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Alternative education rally at Capitol

Michael Lewchuk / Red Dirt Report
Participants of the rally stand outside of the Capitol
Fertile Ground Compost Service

OKLAHOMA CITY - Many Oklahoma students got an up-close and personal civics lesson when thousands of concerned parents, students, teachers, and school administrators rallied at the south entrance of the Oklahoma State Capitol Wednesday morning. They were there in support of House Bill 1912, written to provide greater access to alternative and charter schools across Oklahoma. Authored by state Rep. John Paul Jordan (R, District 43), HB 1912 is a school-choice bill that will expand educational options and change who can authorize charter schools. While it is still in the early stages of the process, Jordan hopes to have it heard by the Common Education committee as soon as possible. The next step is getting the bill through committee so that it can be heard on the House floor. He also noted that Rep. Lee Denney (Speaker Pro Tempore, R, District 33) has a similar bill before the same committee.

Charter schools are a growing educational alternative to traditional public and private schools in Oklahoma. There are now over 13,000 students attending 28 charter schools in Oklahoma according to the Oklahoma Public Charter Schools Association. Although the number of students in Oklahoma who have access to charter schools has grown tremendously in the past few years, Oklahoma still lags behind the national average in terms of education alternative opportunities for children. The increase in the popularity of alternative and charter schooling has led to a reassessment of the regulations that govern these schools.

One issue facing the charter school movement is that many communities are not large enough to support charter schools under the current regulations. Every charter school must have an authorizing entity, such as a large metropolitan school district, career technology center or one of only four eligible Oklahoma Universities (OU, OSU, UCO and Langston). This means that most charter schools are concentrated in the urban centers of Oklahoma City or Tulsa. HB 1912 hopes to expand the Charter school program by removing or reducing the minimum size of school districts and allowing any college or university, including junior colleges, to be authorizing entities says Jordan. This will provide the potential for charter schools to develop in communities where they were not possible before.

While charter schools must live up to the same set of standards as other public schools, each charter school can develop a unique focus to cater to specific students or career paths. Charter schools may choose to focus on a particular area such as fine arts, college preparatory or math and science for example says David Chaney, superintendent of the Epic Online Charter Schools, now in their fourth year of operation.

Chaney understands firsthand the importance of alternative schooling. He was inspired to co-found Epic after watching his son struggle in middle school with a curriculum that was not challenging enough to keep his attention. Many students at Epic Charter are those who found the curriculum pace at their local schools either too fast or too slow. The growing problem of bullying in schools has also drawn students to the Epic Online program.

Chaney says that students need to have greater choice than just their designated neighborhood schools. Epic Online Charter School provides a web-based curriculum that is tailored to each student’s individual needs and interests. Teachers visit the students in their homes on a predetermined schedule and are in regular contact via electronic media (Skype, email, text, etc.) to address any issues that might arise between face-to-face meetings. Students are free to work at their own pace, as long as they complete their chosen curriculum by the end of the year.

Asked how those interested in the effort to reform the charter school regulations can get involved, Jordan says they should start by contacting their own state representatives and any members of the Common Education committee. He encourages them to ask their representatives to have the bill heard by the committee and to vote “Yes” on House Bill 1912.

In addition to the rally outside, several area charter schools had tables set up around the rotunda inside the Capitol building to provide information about their programs. Among others, Dove Science Academy, Epic Online Charter, Harding Fine Arts, KIPP Reach College Preparatory, Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, and Seeworth Academy had representatives available for one-on-one conversations about their school. Interested parents and students could meet and converse with administrators and teachers or just pick up information pamphlets.

In the tradition of public education, the rally ended with a free lunch sponsored by publicschooloptions.org. It was provided by Chick-fil-A, which operator Steve Brown said was expecting to feed 1,500 people in the rotunda of the State Capitol. However, by his and Red Dirt Report’s observations, it looked as though they might have actually served almost twice the original estimate. Just another example of how fast charter schools are growing in the state.

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About the Author

Michael Lewchuk

Michael Lewchuk has taught high school math and environmental science for over a decade; he is...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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