After the State Senate passed a controversial bill proposing to deregulate portions of public schools on Thursday, groups on either side of the issue started a political fight that put teachers and students in the crossfire.
The bill numbered SB1187, or the School District Empowerment Act, removes 12 state standards that public schools have to follow. Those standards include having certified teachers, and paying teachers the state minimum salary. The bill also allows schools to loosen some restrictions on background checks.
The bill created a tricky list of pros and cons for education administrators.
“I think the best part about that is the fact that when we have teacher shortages we can get people in the classrooms immediately,” said Yukon Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jason Simeroth.
“I would never look at the minimum salary scale. The retirement scale or the flexible benefits, that is something that we owe our teacher.”
SB1187 passed the Senate with a 25-20 vote and heads to a likely-favorable House for approval before heading to the governor’s desk.
The Oklahoma Public Schools Resource Center, an education lobbying group, helped write the changes. Members say there is nothing stopping districts from holding themselves to the same state standards, officials would just have to implement them voluntarily.
"It's a goal to try to help and encourage schools to move towards a better model of learning instead of coming down from the state," Andy Evans with OPSRC said.
The Oklahoma Education Association disagrees.
"It cannot be our state's vision of public schools for students to be taught by an untrained, uncertified, low-paid teacher... Instead of properly funding our schools, SB1187 allows for shortcuts that weaken our education system," OEA president Alicia Priest said in a statement.
For Simeroth, however, it just isn't that simple.
“You have to work with the teachers, you have to work with your administrators, your community to see which pieces of this you want to implement,” he said.