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Oklahoma's Senate gives final OK to major school bill

By The Associated Press Modified: April 29, 2009 at 8:30 pm •  Published: April 29, 2009
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OKLAHOMA CITY — The state Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved a bill stripping away regulations placed on public schools by a landmark 1990 reform and tax act known as House Bill 1017.

The vote was 25-22 for the bill, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against it. It takes 25 votes to pass a bill in the 48-member legislative body. One senator was absent.

Supporters said the goal is to improve schools through more local control.

Critics said the bill does away with needed state standards governing such things as class size, counseling, libraries, remediation, and student progress.

Senate Bill 834, called the School District Empowerment Program, now goes to Gov. Brad Henry for his consideration.

The legislation will deregulate all public schools over a number of years, beginning in 2010 from a list of schools deemed in need of improvement. In succeeding years, 20 percent of the remaining schools will be chosen each year until all Oklahoma schools are included.

It was opposed by the Oklahoma Education Association, partly because it does away with the current rules on collective bargaining, during which negotiations are conducted on a contract and presented to school boards for their approval or rejection.

Opponents said school boards will not have to deal with unions representing teachers under provisions of the bill.

Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, introduced the measure. Ford said it removes "unfunded state mandates" that restrict the ability of local school officials to determine the best use of school funds.

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