Saturday, March 19, 2022

House passes three bills to reform public charter school oversight and regulations

This is instructive in the debate over SB 1647 as it relates to the school choice lobby's failure to acknowledge the concerns that were raised by the homeschooling community before the measure was amended in committee to preclude homeschool participation in the proposed Oklahoma Empowerment Accounts program.

I was told by proponents of the measure that there was no reason for concern because, among other things, SB 1647 was written to prevent regulation of homeschooling. Their viewpoint made no allowance for the distinct likelihood of future alteration of the bill by future legislatures, which is one of the homeschool community's long-standing issue with legislation that seeks to "help" home educators out with vouchers or similar funding.

Epic Charter School and other virtual charter schools were all the rage a few years ago, until things came crashing down with Epic. Now, just a few years removed from the inauguration of a school choice fad, the rules have and continue to be changed. The same thing absolutely can happen with SB 1647.

Here is Dills' press release on new charter school reforms:

Dills' Charter School Reform Bills Pass House

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 14th) – Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, won unanimous House passage of a trio of bills that promise increased transparency over expenditures, attendance and oversight policies by Oklahoma public charter schools.

"Charter schools play a vital role in providing school choice options for students and parents in Oklahoma," Dills said. "Still, we must ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected and that we have an accurate and transparent accounting of how they are spent. We also need policies that ensure the academic needs of students are being met."

House Bill 3643 would create greater transparency requirements for state funds appropriated to virtual charter school governing boards that contract with educational management organizations (EMOs). In addition, the State Board of Education would be authorized to demand repayment of any monies illegally expended by an EMO and to withhold any unreturned amount from state funding allocations. All state funds would be subject to audit, and the measure also specifies board composition, meeting and training requirements. The bill also specifies prohibitions against the co-mingling of EMO and governing board employees and legal counsel as well as against the co-mingling of funds with other school districts.

House Bill 3644 would update oversight and training requirements for charter school sponsors and governing boards and would require the State Department of Education to develop Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS) data codes to correlate with the financial reporting requirements in the bill.

House Bill 3645 is a cleanup of previous legislation that would clarify virtual charter school attendance and truancy policies, specifying that abbreviated school day and attendance policies in current law are the same for virtual alternative education as they are for traditional alternative education. The measure also allows a virtual alternative education school to apply for a truancy waiver to the Office of Accreditation if a student is reported for truancy two times in one year so that the student may continue attending the virtual charter school if the waiver is approved. The bill was requested by the state's only alternative virtual alternative education school and is an effort to keeps students in school.

Public charter schools operate with greater flexibility than traditional schools under state law in exchange for greater accountability requirements. It's these requirements that Dills has been intent on clarifying. She's been particularly focused on reform involving for-profit EMOS. She's pursued such changes since taking office in 2018.

In 2019, she secured passage of House Bill 1395, which created greater oversight and increased transparency of the amount of taxpayer funding going to an EMO. The law change required the amounts being paid as well as a breakdown of all expenditures through the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. The owners of EMOs also now must make certain disclosures in public meetings.

Dills said her concern is instances of fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars when it comes to organizations that manage the administrative functions of public charter schools. She passed similar legislation in the House last year, but it did not advance. Dills held several studies during the interim that helped guide the current legislation. She said she many charter school stakeholders had input on and support the legislation.

The measures that passed the House now move to the state Senate for consideration.

Sheila Dills, a Republican, serves District 69 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Her district includes Jenks, South Tulsa and Bixby in Tulsa County.


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