State House advances expansion of public charter schools
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Published: 16-Apr-2015

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation approved in the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week would allow rural school districts to sponsor a charter school.

Senate Bill 782, by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, allows school districts to adopt a charter school model. It also provides for a way for the community to override a school board in order to create a charter school.

“After Oklahoma allowed public charter schools in our largest school districts, we have seen their successful implementation, said Denney, R-Cushing. “Now, we are expanding that option to all school districts in Oklahoma. The decision to use the charter school option will be a local decision, under my legislation. It will be either a decision of the local school board or the community.”

The measure has the support of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, the Oklahoma Education Workforce Initiative and various chambers of commerce from around the state.

“We worked hard to get everyone on board,” Denney said. “I think the sticking point would have been if this was a mandate or the state was an authorizer of the charter schools. We worked to make sure the decision was local.”

In a release sent to CapitolBeatOK, Nina Rees, president and CEO at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, described House approval as “a significant step toward meaningful education reform in Oklahoma. The passage of this bill will lead to more public school options for families across the state.”

The group describes Oklahoma's existing charter school laws as among the “weakest in the country.” 

Present 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.”

In organizational literature, Ree's group says, “Public charter schools are independent, public, and tuition-free schools that are given the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement.

“Since 2010, many independent research studies have found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. For example, one study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that charter schools do a better job teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools.

“Separate studies by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematical Policy Research have found that charter school students are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, stay in college and have higher earnings in early adulthood.”

While some critics have continued to marginalize public charter schools, House approval of the measure represents the latest advance for such institutions, which emerged nationwide decades ago and were put into law for Oklahoma's urban areas only in 1999. 

The state association for charter schools has worked to educate legislators and others about the governance and accountability of existing charters in Oklahoma.

As for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website says its mission “ is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter sector. For more information, please visit our website at  

The legislation was approved by a vote of 64-31. If House amendments are approved by the Senate, it will proceed to the governor’s desk.

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan, who is also a public charter school teacher, contributed to this report.

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