The OPSRC is a school service organization dedicated to the development of services for public schools. We would like to clarify our stance on Senate Bill 1187 (SB 1187). SB 1187 passed out of the Oklahoma Senate last week on Thursday, March 10, with a vote of 25-20. Since its passage, the bill has drawn a great deal of scrutiny. The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) requested this bill based on feedback from member schools, and we would like to provide an overview of the legislation, explain why we requested it and address some of the concerns that have been voiced.
What does the bill do?
SB 1187 amends Section 3.129.11 of Title 70, entitled the “Empowered Schools and School District Act” (the “Act”). The Act was passed with the goal of providing Oklahoma’s public school districts access to the flexibilities afforded to public charter schools. Through this Act, districts interested in accessing these flexibilities must draft a plan, gain approval via blind ballot from teachers and administrators, gain approval from the local school board and then must submit the plan for approval to the Oklahoma State Board of Education. To date, no districts have submitted an empowerment plan for approval. An interesting question one could ask is “why haven’t districts used this Act?” When we posed this question, many school leaders responded that they have considered writing an empowerment plan but that the current law includes restrictions that limit the usefulness of drafting a plan.
With this in mind, we requested SB 1187 to provide school districts with those same flexibilities that are currently afforded to public charter schools. The bill modifies the statute to eliminate exceptions currently in section 3.129.11 of the Act. Key aspects to consider are as follows:
- The Act is an option for school districts to consider—districts are not forced to participate. If a district (i.e., the teachers, school board, and administrators) is not interested in creating an empowerment plan, then this bill would not affect them.
- If a district chooses to draft an empowerment plan, teachers and administrators are required to have input and a majority must vote via blind ballot to the support the plan. If the plan affects collective bargaining, a super-majority of 60% is required. These requirements existed in the original Act, and the bill was modified to clarify that these requirements remain.
- If a school fails to meet performance criteria established by the State Board of Education, the school district or site loses its empowerment status. The thinking behind this section is that if a school is applying for exemptions, the school should be able to demonstrate that these flexibilities help them improve their performance.
As we have indicated to various media outlets, the intent of SB 1187 is not to lessen education funding, decrease teacher salaries, stop evaluating teachers, harm the TRS system, leave teachers with no insurance, harm Due Process, or to remove the statutory requirements relating to background checks. Oklahoma's students deserve no less than the highest quality instruction in the safest environment possible from a well paid, highly qualified teacher.
The OPSRC has worked on this legislation to try to help advance innovative solutions to Oklahoma's current crisis. Oklahoma's teachers and administrators have requested and implemented many ideas to aid their students in their education process, and we have been able to help. Our Oklahoma based foundations have supported these innovative programs such as Teach Like A Champion, Google Classroom, Reading Fluency programs, Student Centered Teaching Models, and many other programs. Our direct efforts as an organization every day are aimed to reduce the time away from school required for teachers and administrators by going to their districts, providing timely and effective professional development and learning tools, and to save the districts money to place directly back into the classroom and by not offering services with inflated prices. That's our goal, that's what we do, and that is our continual effort.
Concerns about SB 1187:
Listed below are some of the concerns being voiced about SB 1187 and responses to these concerns.
Concern: SB 1187 allows schools to eliminate background checks for teachers.
Response: Background checks are required under separate statute (see 70 O.S. 5-142), and this requirement is also on the SDE accreditation checklist for charter schools. Additionally, the bill version that passed out of the senate includes specific language to clarify that background checks are required for all public school employees, including traditional public schools and public charter schools.
Concern: SB 1187 is an excuse to not increase pay for teachers or fund public education appropriately.
Response: This bill allows districts to consider personnel flexibilities currently available to charter schools. Given the budget issues faced by the state’s legislature, educators are rightly concerned about funding for public education, and some have voiced concerns that this bill is offered as an alternative to increasing funding for public schools. While these concerns are understandable, this bill has no relation to funding. Furthermore, the OPSRC fully supports increased funding for public schools.
Concern: Why would any district consider some of the options afforded to schools in SB 1187?
Response: School districts across the state face various challenges, and this bill would provide a multitude of options to address them. At its root level, the premise of the bill is that charter schools currently have access to numerous flexibilities, and it would make sense to offer these options to public school districts as well. A few examples of potential uses of the flexibilities include the following:
- Many educators have voiced concerns about the state’s TLE system. If a school district feels that an alternative evaluation system would be more effective, SB 1187 would provide a district with the ability to develop such an alternative.
- Some districts would like to hire retired teachers and pay above the $15,000 ceiling in place for retired teachers in their first 3 years of retirement. SB 1187 would provide this option to school districts.
- Some districts would like to hire highly qualified individuals that lack certificates and/or adjunct teachers. Note: School districts can already hire adjunct teachers but are limited to one hour per semester for an adjunct. This bill would allow additional flexibility.
Concern: SB 1187 is a mandatory program for schools or an effort to force options on schools.
Response: Drafting a school empowerment plan is entirely optional. If schools (i.e., teachers, administrators, and school board) do not see a benefit in drafting an empowerment plan, there is no consequence or negative pressure.
Concern: SB 1187 is an attempt to attack or harm educators.
Response: This bill was written at the request of educators who wanted to access some of the flexibilities currently afforded to charter schools. The bill specifically requires that teachers are involved in developing an empowerment plan and if a majority of teachers don’t support the plan, the plan cannot be approved. This is simply an option for districts to consider.
Concern: SB 1187 is an ALEC sponsored/related bill.
Response: SB 1187 amends the Empowered Schools and School District Act. The language in the original Act, passed in 2010, mirrors language found in model ALEC language. The OPSRC request for SB 1187 had no involvement/relation to ALEC nor is the OPSRC affiliated in any shape or fashion with ALEC.
We hope that these comments help clarify the background and intent of the bill and address concerns that have been raised regarding this legislation. The OPSRC recognizes the immense challenges that public schools face on a daily basis, and we also know that the budget climate increases these challenges exponentially for schools. We firmly believe that public educators are our state’s greatest heroes, and all of our efforts are focused on providing innovative solutions to support public education.
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss our stance further, please feel free to contact me directly.