Rep. Jason Nelson suggests alternative to litigation in fight over failing schools

 Statements this week by Oklahoma City school officials regarding the state Board of Education’s ability to take over troubled schools hint a major lawsuit may be brewing.

The morning press conference at the state Capitol, and other recent comments by other administrators, indicate some districts may be leaning toward filing what state Rep. Jason Nelson, an Oklahoma City Republican, called “a wasteful lawsuit that provides no benefit to children in failing schools.”

However, Rep. Nelson said there is another option: “This is a very serious disagreement that appears to be headed to the legal equivalent of a school-yard fight that will do nothing to help the students stuck in failing schools. Senator Clark Jolley and I crafted a plan last year that represents the best path forward for the students in these schools.”

Senate Bill 264 contains the Allowing Local Administrators More Options Act, which sets up a partnership between local school districts and the state Board of Education.
“The purpose of the act is to empower school boards to partner with the State Board to find creative, out-of-the-box solutions that meet the unique challenges faced at each of these schools,” Nelson said. “Rather than a direct take-over, this bill encourages productive partnership.”

Under the plan a local school board may vote to submit a request to the State Board of Education for an exemption from nearly all statutory requirements and state Board rules.

Requests for the exemption must include a plan that contains the educational benefits of deregulation and the anticipated impacts or outcomes deregulation will have in the requesting district.

The state Board must work with the requesting district to develop an acceptable plan.

“The fact that these state mandates are in place while students are still stuck in these failing schools tells me that we need to rethink how we educate children,” Nelson said. “Improving these schools will require more than tinkering around the edges or expensive lawsuits that seek to keep real reform at bay. Hopefully these kids’ futures are important enough to pass a program that will set the stage for collaboration and creativity.”

In the proposal, plans are approved for three years. The school district is required to submit annual reports to the State Board, which will assess the academic achievement and fiscal status of the school district.

“I hope everyone involved will support this common-sense plan that benefits the students in these failing schools,” Nelson said.
Senate Bill 264 is currently waiting on a vote by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. If passed the measure would go the governor.

Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer and Board Chairperson Angela Monson said they planned to oppose any possible takeover of the city schools.