Cherokee Nation to determine immersion school’s charter status
TAHLEQUAH – On Sept. 21, the Cherokee Immersion Charter School board voted to discontinue the school’s charter agreement with Oklahoma. However, Cherokee Nation officials said no timeframe has been set as to when the agreement would become final and that the school is still under charter status.
Rufus King, school board president, said the reason for the charter termination is because of a lack of necessary funding being received from the state while having to comply with its mandatory regulations.
“They said they (Immersion School officials) weren’t getting enough money (from the state). I think that was the main thing. Not enough money to put up with what the state requires,” he said.
Tribal Councilor and Education Committee Chairman David Walkingstick said in fiscal year 2017 the school received $487,000 and only $187,000 in FY 2018, which ended on Sept. 30.
He said the CN provided about $2.8 million to the school.
“The reason we’re not receiving the immersion funds is because we exceeded the 300 percent per pupil that was compared to the average state pupil in the state of Oklahoma. So the average per pupil in the state of Oklahoma is $8,000. We’re spending about $27,000 to $29,000 per kid. So we exceeded that 300 percent per pupil,” Walkingstick said. “It’s not like we’re not getting anything, we just got deducted. Our funding was adjusted due to the state budget formula.”
During the Tribal Council’s Oct. 5 Education Committee meeting, committee members, Education Services Deputy Executive Director Ron Etheridge and tribal attorneys discussed plans for the school, including funding, charter status and academic standards.
Etheridge said with the charter termination, the school would run as a private school under the CN with funding coming solely from the tribe.
Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said what the school board did in its Sept. 21 meeting was authorize the board president to enter an agreement with the CN to terminate the charter. Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd added that the charter was created by a legislative act from the Tribal Council. Walkingstick then said he had concerns about the school’s structure and sustainability once it’s out of charter status and asked if legislation would come back to the Tribal Council to vote on the charter exit.
“The immersion school board cannot unilaterally terminate it by contacting the state board of education. There either has to be termination by the Nation with 90 days notice to the board or as any contract you can do it by mutual agreement. So what the immersion school board did was say ‘our president can sign something with the Nation ending the charter.’ So now the ball is in our court on how and when we make that happen. There’s nothing that they have done so far that affects the charter status of the school,” Nimmo said.
During the Oct. 5 meeting, officials also discussed which governmental branch has the final say on the charter exit. According to the charter contract, the Tribal Council has to approve the exit. But according to CN legislation, the principal chief can authorize the charter termination.
Byrd also questioned if the state standards the school uses are going change once the charter status is revoked.
“We can still use the state standards, that accreditation. In fact, looking into this… I found out that there’s only about a half a dozen of the schools (in Oklahoma) that are private that do not use the state standards. There are accreditation standards out there that we could opt to use as opposed to using state standards, but we can still continue to use state standards as a private school,” Etheridge said.
Walkingstick said before the termination is complete he would like to see what plans would be put in place to measure the school’s academic standards.
“When we terminate from the state with the charter status, we want an infrastructure in place to measure our academic standards. We don’t have any academic standards. We’re going to have to adopt some standards. There’s a lot of blanks in what the transition looks like in going away from the charter. I’m hoping our council has foresight in looking into the future so that we can have a road map on where we’re going,” he said.