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State Superintendent Ryan Walters proposes rules tying accreditation to academics, department looking to intervene in St. Isidore case

State Superintendent Ryan Walters answers questions from reporters after the Nov. 30 State Board of Education meeting.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Ryan Walters answers questions from reporters after the Nov. 30 State Board of Education meeting.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters is proposing new administrative rules that would tie academic outcomes to school districts’ accreditation status.

Currently, test scores do not determine a school district’s accreditation status, and districts can be designated on any of the four different levels of accreditation before revocation.

Walters elaborated on the plan at the Nov. 30 State Board of Education meeting.

The plan would require at least 50% of a district’s students score above the “basic” threshold in English and math on state tests. If districts fail to meet that number, they receive an accreditation deficiency and must increase their scores by 5% over the following school year. If they fail to do that, they could receive harsher demotions.

“Failure is not an option for Oklahoma schools,” Walters said at the meeting. “When we see schools that are struggling, that are not meeting the needs of parents and kids, we will act.”

Walters said schools that do not meet the new standards would be given resources from the state, such as financing, programming and personnel from the agency.

In a press release, Walters’ office said it proposed the rules to be in line with Oklahoma law.

“According to Oklahoma statute, the State Board of Education must maintain accreditation standards that ‘equal or exceed’ nationally recognized accreditation standards to the extent that the standards are consistent with an academic results-oriented approach,’” the press release said. “Currently, the state of Oklahoma does not have such an accreditation standard. This problem can be solved by creating academically rigorous goals and expectations while maintaining objectivity in the process.”

The rules will go to public comment for 60 days before being voted on by the board. That then goes through the legislative process, or the governor can issue an executive order to enact them.

Agency ‘fight[s] to get back in the case’ over St. Isidore

Also at the meeting, the board voted to hire the First Liberty Institute law firm to handle a case the Oklahoma Supreme Court said it should stay out of.

In October, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a lawsuit against the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board for its decision to approve what would be the nation’s first publicly funded religious school, the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School.

The State Department of Education filed a motion to intervene in November, claiming it should be named as a party in the lawsuit because it handles the distribution of state funds to schools.

But the State Supreme Court denied the agency’s motion a few days later.

After the Nov. 30 State Board of Education Meeting, Walters vowed to challenge the high court’s decision.

“It’s outrageous that we wouldn’t be in the case,” Walters said. “We are obviously a litigant of the case, and we’re absolutely not going to stand by and watch religious liberty be trampled. So we are going to continue to fight for individuals’ religious liberty. We’re going to fight to get back in the case and we’re going to win it.”

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.

Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
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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