BY ED CANNADAY
Debate on Senate Bill 834, or the School Empowerment Act, ratcheted up this week. The bill is designed to allow local school boards to disregard or deregulate state mandates.
Five areas would be exempt from this process, including requirements for:
1. serving all students in the district;
2. maintaining minimum salary schedule;
3. continued participation in teacher retirement;
4. providing health insurance plans; and
5. conducting criminal background checks on potential employees.
However, the bill says boards will not be able to deregulate federal mandates. The problem is that lines between federal and state mandates are often blurred.
Case in point: special education. The state mandates specific requirements for teacher certification and students’ curriculum. The federal government mandates what constitutes “highly qualified teachers” and procedures for students participating in their curriculum.
What, then, can be deregulated?
I am approaching this bill with ample caution. I’m concerned this may be the legislative equivalent of “buying a pig in a poke” – because it may turn out to be not a pig at all.
Members of the House Common Education Committee must ask what is truly in the “poke.” The bill’s author may have the best of intentions, but I believe we’re buying an unknown product.
Some say this bill will empower local school boards, while I believe others rightly predict it will politicize school boards. Given my experience as a former school board member, teacher and administrator, this bill causes me great concern for the future of public education in Oklahoma.
– The author is a Democratic state representative from Porum, OK