The Oklahoma House of Representatives has moved to tighten financial supervision over charter schools, and especially charter virtual schools, with the unanimous approval Monday of two major reform bills.
Law 3643, by Sheila Dills’ representative, R-Tulsa, will make many changes to the governance and financial reporting of virtual schools following revelations regarding the use of state funds by Oklahoma’s largest venture of its kind, Epic. It is specifically aimed at third-party administrators, called education management organizations.
HB 3644, also by Dills, will impose stricter standards and responsibilities on all charter school boards and their sponsoring organizations.
A third bill on the subject was passed last week. This bill, HB 3645, will define attendance standards for virtual schools.
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“Charter schools play a vital role in providing a choice of school for students and parents in Oklahoma,” Diles said in a written statement Monday afternoon. “Nevertheless, we must ensure that taxpayer money is protected and that we have accurate and transparent accounting of how it is spent. We also need a policy that will ensure that students’ academic needs are met.”
State Inspector Joy Hoffmeister, a candidate for governor, approved on condition HB 3644.
“The significance of this legislation will be a significant reform in the supervision of the management of the Charter School,” Hoffmeister said, also in a written statement. “While there is still work to be done to ensure it does not repeat the problems Oklahoma saw with Epic, Law 3644 tightens existing regulations that allow charter schools to be responsible administrators of taxpayers’ money. His move today. “
Monday was kind of a landmark day for Dills, who has been struggling with charter school reform – and especially a virtual school – for several years. The House of Representatives actually passed similar legislation at the end of the last session, but failed to pass it in the Senate.
It is unclear if the Senate leadership feels differently in this session.
HB 3643 instructions include:
• Separation of virtual schools for education management, including their boards and administration. The founders of Epic were able to direct millions of dollars to themselves through the EMO under their control.
Epic has since severed ties with those founders.
• Specifies that public funds will remain public funds and are subject to state audits and to collect funds that have been misused.
• Requirement for training of financial managers.
• Requirement to submit EMO contracts with Oklahoma State Department of Education.
HB 3644 instructions include:
• Requiring charter school sponsors to be more involved in supervision and spend the 3% fee they charge on supervision and services for the school.
• Requiring sponsors to enforce academic performance metrics.
• Requiring the members of the Charter School Board to be subject to the same continuing education and training requirements as local school board members.
Inside the Newsroom: Team Writer Andrea Eiger recently discussed the Epic Charter Schools investigation