Education , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | February 13, 2023

School transparency bill clears Oklahoma House subcommittee

Ray Carter

Parents would have online access to textbooks and instructional materials used in their children’s classes under legislation that has won easy approval in a state House subcommittee.

House Bill 2077, by state Rep. Chad Caldwell, would require the creation of a state online transparency portal that would be a “tool to support parental rights to access, review, and comment upon curriculum, instructional materials, textbooks, and library materials being used by the school district where their child attends school, and which their child might be exposed to without prior parental knowledge or consent.”

Caldwell, R-Enid, said the legislation was filed in response to growing parental concern over what is being taught to their children, an issue that has arisen not just in Oklahoma but nationwide in recent years.

“We can either continue to just ignore what’s going on in our schools and our school-board meetings every day where parents have been frustrated and they show up and they ask questions, and we can have those conversations over and over and over again, or we can provide a centralized database where it makes it very easy and very simple for anyone to go through and access,” Caldwell said. “If everything is great, then nobody’s going to have any problem with what’s being taught in our schools anyway, and if there are problems, then this helps get to the root of it.”

The materials that would be made accessible through the online portal include textbooks, library books, classroom instructional materials, assessment items, supplemental instructional materials, co-curricular content and materials (“especially any social and emotional learning or character-based curricula”), and content from third-party learning applications.

Caldwell said the system would allow parents to review materials from local districts by grade and subject, and that they could then contact school officials if they have any concerns.

Caldwell said both Texas and Tennessee already have similar systems in place with Texas providing the service for roughly a decade. He also noted up to six more states are considering legislation this year that would create similar systems.

“The conversation around curriculum has grown in the last couple years,” Caldwell said. “It’s going to continue to grow in the next couple of years. So that’s why more and more states are seeking a solution similar to this.”

Opponents of the bill said there is no need for an online portal.

“Parents already have a right to know what goes on in classrooms,” said state Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City. “It’s the same way they do it in private schools and that’s through conversations with their kids.”

He also said teachers would be more likely to leave the profession if required to make their teaching materials public.

“Districts already do provide access through school-board meetings, through parent-teacher conferences,” said state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa.

Caldwell said those avenues are limited, and online access would allow for more informed debate, rather than people responding to material haphazardly posted on social media.

“As far as school-board meetings, anybody who’s been to one—especially if there’s a long line—it’s very controlled as far as what you can discuss, how long you can discuss it and those kind of things,” Caldwell said. “So it’s not exactly this public town-hall forum that you can just feel free to go on as long as you want. That’s not really the purpose of a school-board meeting nor is it possible.”

He also noted information on school instruction isn’t always readily available to local citizens or even public officials.

“We had, I think, members of the Legislature that were unable to access basic curriculum documents from their own school district,” Caldwell said.

HB 2077 passed the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education on a 10-4 vote. The opponents included all Democrats serving on the committee along with state Rep. Ronny Johns, an Ada Republican who previously worked as a school superintendent.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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