Monday, April 1, 2013

Lawmakers, Parents Express Disappointment “Parent Empowerment Act” Will Not Advance in 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers and parents who supported a measure that would have allowed parents to “trigger” major changes in their local underperforming schools are disappointed the bill did not receive more support in the House of Representatives. The measure will be laid over until the 2014 legislative session.

Senate Bill 1001, by state Senators David Holt and Jabar Shumate and state Rep. Jason Nelson, would have allowed a majority of parents in an underperforming school to sign a petition that would transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators. 

“It’s obvious that we have a lot more work to do, but the momentum is on our side,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “There is a growing coalition of parents and policymakers who are determined to ensure that the voices of our students and their parents are heard, so that is very encouraging. Parents want choice for their children. The parents are on the front lines; they know whether their local school district is failing their children or not. 

“Blaming parents, as was done by an education organization recently, is not constructive – it’s wrongheaded. It’s ironic that opponents of the bill complained the law would create an adversarial relationship between parents and educators when a statement by a teacher organization pointed the finger at parents by saying ‘Letting parents have more control over the schools when they don't have control at home is not the answer.’ 

“It’s important to remember that the bill only applies to ‘D’ and ‘F’ school sites. That negative and condescending attitude toward parents will create more division than this or any other legislative initiative at the Capitol, and I think it speaks to the need for programs like Senate Bill 1001.”

Under the measure, the option to terminate administrators would only have been available in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. An underperforming school would be defined as a school that has received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for at least the last two years under Oklahoma’s new grading system, or a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for two of the last three years, as long as the most recent grade was a ‘D’ or an ‘F’. The bill provided that if the parents were to choose the charter school option, the charter school would first serve all students in the existing attendance boundaries of the school.

The measure was based on a concept that has been enacted in at least seven other states. 

“Opposition to this bill has little to do with the merits of the policy, because anyone would tell you that a failing school could use the parent involvement and regulatory flexibility this bill facilitates,” said Sen. Holt, R-Oklahoma City. “Opposition to this bill has everything to do with power – power that some apparently don’t want to share with parents. The title of this bill is the ‘Parent Empowerment Act,’ and I guess there’s nothing that scares some people more.”

Holt said the goal of chartering an underperforming school under the Parent Empowerment Act would be to provide the flexibility needed to improve student performance at the school in a manner led jointly by motivated parents and school district leaders. The process of creating a charter school outlined in the Parent Empowerment Act is designed to create a collaborative relationship between the parents and the school district, rather than an adversarial one.
“It is unfortunate for parents and children across the state that we
have not found consensus on Senate Bill 1001,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa. “I am committed to working with other members of the legislature in the future to bring real empowerment to our parents.  I still believe that people support that which they help create; therefore, I hope that educators in the future will demonstrate better how to plan with and not for the parents and children they serve.”

Tulsa resident and parent Lauren Marshall made the decision to homeschool her children rather than allow them to attend the local middle school.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my job and have been able to dedicate the past five years to ensure my boys had a quality education,” said Marshall. “But very few parents – especially where I live – can afford to quit their jobs in order to be at home with their kids. What about Gaven and Reagan and Evan – real kids in my neighborhood that my own children play with? They deserve better than a ‘D’ or ‘F-rated’ school.”

Nelson, who filed a similar measure two years ago that did not even receive a hearing, said he is encouraged by the progress the bill has made, but that supporters need to put more effort into educating other lawmakers and other parents on the issue.

“We’re trying to make real changes for our communities of Tulsa by giving the parents the power to save their children in places where the schools have failed them,” said Pastor Joyce A. Cooper of World Won for Christ in Tulsa. “We need to keep on standing up for our kids and giving our families the power to make the changes they need. Our children are stuck in these schools with no options, and so it is a shame that this bill is not going to be heard. All we can do is press on for real power for our parents and communities.”

Holt also believes the bill will become law in the near future as long as lawmakers remember who the bill is designed to protect.

“Unfortunately, real parents have no voice in the Capitol, especially parents in the kinds of communities where this bill would do the most good,” said Holt. “That’s why we as legislators have to speak for them. Our job is not to protect failure. Our job is to empower our parents to make positive change, because parents are who we represent, and improvement is what we should demand. I hope that when this bill returns in the future, we’ll remember that.”
Last month, SB 1001 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 30-12. It can be considered in the House of Representatives in 2014.

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