Program Cut Spurs Norman Parents to Push for Charter School

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The Norman Public Schools' administrative offices.

Jennifer Palmer/Oklahoma Watch

The Norman Public Schools' administrative offices.

Parents upset over the axing of a Norman Public Schools language program are driving an effort to create what could be the state’s second charter school allowed outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa under a new law.

A group of parents is asking the district to sponsor the school, which would continue the mission of a French immersion program that was eliminated in the spring at Reagan Elementary School to save the district $400,000. The charter school, Le Monde International School, also would offer Spanish immersion.

The charter school could pull hundreds of students — and the per-pupil funding tied to them — out of the district, although the district could retain up to 5 percent of the school’s state aid as an administrative fee. The school’s organizers project nearly 300 students the first year.

Brick-and-mortar charter schools were not allowed outside of Oklahoma City or Tulsa until 2015, with the exception of those sponsored by a federally-recognized Native American tribe or the Office of Juvenile Affairs. The first new rural charter school, Carlton Landing Academy, opens Monday in Carlton Landing, a swanky resort community on Lake Eufaula in eastern Oklahoma.

The Le Monde school is the second proposal to surface since the law changed.

“We’re aware there is opposition in general to public charter schools, and we sympathize with public schools and believe they should be adequately funded,” said Jody Britt, vice president of the school’s founding board. “Our sole motivation was to continue what Norman Public Schools started.”

The proposal was submitted Tuesday to Norman Superintendent Joe Siano and school board members. Siano was a major proponent of the French program at Reagan.

A location for the school has not been determined. Three possible sites are listed in the application, and Britt said it may be possible to locate within one of Norman’s schools.

If approved, the school will seek donations and grants for startup costs. The state Education Department this year eliminated funding for charter school startups, but several private foundations, including the Walton Family Foundation, offer such funding. In June the Walton foundation pledged an additional $250 million in charter school funding prioritizing 17 cities, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Le Monde International School proposes opening in 2017 with an estimated 280 students in prekindergarten through 6th grade. The school plans to offer priority enrollment to students who were previously in Reagan’s French immersion program.

Language immersion is offered at several public and magnet schools, as well as a Cherokee language immersion charter school in Tahlequah.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed and governed by appointed, not elected, boards.

Critics say charter schools divert essential funding from traditional neighborhood schools and rely on application procedures and other subtle tactics to exclude students who are difficult to educate.

There are currently 13 charter schools in Oklahoma City and 10 in Tulsa.

A charter application for Drexel Academy in Tulsa was recently pulled from state Education Department consideration after the school’s ties to San Miguel Catholic school was revealed by the Tulsa World in April. State law prohibits charter schools that are affiliated with private sectarian schools or religious institutions.

Drexel Academy elementary is instead set to open this month as a private school with $100 monthly tuition, similar to San Miguel, a middle school.

In Oklahoma City, community groups rallied against a proposed expansion of the high-performing KIPP Reach charter school, which went before the Oklahoma City Public Schools board last month. Leaders of the middle school wanted to convert Martin Luther King Elementary to a charter school and expand to serve grades pre-K through 12th.

School board members approved a compromise plan that allows the school to move its current students into Martin Luther King and creates a task force to study and recommend sites for its future elementary and high school. That process is ongoing.