Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

April 24, 2014

Concerns expressed as SB 573 awaits House vote

TAHLEQUAH — With an Oklahoma Senate bill now awaiting a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, some parents are voicing concerns about the futures of rural K-8 schools in Cherokee County.

Senate Bill 573 calls for a commission to establish charter schools throughout the state. A charter school receives taxpayer funding, but functions independently. They can be founded by an array of interests, including teachers, parents, universities and nonprofits. In Oklahoma, tribal entities can establish charter schools.

Charter schools can offer advantages. They operate under fewer regulations and have the latitude to quickly implement new teaching practices. They can serve as alternatives for families living in low-performing school districts. Most public school children in New Orleans now attend charter schools.

However, there is also criticism that charters have greater “latitude” to fail, suffer from high turnover due to lower salaries, and are less accountable.

Studies assessing the educational effectiveness of charter vs. public schools have yielded mixed results.

However, the opposition voiced by some Cherokee County parents seems rooted in fondness for their community schools.

“Oklahoma rural schools are beloved by us [who] send our children to them,” Katherine Grasshopper wrote in an email to the Daily Press. “Many families that send their children to schools like Peggs or Shady Grove have been sending their children there since the schools’ founding. If these schools are shut down, each child will go from being a person, part of a family, who receives the nurturing and attention to allow them to thrive and reach their potential, to being just a number in an overpopulated class who is not taught to think, be creative, imagine - to just being taught how to answer the latest in a long line of standardized testing.”

Authored by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, SB 573 is a carryover bill from 2013. It creates a statewide Public Charter School Commission with authority to authorize and oversee the establishment of charter schools in any school district.

Under the new commission, charter schools could be established anywhere, including rural school districts. The bill does not facilitate input on charter schools from locally elected boards.

State funding of charter schools would be determined by student membership, as at regular public schools.

“If a charter school opens in a district and draws students from a small school, it could shut that school down, because the charter would also take revenue from the other school,” said Bryan Hix, superintendent of Lowrey School.

George Ritzhaupt, Briggs School principal, said passage of SB 573 would undermine the educational supervision of local school boards and parents.

“We have rural K-8 schools because they flourish,” Ritzhaupt said. “We can give students options for education. The schools are part of the community and the children can learn in smaller, more personal environments.”

The bill gives the commission sole authority for approval of charter applications.

“It is a way to bypass local government,” said Randy Rountree, superintendent of Tenkiller School. “Control of education needs to stay local. The bill allows a committee in Oklahoma City to put a charter school in any county, and the parents in that county may not want a charter school.”

Under current law, the number of Oklahoma charter schools is capped. Most are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The Cherokee Nation runs an immersion charter school. School administrators said they didn’t like SB 573, but also believed passage may have little consequence for Cherokee County.

“In areas like ours, I just don’t see the need for a charter school,” said Ed Kennedy, superintendent of Grand View School.

“I understand the Cherokee Nation’s school for culture and language immersion, but does Pittsburg or Latimer or Cherokee County need a charter school? Our public schools are effective. The rural areas don’t have long lists of failing schools. That is more problematic in the cities. I tell people that our job is to see that, whether your kids go to Hulbert, Tahlequah or Tampa, Fla., we have them prepared to be freshmen.”

SB 573 passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on April 9, making the bill eligible for a vote once it is placed on the agenda. The Senate passed the measure 29-15 on March 13.

Hix said he was attentive of another measure in the Oklahoma legislature, House Bill 2642, which creates the Securing Educational Excellence Fund. The bill passed the Senate 43-0 on Wednesday, making it effective July 1.

The bill allocates money for education before it enters the general fund. It calls for an allocation of $57.5 million for 2014-15, accumulating to $575 million by 2023-24. Each year of funding is contingent on a one percent increase in the General Revenue Fund. The bill is intended to increase Oklahoma’s per-student education expenditure.

“We have been seeing cuts after cuts after cuts since 2006,” Hix said. “This bill can give us some extra funding that we’ve been needing for a long time.”

srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com

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Poll

Do you think "blue laws" related to Sunday alcohol sales in Oklahoma should be relaxed? Choose the option that most closely reflects your opinion.

Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars, and liquor stores should be open.
Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars only; liquor stores should stay closed.
Liquor stores should be open Sundays, but drinks should not be served anywhere on Sundays.
The law should remain as it is now; liquor stores should be closed, and drinks should be served on Sundays according to county option.
No alcohol should be sold or served publicly on Sundays.
Undecided.
     View Results
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