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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Using taxpayer money on private schooling is a controversial concept. The war of words over school vouchers and saving accounts continues at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

SB1647 narrowly passed through the Senate Education Committee earlier this month. On Wednesday, its was heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but sizable changes have been made to the legislation, including income limits and cutting out homeschooling all together.

“I know this is a tough vote. Our kids deserve it. Our future deserves it,” said Sen. Greg Treat.

Treat, the Senate Pro Tempore said pushing the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, would take the roughly $3,600 dollars the state would normally spend a year on a public school student, put it in a savings account and allow the parent to put that towards a private school education if they choose. Senate Democrats are pushing back.

“It’s not a good idea to send public dollars off the grid. Public dollars belong in public schools,” said Sen. JJ Dossett of Owasso.

But Treat points out the same concept is being done elsewhere in state government.

“Medicaid recipients using public dollars have a plethora of options,” Treat said.

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The Senate Appropriations Committee. Image from KFOR.

Treat introduced changes to SB1647 in Committee on Wednesday. The amendments cut out the ability for the money to be used for home schooling and put on a $154,000 home income cap to be eligible.

“I believe so deeply in empowering these parents, I did not want to limit my ability to pass legislation,” said Treat.

Private school advocates are turning out in support.

“Some of it is just income based. A lot of our parents just can’t afford it, but if we have this bill and it’s passed, we will be able to have those kids,” said Gina Darby of Infinity.

But $3,600 dollars yearly would not come close to covering the cost of many private schools in the metro.

“This program can also be combined with other financial packages from those private schools. Many of them do offer tuition assistance, especially for low income families, so this could really fill that gap,” said Robert Ruiz of Choice Matters Oklahoma.

The bill is being pushed by the Republican Senate leader from Oklahoma City. But some of his fellow Republicans are not on board. Senator Darcy Jech of Kingfisher is echoing the thoughts of many in rural Oklahoma.

“It’s not that I’m opposed to school choice, generally speaking. I’m a public school guy. That’s where my kids were. I think there are a lot of benefits from being in public schools,” said Jech.

“This is fiscally irresponsible, this is reckless policy,” said Sen. Juila Kirt of Oklahoma City.

Opponents are worried about what they say would be potentially hundreds of millions of dollars taken from state public school funding. Treat says that won’t be an issue.

“This body will be advocating for an increase in the state aid formula to offset any expected expense that this program would take. Our kids are worth it,” said Treat.

The vote was close again, with SB 1647 passing 12-8

The bill now heads to the Oklahoma State Senate floor for debate. Once again, Speaker of the House Charles McCall stands by his pledge that this bill will not be heard by the House of Representatives.