Oklahoma City to host Jan. 24 “town hall” during National School Choice Week

 A gathering of school choice advocates is on tap for Tuesday, January 24 at Constitution Hall on the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) campus in Edmond. The event is intended, organizer Stuart Jolly said, “to support the future workforce of America.”

In addition to leading school choice advocates from Oklahoma, presenters at the event will include John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, a former member of Congress from Norman.

The event comes just a few months after national news stories pointed to Oklahoma as an apt metaphor for what advocates dubbed “The Year of School Choice.”

Context for the gathering, and some of the national attention it is gaining in advance of the event, comes from the Sooner State’s recent history.

Choice legislation was enacted both in 2010 — when then-Governor Brad Henry (a Democrat) supported and signed a bill benefitting special needs children – and in 2011, when Governor Mary Fallin (a Republican) supported and signed into law the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act. 

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Jolly, Oklahoma state director for Americans for Prosperity (AFP) said, “the core appeal, the central issue, is parental rights to choose. Parents simply have the right to select the school to which they send their kids. I’m looking forward to this conference, as we look back to celebrate and support what has already passed in Oklahoma, and what we have planned for the future.”

Americans for Prosperity is a national activist organization that works for limited government and free markets.

Another sponsor of the school choice event is the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a “think tank” that focuses on economic liberty, tax policy and state governance issues.

Concerning this year’s likely or potential legislation at the state Capitol, Jolly reflected, “I expect to see a virtual school bill, a process to create a clearinghouse at the state Department of Education. I believe Senators John Ford [a Bartlesville Republican] and Gary Stanislawski [a Tulsa Republican] may both be pushing that idea. Another proposal is to relieve individual school districts from the burden of negotiating with virtual education providers.”

Jolly continued, “I also anticipate a charter school reform bill that would allow more groups and individuals to form charter schools, without having to go through the process of finding a local district or other sponsor as required in current law. This causes delays in opening up schools that are or could be effective models.

“You might also see proposals to shore up around the edges for the areas of choice that have already been achieved. We’ll see what actually emerges, but I see some evidence this will be a year to promote maintenance and enhancement of areas of choice that have been carved out in the last few years.”

Filing deadline for bills to be considered during the 2012 session was Thursday (January 19).

Concerning the lineup of speakers in Oklahoma City, Jolly was enthusiastic, saying he believes “each of these speakers brings something special to the table.”

“Oklahoma is very fortunate. We will have John Fund, who has written eloquently about choice for many years. I always feel like he is “the brain in the room” every time I hear him.

“We’re also delighted to welcome back former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts. He’s here to offer both an Oklahoma and a national perspective on school choice, and of course to give insight on issues facing black children and inner city children.

“Superintendent Barresi will talk about implementation of choice programs and education reform. From our own Legislature, I know that Sen. Stanwislawski will give us a look from inside the Legislature on the issues and reforms to expect on the virtual and other school issues.

“Jeff Reed of the Friedman Foundation is a key national player in the push to afford parent and children more and better choices.

Jolly dubbed the Oklahoma City Town Hall and other widely publicized programs as “marquee events,” but stressed the national impact of the program being held in the middle of National School Choice Week. 

National School Choice Week is January 22-28. In addition to Oklahoma City, programs gaining national publicity, and their prominent speakers, include those in Los Angeles, California (Jan. 22) with Juan Williams / Hugh Hewitt, Chicago (Jan. 23) with Juan Williams and Michael Medved, Denver, Colorado (Jan. 24) with Dick Morris and Hugh Hewitt, St. Louis, Missouri (Jan. 24) with Dick Morris and Dana Loesch, Charlotte, North Carolina (Jan. 26), where will Morris will again speak, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Jan. 27), with Williams’ reprise and the wrap-up in Hershey, Pennsylvania (Jan. 28), with Dick Morris and Bob Bowden.

Other grass roots programs with the emphasis on “Restoring Educational Freedom” are slated, organizers told CapitolBeatOK, are in Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan,  Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennesee, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
Besides Jolly’s AFP, the national AFP Foundation is sponsoring the Oklahoma City event, along with the National School Choice Coalition, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition. The Oklahoma coalition was long chaired by former U.S. Attorney Bill Price, who was the Republican candidate for governor in 1990.

Note: McGuigan is editor, and Martin is a researcher, for CapitolBeatOK, based from the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. CapitolBeatOK is an affiliate of the Franklin Center a leading journalism non-profit organization dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support.