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Education

Oklahoma legislature will consider a new system for authorizing charter schools

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Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma
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John Rex Charter School in downtown Oklahoma City, Okla. is one of 37 brick and mortar charter school districts in the state.

Every Oklahoma charter school could soon have a new authorizer if a bill before the Oklahoma legislature this session becomes law.

A measure introduced by the chairman of Oklahoma’s Senate Education Committee would overhaul the way charter schools are overseen in the state.

Senate Bill 1621, authored by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, would create a brand new Statewide Charter School Board and make it the sole authorizer of charter schools.

Currently, Oklahoma charter schools are authorized by a wide variety of institutions like public school districts, Native American tribes, and colleges and universities. Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and the Oklahoma State Board of Education oversee a handful under specific circumstances.

Pugh did not respond to messages from StateImpact seeking comment about the bill.

The only other state with a system that features a single statewide authorizer is Mississippi, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

The move would take several charter schools off of the plate of Oklahoma’s State Board of Education, which currently oversee a handful of schools whose charter contracts were rejected by other authorizers and subsequently authorized upon appeal.

It would also end the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which has faced a number of controversies surrounding how it handled its duties as authorizer of Epic Virtual Charter Schools over the years.

There are currently 37 brick and mortar and seven statewide virtual charter school districts in the state, enrolling 59,755 students. That’s compared to more than 500 traditional school districts with roughly 640,000 students.

Under the bill, all of the charter contracts would be taken over by the newly created state board in July 2023. The board would have eight members, three appointed by the governor, two by the Senate Pro Tem, two by the Speaker of the House and finally the Superintendent for Public Instruction as a non-voting member.

The measure will be considered after the legislature convenes Feb. 7.

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