Bill Would Change How Oklahoma Charter Schools Are Funded
A bill that would change the way charter schools in Oklahoma are funded will be introduced Monday at the State Capitol.
Right now, charter schools do not get any local sales or property tax dollars, like other public school districts, and instead only get state funding based on headcount. Sen. Ron Sharp wants to change the funding formula so only students who are passing classes and completing courses are counted.
"I do not understand why this system was created, unless it was created for the soul purpose of someone of which to make a lot of money,” said Sen. Sharp on the current law. " We're not preventing students from taking virtual charter courses, we are providing accountability and to make sure the course work is completed."
Shelly Hickman, Assistant Superintendent with Epic Charter Schools, said Epic is already shorthanded, only receiving 57 cents for every dollar that Tulsa Public Schools get.
"If Senator Sharp wants to apply that model of funding public charter schools, he's going to have to apply that model for all public schools,” said Hickman.
She said her colleagues in traditional brick and mortar schools believe Epic shouldn’t get as much money because it doesn’t have the same operational costs, like transportation and child nutrition, but argued its costs are unique.
“We are spending $400,000 on mileage for our teachers to be able to travel to their students. We are having to get testing centers across the state so for two months of the year we can bring our students in very close to where they live to test,” said Hickman, also pointing out the cost of wifi and computers for all teachers and students.
While Hickman is advocating for more money for Charter Schools, the spokesperson for Tulsa Public Schools teachers feels charter schools shouldn’t get any money from the state.
“I have an issue with them getting anything from the state when they're not playing by the same rules. Let me take my middle school football team and let them play against the Patriots. How's that going to work out? Because those are the way the rules have been skewed,” said Shawna Mott-Wright.
Mott-Wright said any dollar that goes to Charter Schools is a dollar that could be going to cash-strapped traditional public schools, all of which in Tulsa County are seeing enrollment decline.
Tulsa Public Schools reported a loss of 496 from August to January this school year. Epic reported its headcount is now at 22,000, up an additional 8,000 from the last school year.
"They have next to no accountability,” said Mott-Wright, who feels Senate Bill 54 is a step in the right direction. "Really, A, B, C, and D? That's a minute amount of accountability and they're fighting it like tooth and nail.”
Mott-Wright said several of her students who returned to T-P-S said they had trouble getting a hold of their Epic teachers, and were behind when they re-entered the traditional classes.
"Well, that's only part of the story. What they're not saying is how far behind they were when they came to us,” argued Hickman. "Nine times out of 10, those students were coming to us credit deficient and one or more grade levels behind."
Danielle Eni, mother of five, switched from home schooling her children, ages four to 14, to Epic.
“I like that they have the same teacher, who follows them through the years, and really knows my family,” said Eni. “They’re doing really well. Every last one of them has skipped a grade.
Bethany Cowan has four children, but only her 12-year-old, Jacob, attends Epic.
“There was a lot of anxiety, every day we had tears getting ready for school,” said Cowan. “For the other kids, it’s great, but Jacob needed something different.”
Cowan said Jacob comes to Epic to meet with his teacher every week, and is doing well with the different learning style.
"We've agreed to reassess every year, and take it one year at a time. But I really, really am happy with who he is becoming as a person at Epic. The anxiety is gone, the stress is gone, the meltdowns are gone,” said Cowan.
Senate Bill 54 is up for a first reading Monday. Sen. Sharp said it’s the way funding is calculated in Florida, and the model is already used for students at traditional Oklahoma public schools who enroll in online courses.
"Just because a student comes into your classroom, doesn't mean they're going to complete the coursework,” said Sharp. "At any traditional course in public school, if you want to take a course, or all of your courses online within the traditional public school, that traditional public school must provide that. But again, the money that is paid to the vendor by the district, is only provided after the coursework is completed."