Bill would give parents money on debit cards, give option of private schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY,Okla. -- Education debit cards are a chance for parents to decide where taxes are spent.

SB 609 would put thousands of dollars back in the pockets of Oklahoma parents.

Some see it as a way to give children opportunities,  but there are others in the public school realm who say it's a dangerous door to open.

They fear the way the law is written does not meet the end goal of helping students.

"The pennies are screaming they are being pinched so tight," Kristen Huffty, an Edmond 2nd grade teacher says.

Huffty thinks the the education savings account law is taking money from public schools.

"Parents will be given an option that they don't currently have to be able to use a limited amount of their public school resources at the parent's direction which would be for education their student at home, private school, virtual school, tutoring," State Rep. Jason Nelson, co-author of the bill says.

The parent would be given about $5,000, or 80 percent, of what the school would typically get for a year.

"What the ESA law does is actually increase per pupil revenue for students who remain in the public school because the students that leave don't take all of the money with them, so they leave a portion behind that gets redistributed back to the remaining students," Nelson says.

"I don't buy into that because the operating expenses of the school don't just magically disappear when students disappear," Huffty said. She brought up paying heat, workbooks, substitute teachers to help prove her point.

Susan Agel, who runs a private school for homeless children, Positive Tomorrows, hopes this law passes.

"We don't receive any government funding at all. We get a little bit of school lunch money and just a little bit more to support our AmeriCorps salaries. But it amounts to less than 5 percent of our total budget," Agel said.

She says with the extra money, they could stop turning away homeless children.

"It's not because the public schools are bad. It's because one size does not fit all, and our kids require a lot more attention and different kinds of teaching," Agel said.

Huffty sees it differently.

"What I would like to see is public school having more freedom to provide those kinds of atmospheres. I don't know why we aren't looking at empowering public schools before we say, um sorry, the kid and the money are leaving," Huffty said.

The bill passed the senate finance committee Tuesday. Now it goes back to the Senate Floor.

To read the full bill authored by Senator Clark Jolley and State Rep. Jason Nelson, click here.

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