The Edmond Sun
More than 100 parents from the metro area met last week in Norman for the inaugural meeting of the Central Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee.
PLAC began in the Tulsa area several years ago and has expanded to many areas of the state. An Edmond parent, Meredith Exline is leading the PLAC of Central Oklahoma, and said the organization is completely parent driven, independent of any school district. It does not include paid lobbyists or staff.
This is an organization of parents who have focused their volunteer citizen energies on issues related to education policy and funding and, by engaging other parents and elected officials, seek to influence the direction of education policy and funding in Oklahoma.
“In attendance were Megan Benn, a Norman parent who has been the driving force in getting this initiated in Norman, and Melissa Abdo, a Jenks parent who leads the Tulsa PLAC,” Exline said.
“Two state representatives, Rep. Scott Martin, House Appropriations and Budget Chair, and Rep. Jason Nelson and Sen. Rob Standridge were also at the meeting,” Exline said. “It was terrific.”
Exline said the organization realizes the importance of building a relationship with the representatives and senators representing the districts involved in PLAC.
“Our ultimate goal is for parents to be made aware of legislation that is going to impact our childrens’ education,” Exline said. “It is parent driven, and supported by the administration of the school districts that are involved including Dr. Joe Siano in Norman, Dr. Pam Deering in Mid-Del and Dr. David Goin in Edmond.”
Exline said all of the parents she has visited with feel the same way.
“From the research I have done it doesn’t always seem to me that they are relying on the people who have children going through the education system who are living and breathing to make their decisions concerning education,” Exline said.
She added there are reforms that are being discussed or that are going to be discussed that will impact Oklahoma’s children, and she believes parents need to be more informed and have more input in the decisions that are going to be made including Parent Trigger laws and the Parent Empowerment Act.
On March 6 the state Senate passed a bill that would allow parents of children in low-performing Oklahoma public schools to petition to have those schools converted to charter schools, and in some cases have a principal and other administrators fired.
The Senate voted 30-12 for the Parent Empowerment Act by Oklahoma City Republican Sen. David Holt.
Exline described the bill as Oklahoma’s version of a “parent trigger.”
“If a school received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ grade for two consecutive years, parents could petition to change the school to a charter school if 51 percent of the parents in the district agree,” Exline said.
The bill was scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the House of Representatives but the measure will be laid over until the 2014 legislative session.
Senate Bill 1001, by state Sens. Holt and Jabar Shumate and state Rep. Jason Nelson, would have allowed a majority of parents in an under-performing school to sign a petition that would transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators.
“It’s obvious that we have a lot more work to do, but the momentum is on our side,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “There is a growing coalition of parents and policy makers who are determined to ensure that the voices of our students and their parents are heard, so that is very encouraging. Parents want choice for their children. The parents are on the front lines; they know whether their local school district is failing their children or not.”
Exline said, “It seems to me that they aren’t talking to educators and parents who are experiencing the results of the bills they are passing. Tests that are being given will determine a teacher’s performance.”
Speaking from her own experience Exline said her seventh-grade daughter is in Pre-Algebra I, but the test she will be taking at the end of the year will be over seventh-grade math.
Her daughter’s teacher is now trying to prepare the students for a math test in an area that they have not had all year, Exline said.
“There is no funding to prepare the students not to fail, nor for the students who don’t test well,” Exline said. “With the new Teacher Leadership Evaluation in place, teachers are learning what they will be evaluated on while the evaluation will be happening.
“One administrator said it very effectively, ‘It is like trying to fly an airplane in midair and fix a problem at the same time.’”
She added most logical people don’t take the time to look into both sides of a bill, and everyone may not have time to dig in deep and research what is happening and what has happened in other states.
“I think as a busy person the general public just listens to what is put out there, and they don’t have time to search out both sides of an issue,” Exline said.
Central Oklahoma PLAC members will be joining Tulsa area members from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 23 for Capitol Day.
“Basically we will be going as a group and talking with senators and representatives about various bills being discussed,” Exline said. “I think it is time for the people to start putting a voice back in their government.”
FOR MORE information about what is happening with PLAC, text PLAC to 55678 and answer a series of bounce back questions, or email Exline at firstname.lastname@example.org.