2019-08-14 ne-DoveTGp01

Members of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board discuss an application for a new statewide virtual school in 2014. Pictured are John Harrington (left), the board’s chairman, and Rebecca Wilkinson, executive director of the board. ANDREA EGER/Tulsa World file

Among several bills proposed to even the field between virtual and traditional public schools, lawmakers appear to have neglected an idea that would best coordinate and oversee public education.

Oklahoma should eliminate the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and place its responsibilities with the State Board of Education.

Such a move would reduce government bureaucracy, streamline oversight and allow the state education department to develop more comprehensive, coordinated and consistent plans for the future of public education.

The five-member virtual charter school board was created when online education was in its infancy and unknown. Since then, Oklahomans have gained a greater understanding about how charters operate and where they fit into public education options.

Growing pains led to pending federal and state investigations of Epic Charter Schools into its business practices. Concerns have been raised as to actual cost for online education, accurate student counts and use of public funds for advertising and extracurricular activities.

Proposed legislation on virtual charters is largely inspired by Epic.

Rep. Lundy Kiger proposes a per-student funding limit on virtual students to $3,500 from all public and private sources. He and Sen. Ron Sharp have measures that would ban the use of public funds on student recruitment advertising.

Sharp, one of Epic’s biggest critics, also proposes the virtual board sponsor virtual charters, rather than traditional school districts. His proposal would also mandate an annual review.

Sen. Gary Stanislawski’s Senate Bill 1541 proposes changing the virtual school board’s name to the Oklahoma Commission for Digital Learning and expanding it to nine members.

Rep. Chris Sneed has a bill that would ban education funding for private extracurricular activities and for staff bonuses for recruiting teachers and students from other schools. Sen. J.J. Dossett proposes requiring students enroll in their local school district’s virtual program before one outside the district.

While some of those ideas have merit, none get to the heart of creating a singular focus on public education. There is no longer a need for two state education boards to oversee public education.

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