OKLAHOMA CITY — Proposed changes in the Oklahoma Department of Education's rules certainly look alarming, apparently revoking standards for every subject, be it high school art or first-grade history.
The department told The Associated Press Wednesday looks were deceiving and the changes a harmless, bureaucratic quirk, but members of the House vehemently condemned the proposed changes during a press conference at the Capitol, saying they're an attempt to wrest the state's academic control from the Legislature. The chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Rep. Jerry McPeak of Warner, called the proposed changes a "dictatorship" and "autocracy."
"It's an attempt to take complete and total control of public education by one entity," said Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville. "What's the benefit of leaving us out of the approval process? The answer's control."
A Department of Education spokeswoman told the AP the proposal is simply meant to streamline routine changes to curriculum by taking those standards out of the department's rules of operation.
"We're not revoking our academic standards," said spokeswoman Sherry Fair, noting that the standards remain visible to the public on the department's website. "It's really just a procedural thing that we never really had to do."
Because standards for history, math and other subjects are currently among the rules, any curriculum adjustments must go through the Legislature. A routine change therefore becomes a drawn-out process requiring time and hundreds of printed pages for all the committees involved, Fair said.
But the department doesn't have to do all of that, Fair said. Oklahoma law gives the department the sole authority to adjust standards every so often.
So the department has proposed taking the standards out of its rules and setting up a committee of professionals and community members to specifically oversee standards changes.
For any of that to happen, these proposed changes must be approved by the State Board of Education at its Thursday meeting. They then must be approved by the Legislature.
Representatives said the proposed standards committee was an attempt to replace them without accountability.
"The legislative role is to provide that input," said Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum. "Maybe that voice of my constituents will be lost if certain rules are made and put into place."
Fair said the department had reached out to members of the House and Senate about the misunderstanding.
But at House members' press conference Wednesday, Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, said: "This is something we're going to look at. It's usually not my job to reach out to agencies."