The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislation that would allow 20 percent of public schools to operate as charter schools free of many state school mandates was approved by the Oklahoma House Wednesday in spite of opponents who said it will erode the due process rights of teachers and ultimately reduce state support of public schools.
“You’re for teachers or you’re not for teachers,” Rep. Samson Buck, D-Ardmore, said before the House voted 60-39 along party lines for the measure and sent it back to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.
The bill’s author, Republican Floor Leader Tad Jones of Claremore, said the bill, known as the School District Empowerment Program, will allow local school districts to decide which state mandates to implement and give school administrators and school boards more local control to better address community needs.
It will also provide more local control over how school districts spend scarce education resources. The bill’s requirements would be implemented over the next seven years and its impact on local schools will be closely monitored, supporters said.
“For years, school administrators and teachers have fought the mandates coming from the state Capitol and have argued that they know what is best for their students, not politicians,” Jones said. “We’re going to let them have that flexibility.”
The legislation is supported by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which has argued that mandates requiring class-size limits, libraries and other educational activities have burdened local schools and limited administrators as to how school funds can be used.
But a teacher’s organization, the Oklahoma Education Association, opposes it and has mounted an informational campaign in recent weeks that involved a rally by hundreds of teachers at the state Capitol and personal appeals and letters from teachers urging lawmakers to oppose the bill.
Opponents maintain the measure will roll back landmark advances in education approved by lawmakers almost 20 years ago that placed limits on class sizes, gave teachers adequate classroom preparation time, established minimum graduation requirements and provided for gifted and talented and alternative education programs.
“We’re going to throw everything out that we’ve accomplished all these years,” said Rep. Neil Brannon, D-Arkoma, a former school principal and superintendent.
“This bill goes right at the root of what public education is all about,” said Rep. Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City.
Brannon said the bill threatens to erode the due process rights of teachers caught up in disciplinary and termination hearings.
“I saw some really terrible things happen for personal reasons. And some of them had nothing to do with the quality of our teachers,” Brannon said. “I saw a lot of unfairness. I don’t want to see us get back into those situations.”
Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said the legislation could eventually be used as an excuse for reducing state appropriations to public schools because lawmakers will be requiring less of them.
“We’re going to an extreme here,” Dorman said.
Supporters said the measure could help school districts address low test scores.
“Oklahoma test scores are not where they need to be,” said Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, a lifelong educator. “Can we keep doing things the same way and expect a different result? Of course not.”
“Our students have not been improving. Something isn’t working. It’s the system,” said Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, a former teacher.
Coody also said most districts will continue to follow many of the 27 school mandates the bill addresses and that other mandates, including teacher evaluations, participation in the teacher’s retirement system and graduation requirements, will remain in force.
“This is a bill about facilitating student success,” she said.
The Associated Press
- State News
Gov. Nixon declares state of emergency in Missouri
Gov. Jay Nixon today declared a state of emergency in Missouri in response to severe winter weather that began early this morning, bringing hazardous travel and the possibility of power outages.
Publicist: Andy Williams dies
According to a publicist, Emmy-winning TV host and 'Moon River' crooner Andy Williams has died.
Lions climb into share of MIAA men's basketball lead
Without taking the floor, Missouri Southern has climbed into a first-place tie in the MIAA men’s basketball race.
2.6 magnitude earthquake recorded in Oklahoma
The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded a 2.6 magnitude earthquake near Wellston in central Oklahoma.
No injuries or damage is reported.
Audit: $108,000 taken from Missouri Veterans Commission
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A former employee of the state auditor’s office embezzled nearly $108,000 while working as an accountant for the Missouri Veterans Commission, the state auditor alleged Monday.
Stacy Griffin-Lowery was fired by the Veterans Commission in March 2008 and pleaded guilty three months later to a misdemeanor theft charge. She repaid the state $17,665, the auditor’s office said.
But Missouri Auditor Susan Montee on Monday accused Griffin-Lowery of swiping an additional $90,192 by getting reimbursed for cash advances and purchases made on her personal credit card.
Race in Kansas’ 2nd District could heat up for GOP incumbent
TOPEKA, Kan. — A conservative Kansas legislator said Monday he will announce in a few weeks whether he will challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the Republican primary.
State Sen. Dennis Pyle’s actions in recent months suggest the Hiawatha farmer, who’s served in the Legislature since 2001, is running against Jenkins in the Aug. 2 primary. He set up a campaign organization in November and has a Web site featuring a brief video of him on his farm, asking viewers for support.
Oklahoma tea party leaders, lawmakers envision militia
OKLAHOMA CITY — Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.
Tea party movement leaders say they’ve discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force
- Missouri: Senate panel cuts $500 million from proposed budget JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Senate committee declared Thursday that it has sliced more than $500 million from Missouri’s proposed budget for next year — meeting a target set by Gov. Jay Nixon to bring it in balance.
- Kansas: Wichita-area casino in doubt after governor’s decision TOPEKA, Kan. — A proposed casino south of Wichita was in doubt Thursday after Gov. Mark Parkinson refused to grant its developers a regulatory reprieve. Partners in the $225 million Chisholm Creek project wanted to delay a state board’s decision on their plans.
- Oklahoma: Groups oppose education spending initiative OKLAHOMA CITY — A coalition of business and labor groups said Thursday it will work to defeat a ballot initiative to dramatically increase spending on public education that coalition members said would devastate the budgets of many other state services and possibly force tax increases.
- More State News Headlines
- Gov. Nixon declares state of emergency in Missouri