A bill targeting four Oklahoma charter schools because it has hired foreign teachers and administrators failed in legislative committee.
House Bill 1866 would have required the five highest paid administrators as well as its school board members to be American citizens. Failure to comply would have resulted in the loss of state funds.
The House of Representatives Common Education Committee voted 11-5 not to pass the measure.
“This bill sends a negative message that we are against cultural diversity, that perhaps we are a little paranoid about people of a different color and people of a different religion,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove.
Rep. Sally Kern, the bill's author, told committee members her intent was to make sure state money going to charter schools went to Oklahomans and U.S. citizens.
“Let's use our own homegrown people first,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City.
During questioning Kern said the schools were linked with supporters of a reclusive Turkish Islamic preacher named Fethullah Gulen. Kern identified the schools as the Dove and Discovery charter schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Marc Julian, director of development for the Dove and Discovery schools, denied affiliation with Gulen.
“I know who he is because he's a Turkish scholar, but only because these accusations have come up before in the past,” he said. “I don't know enough about the man. As far as I've ever understood that, no, we are not directly affiliated or affiliated in any way with anyone other than Oklahoma City Public Schools.”
The charter schools are privately run but publicly funded with an emphasis on math and science and a tendency to use H-1B visas to bring in foreign teachers.
Two of the charter schools are in Oklahoma City: Dove Science Academy, which houses grades six through 12, and Dove Science Academy Elementary, housing grades kindergarten through fifth. The other two schools are in Tulsa: Dove Science Academy of Tulsa, with grades six through 12, and Discovery School of Oklahoma, housing grades kindergarten through eighth.
Kern said she was concerned that Dove Science Academy students went on a school field trip to the Oklahoma City Raindrop Turkish House, which she said has ties with Gulen groups.
“I can't see the problem of having Turkish citizens here teaching students if a parent wants the child to go to a charter school,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, a committee member.
Kern said after the meeting that the Dove and Discovery schools were connected with Gulen, and that she's concerned because Gulen-affiliated schools are being investigated for fraud involving visas.
“I'll have to find another way to deal with it,” she said.
Julian said the Dove and Discovery schools are pleased that committee members voted not to pass the measure, which will allow charter schools “the freedom to staff their schools and boards with the highest quality educators available.”
“Since 2000, Dove schools have served Oklahoma by placing a strong emphasis on math, science and technology in order to help our students reach their fullest potential,” Julian said. “Our academic success speaks for itself, and we are committed to offering the same high level of education that Oklahoma students and families deserve.”