OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that promises additional transparency and accountability of the attendance, enrollment, transfer and instruction practices of Oklahoma’s virtual charter schools passed the Oklahoma Senate on Monday with a vote of 45-0.
House Bill 2905, authored by State Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, and State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, previously passed the House with a vote of 94-0. It now moves to the governor’s desk to await his signature to become law.
HB 2905, the Virtual Charter School Transparency and Reform Act of 2020, addresses and unifies transfer, attendance, student engagement and truancy policies. It also directs the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to promulgate rules for orientation information to be provided to students and parents.
Dills, an assistant floor leader and a member of the House Common Education Committee, said, "This measure ensures students served by public virtual charter schools are protected and given every opportunity to achieve better outcomes, and it keeps parental flexibility intact. We’ve seen even in this recent pandemic the value of virtual learning options and the benefit for students and their families. We do, however, want to make sure that our virtual charters’ policies are transparent to the public, particularly in how they receive and spend taxpayer dollars for the students they serve."
Pemberton is the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and had nearly 40 years’ experience in Oklahoma’s public school system as a teacher, coach and administrator.
"Virtual education plays an important role in Oklahoma’s education system," Pemberton said. "However, after many studies and meetings, we realized that changes were needed to address virtual charters’ policies on transfers, attendance, truancy and other areas of public concern to ensure students are getting the education they deserve. This bill will also ensure students and parents fully understand what virtual education involves and what will be required and expected of them in order to be successful. I want to thank Representative Dills for spearheading these major reforms that will help improve these schools and the education their students receive."
Dills said she and Pemberton engaged many education stakeholders in a lengthy and deliberative process to draft the legislation. These included representatives from the two largest virtual charter schools in Oklahoma, the state superintendent of public instruction, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. She said all are supportive of the legislation.
"This has been a beautiful, collaborative process that started last summer and in my opinion is an example of the way government should work," Dills said. "Everyone came to the table with ideas to improve the virtual charter school law and have been very cooperative. And, I believe this will be better policy for our traditional brick-and-mortar schools as well."
Dills said the bill addresses attendance and student engagement policies for the virtual charter schools by defining the first date of attendance and membership and defining and changing the number of instructional activities required for each student.
The measure also adds an orientation piece that will be provided to each family before a student begins instruction. This orientation information will help a student and their parent or guardian understand the type of education in which they are enrolling. The bill also addresses student transfer policies. Dills said the State Department of Education will be implementing new technology to accommodate the transfer language in the bill. While this will take some time to implement, it lays the foundation for more uniform reporting of student mobility, ensuring school districts know where students are receiving educational instruction.
Dills said HB 2905 is an extension of House Bill 1395, which was signed into law by the governor last May. That bill subjects Oklahoma’s public virtual charter schools to the same financial reporting requirements, financial audits, audit procedures and audit requirements as traditional public school districts. The bill also put virtual charters and brick and mortar charters under the same statutory teacher contract requirements as traditional public schools.