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State of Oklahoma

Posted: Jan 24, 2020 11:35 AMUpdated: Jan 24, 2020 11:50 AM

Rep. Fincher Files Two Virtual Charter School Bills

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Garrett Giles

Two separate bills have been filed by House District 11 Representative Derrel Fincher that would address virtual charter schools.

House Bill 3405 would remove the 1.33 weight attached to each virtual school student. Rep. Fincher said when talking about weight, it means the weight of the different services a school may need. He said for different types of students, extra funding may be required.

Essentially House Bill 3405 will put virtual charter schools on the same allocation schedule as traditional brick-and-mortar public schools, with both receiving their initial allocation in July.

Representative Fincher said the special weight was just intended for the first year of operation when they did not know how many students would be enrolled in the virtual charter schools. He said they are going back and correcting the bill for subsequent years.

On the funding issue, Rep. Fincher added that the law for virtual charters was initially written so those schools would receive a 1.33 weight for every year of operation because they did not have a prior year enrollment count. The formula, however, is still being used, which is why House Bill 3405 is aimed at correcting the issue so virtual charters would receive weighted funds for only those students that qualify, including special education students, English language learners and those who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

Then there is House Bill 3414, which is aimed at addressing the issue of students transferring between traditional school districts and virtual charters.

This one is a bit more complex. Rep. Fincher said in the past, students could only live in one district because districts did not overlap. However, statewide virtual charter schools have their district boundaries defined as the border of the state, so every student in Oklahoma now live in six districts – their local school district and the five statewide virtual charter school districts. When students enroll in any of these, the current open transfer and emergency transfer laws do not apply because they are only enrolling in a home district, and the move is not tracked by the state. Often, school did not know students had left until they received a request for records from the virtual school.

House Bill 3414 will change the statute by stating that whatever school a child is enrolled in is now their resident district, and everything else is then a transfer. It also means that the student and their parent will need to notify their superintendent of the transfer. Rep. Fincher said this is about notifying parents of all options.

All schools in District 11 like Bartlesville, Collinsville and Caney Valley offer part time or full-time virtual schooling. Rep. Fincher said House Bill 3414 will allow schools to talk to parents about the virtual services they have to offer.

If the parents think the virtual school is not working out, they will be able to transfer their child back into a traditional classroom. The goal is to give parents all the information they need while keep decisions on schooling in their hands.

When talking with the State Department of Education, Rep. Fincher asked what the transfer situation looked like in terms of students transferring from traditional schools to virtual schools and back. He said the department did not have that data because it is not actually recorded as a transfer at the State Department of Education.

It took months for Rep. Fincher to get data for one school. He said the State Department of Education only allowed him to pick one school district, so he chose Bartlesville Public Schools.

During his research, Rep. Fincher discovered that 15 students in the past two school years transferred from a virtual school back to a traditional school. When looking at the current school year to December 2019, he said that number stood at 7 students. That data alone took months for the State Department of Education to get to the representative.

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