Parents of Oklahoma virtual public school students have only the heat to sweat this summer, thanks to Senate Bill 267. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin, funds and maintains access to virtual charter schools in our state. For parents like me, this is no minor victory.
Traditional public schools serve the majority of Oklahoma's students well. But for some, they never quite fit. Parents of students who suffer from bullying, for instance, may dislike the anxiety that the local school sparks in their children. Students with physical handicaps may decide that even structural accommodations can't eliminate the barriers to successful learning.
Gifted children may become impatient with the scope or tempo of learning in traditional classrooms, while their special-needs counterparts may grow frustrated trying to keep up with the classroom curriculum.
Traditional schools also prove problematic for students who need flexibility to pursue special skills, such as those with professional athletic pursuits, or those with health setbacks, such as bouts with serious illness. For these and other students, virtual public education is a blessing.
My two sons demonstrate this fact well. My older son, whose learning is challenged by Asperger's syndrome, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, didn't thrive in a traditional classroom. Neither did my younger son, but for different reasons; he didn't find the level of challenge he needed. Virtual public school has made learning success possible for them both.
The thought of losing the option or seeing it diminished by reduced funding or enrollment caps unsettles parents like me. We know what this learning environment means to our children. And we strive to maintain the option for other Oklahoma parents who, like us, need a choice in their children's public education.
For this reason, I joined hundreds of parents, students and teachers in March to rally at our state Capitol. We called for equal funding and open access for all the students whose public education takes a slightly different form. We were lucky. Reps. Lee Denney and Jason Nelson, Sen. Gary Stanislawski and state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi came out to support our cause.
Better still, their appearance was more than just lip service. These policymakers proved to be champions of the public school options. Thanks to them and their colleagues, SB 267 now helps ensure that the funding students need is available once they get established in their virtual learning environment. The bill also creates a state authorizing board to replace the current charter authorizer, making the state borders the boundaries for a statewide virtual charter school.
Many parents in Oklahoma know firsthand the value of virtual public education for their children. Thanks to SB 267, more still will now have the chance to find out if cyber learning is the public school choice that is right for them.
Marshall, of Tulsa, is chair of the Oklahoma chapter of PublicSchoolOptions.org.