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Thousands of public school students applied and approved to transfer under new Oklahoma law

A high school hallway.
iStockphoto.com

Heading into the new school year this fall almost 11,000 students requested to transfer under Oklahoma’s new open transfer law.

Of the 10,924 transfer requests, 8,417 were approved between the start of 2022 and Aug. 15. Additionally, 541 were still pending.

The vast majority of requests came this summer as schools geared up for fall 2022. The high numbers were expected after a slow start to implementation of the new law in January.

Senate Bill 783 was signed into law during the 2021 session. It requires schools to publish how many students they can accept at a site and be willing to accept any students into their schools if possible. School choice advocates have touted the new law as an opportunity to allow parents to make more choices.

And many students took advantage of transfer availability by using the formal process through the state. In the past, especially in rural areas, transfers were generally more informal.

With the new law, denials were rare, and mostly concentrated in suburban and exurban areas around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The reason was almost always due to capacity constraints in receiving districts.

Between July and mid-August, roughly half of the denials were in just 10 districts due to capacity issues: Midwest City-Del City, Moore, Jenks, Tulsa Union, Collinsville, Edmond, Choctaw-Nicoma Park, Bethel, Broken Arrow and Piedmont.

Local school boards are required to set capacity limits at schools, and then districts advertise how many slots are available under the law. And they still must also accept any students who move into the boundaries of the district.

Earlier this month those issues played out during a transfer appeal hearing at the State Board of Education for a student who hoped to attend school in Jenks.

The student was trying to transfer to Jenks High School after he had moved out of the district, but was ultimately denied.

“We are at 27 on an average class size, and our capacity had been set at 25,” Superintendent Stacey Butterfield said at the hearing. “Our class sizes are not where we would like for them to be. They need to be lower.”

Families can fill out an application through Oklahoma’s State Department of Education.

The policy draws praise from both Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed it into law, and State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, his Democratic opponent in November.

“Education is not one-size-fits-all, and these bills allow parents and students to have the freedom to attend the best public school for them regardless of their ZIP code,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement touting its passage in 2021.

“Families enjoy choices now more than ever before when it comes to public education in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said in a written statement. “We are excited to offer a user-friendly online option for student transfers and pleased to see so many families are utilizing the new platform to choose the optimal learning environment for their kids.”

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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