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House Narrowly Passes Charter School Bill

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma House on Friday narrowly approved legislation that would make it easier to establish charter schools in Oklahoma, over the objections of opponents who said it would siphon scarce tax dollars and other resources from the state's public schools.

``We're gradually squeezing out public schools,'' said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner. The bill would pertain only to the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, but McPeak said could eventually force some rural schools to close.

``What couldn't be done by school consolidation legislation is being done by charter-schools legislation. This bill aims to kill rural schools,'' McPeak said.

The measure, approved 51-42, would encourage more charter schools by allowing the Oklahoma Department of Education, cities and certain higher-education entities to sponsor charter schools. Under current law, only individual school districts and CareerTech boards may sponsor charter schools.

``The need for charter schools in the state of Oklahoma is there,'' said Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa. Sullivan said the plan is a way to improve academic achievement in the state.

Its author, Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said residents of his district want more of the innovative schools and believe they have a positive impact on students and families.

``I want to see every kid live up to their potential,'' he said. Shumate said offering more opportunities to students will help them avoid a life of crime.

Shumate, who is black, said there are more black men in prisons than in college.

Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she is concerned that exclusive, private charter schools will not be held to the same accountability standards as public schools.

``Taxpayers are paying for Oklahoma children to receive the education that will serve them in the world of tomorrow,'' McDaniel said. ``Let's make certain, in our haste to hold public schools to task for failures that we don't relegate this responsibility to others without accountability.''

Following the vote, Cliff Hudson, the chairman of the Oklahoma City School Board, released a statement that said the charter-school plan could undermine gains made by the city's MAPS 4 Kids school capital-improvements program.

``This proposal would open the floodgates for a virtually unlimited number of charter schools over the next several years with little or no accountability,'' Hudson said.

The measure, Senate Bill 661, now returns to the Senate for more consideration.
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