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Okla. Board Votes To Ask Legislature To Scrap Statewide Adoption of Textbooks

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The Oklahoma Board of Education has called on the legislature to change state law to allow local districts to take over control of textbook selection from a state committee.

If it becomes law, the proposal would make Oklahoma the first state in more than five years to switch control over textbook selection and purchase from the state to the local level, according to Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the American Textbook Council.

Currently, textbook selection is handled at the state level in 22 states, Mr. Sewall said.

Describing as "archaic" the current selection process, which was written into Oklahoma's constitution in 1946, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett had recommended the move.

Ms. Garrett said she urged the shift to local control because of changes created by the five-year school-improvement and revenue law, known as House Bill 1017, passed by the legislature in 1990.

A new statewide curriculum package mandated by the law was mailed out last month, and so the time was right to revamp textbook selection, Ms. Garrett said.

The new outcome-based curriculum, which must be in place in 1993, allows teachers to choose instructional materials and resources.

"If we're going to give the teachers a curriculum and [let them] choose their resources, we don't need a state adoption committee to restrict them," Ms. Garrett argued. "I thought [the existing textbook-selection process] violated the spirit of 1017," she added.

State Panel Targeted

Currently, a 13-member panel selects the books eligible for state funding. Districts wishing to buy books not endorsed by the committee may do so, but only with local resources.

State funds--$25 per pupil per year over about one-third of local textbook budgets, officials said.

The state board's resolution, which was approved last month, proposes to abolish the current state selection committee. Instead, district-level committees made up of teachers, administrators, parents, and community members would be authorized to select books.

The resolution also calls for state per-pupil textbook funds to be allocated as vouchers to districts.

Legislative action on the issue could come this year, an education-department spokesman indicated.

It remains unclear, however, whether a constitutional amendment requiting a popular vote would be necessary to enact the proposal.

Ms. Garrett said she believes a change in the constitution, which provides specifically for a state-level selection committee, could perhaps be avoided if a new committee with nominal statewide oversight were put into place.

A similar bill introduced in the House prior to the board's vote will probably act as the legislative vehicle for the proposal, officials said.

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