House Bill Addressing Loopholes in Charter School Law

Mike Seals - May 24, 2021 10:27 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House today passed legislation to improve financial oversight and enforce best practices for public charter schools.

Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, carried House Bill 2966, which was authored by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.

She said the accountability measure addresses concerns made public in a recent multicounty grand jury report. The report encouraged a call to action by the Legislature to address loopholes in state statute regarding oversight of public state charter schools, charter sponsors and educational management organizations. The report shares concerns raised earlier this year by the state auditor. The grand jury requested the action by July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.

“This measure protects taxpayers and addresses many of the issues raised in these recent reports,” Dills said. “Due to high-profile investigations, charter schools in Oklahoma have been covered by a cloud of skepticism. These public schools and the parents that choose this option for their children are ready for there to be clarity in our laws, for there to be an end to investigations and for positive changes to occur.”

The bill will require education management organizations (EMOs), which are hired by some charters to oversee certain school expenses, to provide financial documents to the State Department of Education, charter sponsors, or charter boards for oversight enforcement if discrepancies are found. Currently, this is not required. The measure also makes all charter school funds designated “learning funds” public.

In addition, the legislation specifies that EMOs cannot comingle funds from multiple schools. They must report actual costs in the State Department of Education’s Cost Accounting System. Members of any charter board contracting with an EMO or sponsor board of an EMO must complete certain training including financial training and continuing education, which is required of all public school board members. EMOs also would be subject to same administrative spending limits as all public schools. Charter contractors also must do background checks of employees with student contact.

Dills said many charter schools and organizations and charter schools contributed to conversations surrounding the drafting of the language of the bill. This includes K-12 and Connections Charter Schools as well as representatives from the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, the Oklahoma Charter School Association, the National Charter School Association, the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

She said she will continue to work on this issue through the interim with Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, chair of the House Common Education Committee, and Mark McBride, R-Moore, Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee for Education.

“I’m thankful for the hard work of these leaders with staying informed on this issue, conducting hearings and more,” Dills said. “In addition, I appreciate Speaker McCall for moving forward with this vehicle to remedy the problems and meet the call to action after the grand jury report. Thanks is also to be shared with the many members who have supported legislation on this issue the past two years.”

 

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