“We have some real concerns about the money it will take away from our public schools,” School choice debate heats up

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OKLAHOMA CITY - From office to office, Sherri Brown took a message to the state capitol about Senate Bill 560.

“We have some real concerns about the money it will take away from our public schools,” she said.

If passed, it would allow public money to follow students to private schools.

Brown says the state should focus on funding programs already in place.

“We need the funding to go to all public schools who fund free public options. We have lots of choices for parents within the public system, charters, virtual charters, and magnet schools. Parents can transfer to different districts. There are a lot of options,” said Brown.

SB560 would be limited to counties with 150,000 residents or more, which would make it apply only to Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties.

Rob Standridge authored the bill and says it’s about opportunity and school choice for inner-city students.

“We need to fund public education better. We need to find a way to pay teachers more. But at the same time, we don’t need to wait till all those things are done to make sure we are taking care of kids the best we can,” said Standridge.

But Brown says private schools are the real winners and options would still be limited for lower income families.

“Our highest poverty parents cannot afford the difference between the voucher and private school tuition, fees and other activities. So, it doesn’t empower those parents or the parents who can’t provide the transportation for those children,” said Brown.

Through the bill, each student would be eligible to receive $2,700 dollars toward a private school.

Private school tuition runs between $4,000 to $10,000, or maybe more.

So, in order for students to attend, there’s another step involved.

“It’s going to have to be a school that is willing to partner with private sector to get funding like Positive Tomorrows is willing to get private money to match the $2,700,” said Standridge.

The vouchers would only be available for low income or homeless students.

Brown feels the bill would open the door to something bigger and likely end up expanding requirements.

“Most states that have gone down this slippery slope have wound up really funding a dual parallel system of education, one private and one public.  Truly the ones that are taking advantage of this in other states have been middle or higher income people a subsidy for those who would have already been providing a private education for their children,” said Brown.

“But there are still a lot of kids that are falling through the cracks and they aren’t being helped. Tens of thousands of kids that might have gone to higher education if not for the schools that they are in,” said Standridge.