The state House of Representatives defeated a bill Thursday that would have authorized the expansion of publicly funded charter schools into rural areas.
The action took place during a late-night session in which House members also voted down a controversial bill that would have affected the selection of appellate judges.
The expanded school choice bill, which House author Lee Denney said was requested by Gov. Mary Fallin, would have set up a procedure for brick-and-mortar charter schools to be established in rural Oklahoma counties.
Currently, such charter schools are limited to Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties, said Denney, R-Cushing.
“Parents do need options,” Denney said, adding that “not all students are doing great” in public schools.
Denney said that under her bill, state per-pupil funding would follow students as they moved to public charter schools.
“Parents know best,” she said.
“They know what’s best for their kids and this is what they want.”
Numerous House members argued against it, contending public schools would be harmed by the loss of funds that would occur as students moved from public to charter schools.
“There’s not enough money for public schools, so we’re going to create more schools?” state Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, asked incredulously.
Senate Bill 573 was defeated by a 26-64 vote.
State House members Thursday also soundly defeated a bill that would have given the speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate more influence in the process used to nominate members of the state Supreme Court and other appellate courts. The resolution would have changed the makeup of the nominating board.
The vote was 31-65.
Critics contended Senate Joint Resolution 21 was an attempt to politicize the judicial selection process.
House author Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, argued it would make the process more “democratic.”
Oklahoma judicial candidates are screened by Oklahoma’s 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission, which submits three recommended candidates for each position that needs to be filled.
Currently, six members of the Judicial Nominating Commission are attorneys elected by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
The resolution would have changed it so three of those six attorneys would have been appointed by the speaker of the House and three would have been appointed by the Senate’s president pro tem.
“I believe this correction would make it more democratic,” said McCullough, an attorney. “There is a perception that over the years the bar has drifted to the left.”
“It is a subtle bias,” he said.
Several House members from both parties argued the proposed change would make the judicial selection process more political.
“I don’t think the founding fathers ... ever intended for the judicial system to be a farm team for the Oklahoma Legislature,” said state Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City.
In addition to the six attorneys on the Judicial Nominating Commission, there are nine non-attorneys. Six of those are appointed by the governor, one is appointed by the House speaker, one by the Senate president pro tem and one is selected by other members of the commission.