State House Approves School Deregulation Bill

Thursday, April 16th 2009, 4:09 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- State lawmakers are one step closer to deregulating Oklahoma schools.

The Oklahoma House passed the controversial Senate Bill 834 in a vote split mostly down party lines. The bill still has hurdles to clear in the Legislature before making it to Gov. Brad Henry.

But some teachers are already putting him on notice.

"We want our legislators to know that this is not OK," said Linda Hendrix, advocate of the Oklahoma Education Association in Tulsa. "And we want our governor to know that we're asking him to veto, if this comes to his desk."

The bill centers on the hot-button issue of deregulation -- basically lifting most state mandates on education. It has drawn fiery commentary from both sides of the aisle.

The bill's author, Tad Jones, says it's simply about local control.

"When you're free from all of the mandates, you can be more creative in the local districts," said Rep. Jones, R-Claremore. "We've seen charter schools be able to do that, and I think public schools can do the same thing."

Many teachers feel the bill puts a target on their backs.

"You can already dereg in almost all of these areas that they're talking about," Hendrix said. "But the two you can't dereg on is bargaining and negotiating and teacher due process."

Some are worried about other state mandates, like class sizes.

"We rallied for House Bill 1017, which reduced class sizes," veteran teacher Amy Bryant said. "Right now the mandate is teachers can't have more than 140 students per day. This bill undoes everything we fought for."

"I don't think rolling back the time clock to issues we fought long ago with the other house bill makes any sense," said Jackie Portman from Central High School.

Those in favor of the bill point out charter schools don't follow many state mandates and they don't have exploding class sizes.   

At the end of the day, the teachers are betting on the man who calls himself the "education governor."

"I help flip pancakes and serve sausage for Governor Henry, and I know he's going to do the right thing," Emerson Elementary's Marilyn Bridges said.

The latest version of the bill would hold sacred some state mandates, like funding teacher retirement, their health insurance and teacher certification. But 10 teachers have told others they might leave the state to teach elsewhere if it passes.