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The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board made waves this week by approving the nation’s first religious public charter school. The validity of that vote is already in question.

Newly installed board member Brian Bobek may not have been eligible to vote. Without him, the school’s request for authorization would have failed. Monday’s vote was 3-2, and three “yes” votes are required for any action by the board under state statute.

House Speaker Charles McCall appointed Bobek on Friday to replace Barry Beauchamp. But Beauchamp, a former superintendent of Lawton Public Schools, did not resign. Though his term had expired, Beauchamp agreed to continue serving, according to board chairman Robert Franklin.

Just before the meeting, Deputy Attorney General Niki Batt, the board’s legal counsel, emailed Franklin and Executive Director Rebecca Wilkinson to say she’s concerned the law doesn’t allow Bobek to take over the board seat until November.

Neither Franklin nor Wilkinson saw the email until after the meeting.

Batt didn’t tell the board Bobek might be ineligible to vote during the meeting, even though she spoke at length about other legal issues.

Franklin, an associate superintendent at Tulsa Tech who has managed previous controversies on the board, was worried about the optics if Bobek was allowed to vote.

Franklin said he didn’t want to be accused of vote stacking or vote management. So he asked Bobek to abstain, but Bobek refused.

“While you know that people are watching, that’s when you do your best work. Not when you make your worst decisions or your most impetuous decisions,” Franklin said. “The country was watching us, and we reminded ourselves of that, and we did it anyway.”

When questioned about the timing of Bobek’s appointment, Daniel Seitz, a spokesman for McCall, said “We have been working on a replacement for a while.”

“The Speaker has not told his appointee how to vote on anything,” Seitz wrote in an emailed statement. “The appointment was only made to replace an expired term.”

Underpinning it all is the board’s looming demise. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday signed into law reforms to charter school oversight that include a new board replacing the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

The new Statewide Charter School Board will take over sponsorship of all statewide virtual schools on July 1, 2024. It will have the authority to sponsor nonvirtual charter schools.

Nine people will sit on the new board — three appointed by the governor, two each by the Senate Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House, plus the state superintendent and the state auditor (or their designees). The law requires those initial appointments be made by Oct. 31.

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Please reach out via email or direct message.

— Jennifer Palmer

Recommended Reading

  • In states around the country, Democrats boosted education funding to record amounts. Now, they’re touting that infusion of dollars to attack Republicans, who they say are fixated on harmful agendas. [Politico]
  • Schools received billions in pandemic relief aid. It may not be doing enough. [The New York Times]
  • A new study found charter school students outperformed their peers in traditional schools in math and English, and large chains were particularly effective. However, special education students were “seriously stymied” in charter schools. [The 74]

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