Washington, D.C.