Controversial education bill fails in House committee

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OKLAHOMA CITY - HB 3537 would have expanded the cap on the amount that can be donated to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

The cap currently sits at $5 million, and the bill would have raised it to $15 million.

The fund is largely used to help low income children attend private schools, although money can be donated to public school foundations as well.

Opponents said the program diverts money from public schools because of the giant tax credits that corporations and other individuals receive for the donations.

They said it means money coming out of the state coffers that could be going to help fund the desperate public school system.

"We are just here advocating for public school kids and for those schools boards, those teachers, those principals that are working every day in those communities," said Clark Frailey, pastor of Coffee Creek Church in Edmond.

Frailey has banded together with a group of pastors to form Pastors for Oklahoma Kids.

"We're against what's commonly called vouchers or the ESA's of last year. It's all really the same thing. It's just kind of putting different names on it," Frailey said.

"There are low income parents that are using this tool to be able to access a education that they wouldn't be able to access otherwise," said Robert Ruiz with Choice Matters, a group that advocates for the program.

"Our biggest concern right now is the shortage of funding for education in this state. And, this would just be one more way that money that should be going to public education would be going to private schools," said Aysha Prather with the group Parents Legislative Action Comimttee.

Those in favor of the bill said they have their own studies that show the state actually saves money through the program.

"So, yeah, you gave away a dollar tax credit, but here's an entire student and their per pupil expenditure that you don't have to deal with any more," said Brandon Dutcher with the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs.

The bill was voted down by a narrow margin Monday evening in the House Joint Appropriations and Budget Committee.

It failed by a vote of 14-13.

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