| June 13, 2016

OklaEd Activists and Education Leaders Snub Teachers on Charter School Bill

Conversion charter schools or “empowered schools,” are former traditional schools that have completed a process to gain many of the flexibilities afforded to standard charter schools while retaining some of the aspects of a traditional public school.

Two similar bills in Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session addressed the existence and formation of these schools and sought to clarify the rules and processes governing them. One bill was vilified by the Oklahoma public education establishment, teachers’ organizations and #OklaEd activists while the other gained bi-partisan support.

Even though both Senate Bill 1187 and House Bill 2720 were nearly identical in function, public education activists and leaders reacted to the bills very differently.

SB 1187 – authored by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond and Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview – was intended to amend the section of law entitled the “Empowered Schools and School District Act.” This act was passed in 2012 in an effort to provide public school districts access to the flexibilities afforded to public charter schools in Oklahoma.

Districts seeking the change are required to draft an empowerment plan and to submit the plan to the State Board of Education for approval. To date, no districts have submitted such an empowerment plan.
SB 1187 modified the empowerment plan to eliminate exceptions in the Act. Many of the exceptions are flexibilities that public charter schools have the option of using.

Key aspects of the bill include:

  • Teachers affected by any empowerment plan must approve – via blind ballot – any empowerment plan before the plan can be approved by the local school board and then submitted to the State Board of Education for approval.
  • School districts are not required to submit an empowerment plan. If a district is not interested in this section of law, it does not affect them. This is simply an option available to interested schools.
  • If a school fails to meet performance criteria established by the State Board of Education, the school district or site loses its empowerment status.

HB 2720 – authored by Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman and Sen. Clark Jolley – amended the section of law entitled the “Oklahoma Charter Schools Act.” The Charter School Act was amended in 2015 to expand access to charter schools statewide. One aspect of the 2015 amendment was language that allowed public school districts to convert an existing public school to a charter school.

HB 2720 amended the charter schools act to clarify rules concerning “conversion schools.” Those rules apply to the governance, funding and personnel flexibilities afforded to a charter school.
Key aspects of the bill include:

  • Conversion schools are still managed by the local school district and receive the same funding as traditional public schools. Conversion schools have access to all of the flexibilities currently afforded to charter schools in Oklahoma.
  • A local school board is the sole approver of a plan to create a conversion school.
  • HB 2720 was requested by the Oklahoma State School Board Association. It streamlined the ability of a local school district to convert an existing school into a "conversion school.” Prior to 2720’s passage, a local school board could create a “conversion charter school” but it required the school board to contract with a separate entity to run the charter conversion school. HB 2720 eliminated this necessity.

While each bill was written to amend different sections of law, they were both efforts to provide public school districts with the ability to access flexibilities afforded to charter schools.
Key similarities include:

  • Both bills allowed school districts to deviate from the Teacher Salary Schedule.
  • Both bills allowed school districts to hire non-certified teachers.
  • Both bills allowed school districts to choose to deviate from the Teacher Retirement System.
  • Both bills allowed school districts to deviate from the State healthcare benefits plan.
  • Both bills allowed school districts to deviate from the Teacher Evaluation System and due process.
  • Both bills allowed school districts to deviate from collective bargaining.

However, SB 1187 provided for the additional requirement of majority teacher approval in a school district before an empowerment plan could be adopted. In cases where collective bargaining was an issue, a supermajority of 60 percent was required. In both cases, the local school board was then required to approve of the plan before it could be sent to the state school board for final approval.

HB 2720 required no consent from the teachers; it only required a simple majority by the school board.

Yet, SB 1187 was the bill vilified by the public education activists and HB 2720 was championed by the same activists. The actions of the public education leadership in Oklahoma convinced legislators to vote against the bill with a teacher approval trigger and for the bill without one.

HB 2720 was passed by both chambers and signed into law while SB 1187 died in the House after earning narrow approval in the Senate.

Many concerned teachers and parents are now asking why – in light of the fact that SB 1187 required the approval of the teachers affected – did the Oklahoma Education Association, Professional Oklahoma Educators, public education bloggers and #OklaEd activists work so hard to kill SB 1187 and approve HB 2720?

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