OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the Oklahoma House would not hear HB1647, also known as the “backpack bill,” citing concerns with its harm to rural school districts.
The bill, at this point, is dead on arrival.
If HB1647 had passed, it would have allowed the roughly $8,000 per child in state public school funding to travel with a student transfer to a private school.
“I’ve always been a person who believes that public dollars belong in our public schools when it comes to our K-12,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman.
“We have put in a historic amount of money record levels into public education,” said Sen. Greg Treat, Senate Pro Tempore. “We will continue that commitment and we will not decimate public school funding.”
Treat spoke to reporters Thursday, just hours before speaker McCall made the call to not take up the bill.
“We are going to empower parents through the Oklahoma Empowerment Act to give the money to allow the money to follow the student wherever they go,” Treat said.
There are well over 30,000 private school students in the state. The state would have been looking at over $300 million in taxpayer state aid being moved to private schools.
“Vouchers are not an answer,” Rosecrants said. “They’re not a solution. It’s only going to harm our public schools further.”
“It’s not a silver bullet that’s going to fix everything by any means,” said Tommy Turner. A superintendent of Battiest Schools in McCurtain County, Oklahoma.
Gov. Kevin Stitt originally advocated for the bill in this week’s state of the state address. He said the bill would make Oklahoma a national leader in school choice.
A spokesperson in Stitt’s office cites an EdChoice study to show support of the bill.
“Governor Stitt and 86% of school parents support Pro Tem. Treat’s Oklahoma Empowerment Act.”Carly Atchison, Governor’s Office
“No child should be left behind and no child should be in a situation where they can’t get their best educational attainment,” Treat said.
However, rural Oklahoma school districts said they were feeling the heat.
Supt. Tommy Turner with Battiest Schools in McCurtain County said the bill would have destroyed public schools by draining their funding.
“This bill will fund education for 34,000 students,” he said. “What about the remainder of the students in the state? It directly hurts every other student in state.”
“That’s a false narrative,” Treat said.
Treat, though, was adamant that would not be the case. He argued it’s just a matter of school choice when public schools are not a good fit, while denying it will siphon tax dollars from public schools.
“I can stand before you today and guarantee you that we’re not going to adversely affect state aid for public schools,” Treat said.