Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Rep. Fincher files bills aimed at altering Virtual Charter School funding and transfers


Fincher Bills Address Virtual Charter School Funding and Transfers

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Derrel Fincher (R-Bartlesville) has filed two separate bills to address funding and student transfer policies for virtual charter schools.

House Bill 3405 would remove the 1.33 weight attached to each virtual charter school student and would require virtual charter schools to receive their initial allocation each year in July at the same time as other public schools.

House Bill 3414 would address the issue of students transferring between traditional school districts to virtual charters.

“Since the rise of virtual charter schools in Oklahoma, there has been much discussion about making sure the funding between them and our brick-and-mortar schools is equitable,” Fincher said. “At the same time, I’ve talked with many superintendents that would like to see student transfer policies become more transparent.”

On the funding issue, Fincher said the law for virtual charters was initially written so those schools would receive a 1.33 weight for every student for the very first year of operation because they did not have a prior year enrollment count. That formula, however, is still being used. HB 3405 would correct that so virtual charters would receive weighted funds for only those students that qualify, including special education students, English language learners and those who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

In addition, the bill would put virtual charter schools on the same allocation schedule as traditional brick-and-mortar public schools, with both receiving their initial allocation in July.

HB 3414 will address student transfers between their home school districts and virtual charter schools during the school year.

Fincher said in the past, students could only live in one district because districts did not overlap. However, statewide virtual charter schools have their district boundaries defined as the border of the state, so every student in Oklahoma now lives in six districts – their local school district and the five statewide virtual charter school districts. When students enroll in any of these, the current open transfer and emergency transfer laws do not apply because they are only enrolling in a home district and the move is not tracked by the state. Often, schools did not know students had left until they received a request for records from the virtual school.

This change would still allow the transfer but would notify the student’s brick-and-mortar home district. This would give school administrators the opportunity to talk to these students and their parents to let them know of virtual charter options or other services within their districts. Fincher said he learned from an interim study he held on this issue that most districts in Oklahoma have access to part-time or full-time virtual options for their students. The bill also would give districts and the state an accurate way to count student movement in real-time, he said.

Fincher noted that it is hard on a family to make a decision about moving a student during the school year. 

“This bill is about developing good policies for transfers during the school year so that parents, who are the ultimate authority in their child’s education, have complete information when making these decisions,” he said.

Derrel Fincher serves District 11 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes Rogers, Tulsa and Washington Counties.

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