Currently, the Oklahoma State House is debating Senate Bill 1187, which passed the Senate in the middle of last month. If SB 1187 does not get a hearing in the House Appropriations committee by the end of the week, the bill will be dead.
The bill would establish a School District Empowerment Program, to be administered by State Board of Education.
This program would allow school districts to request an exemption from “all statutory requirements and State Board of Education rules from which charter schools are exempt,” to encourage more local control instead of that of the state.
As a part of this request, school districts would need to submit goals and benefits of the change. Administrators and a majority of the teachers would need to approve of the request.
Senator Clark Jolley sponsored the bill. The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center requested the bill because of at least two rural school board–Atoka and El Reno.
Superintendents of these districts requested this to have more flexibility and better financing and staffing options.
But while Craig McVay, superintendent of El Reno Schools, has advocated for such a bill for six years, now says, “I’m not sure if I’m for SB 1187 the way it is right now.”
According to Jolley, the bill allows schools to hire adjunct and retired teachers without paying them the minimum salary schedule or participating in the retirement system.
He believes this would allow districts to hire such individuals more easily, lessening Oklahoma’s teacher shortage.
The bill is not without controversy. Alicia Priest, Oklahoma Education Association President, said the bill “fails to hold all schools to the highest standards. Instead, it allows for shortcuts that weaken our education system all because our state refuses to properly fund our schools.”
Other opponents believe the bill could allow districts to eliminate teacher minimum salary schedule, the requirement to participate in teacher retirement system, health insurance or school background checks.
Senator Ron Sharp believe unqualified adjunct teachers could be hired as a result of this bill.
“It concerns me that it is possible we could, according to this piece of legislation, pay full-time teachers less than what is required to be paid,” said Senator J.J Dossett, echoing another common worry.