School Deregulation Debate Continues at Capitol

Monday, April 6th 2009, 9:32 am
By: News On 6

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A bill that would allow Oklahoma school districts to decide which state education policies they follow may help schools be more flexible or pose problems with teacher pay and certification, depending on who you ask.

The full House will consider Senate Bill 834, which passed the House Common Education Committee last week. The Senate passed the measure 26-21.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association supports the legislation, but the Oklahoma Education Association and local classroom associations are against it.

"It gives school districts a lot more flexibility and ability to be innovative," said Shelley Shelby, director of legislative services and staff attorney the school boards group. "Mandates have basically handcuffed administrators and local boards."

But Eric Winkle, union representative for the Putnam City Association of Classroom Teachers, said the bill would deteriorate teachers' rights to negotiate with districts and to appeal terminations in district court.

"Where's the checks and balances under this law?" Winkle said. "The idea behind the law is not so bad. We just don't want our voice to go away."

Under the measure, school districts would be allowed to control policies such as class size, schedules and hours.

In the version that passed the House committee, many provisions were restored, including minimum salaries for teachers, district-paid health insurance, teacher certification and rules on end-of-year testing for students.

OEA president Roy Bishop said the bill is unnecessary because state law already allows school districts to eliminate mandates such as class size by applying to the state Education Department.

"You're taking a real risk," Bishop said. "This opens it up for those possible abuses."

Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, filed the measure. He said he heard from educators that there were too many mandates.

"This is a way to give local districts the option to decide what mandates are important to them," Ford said.

State School Superintendent Sandy Garrett said she supports deregulation of school districts and will work with Ford on the bill.

Garrett said she is concerned the measure would not require schools to have librarians and counselors.

Regardless of state laws, schools will be subject to federal regulations if they take federal funds, she said.

If the bill becomes law, school districts will be chosen randomly to participate in the program.

School districts with 2,000 students or fewer would be given priority in the 2010-11 school year.

All school districts would be able to decide on mandates by the 2014-15 school year.