OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – On Tuesday, public school educators, parents, and even the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction gathered at the Capitol, opposing a bill they say could be the demise of public education.
The bill, known as the “Oklahoma Empowerment Act,” would put an estimated average of $3,600 in an education savings account for parents to put toward private school or homeschooling.
“What is important is that all kids, no matter where they go to school, have the resources they need,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
On President’s Day, a group gathered at the State Capitol to let their voices be heard.
“Every child has to have a great place to go and be educated,” said Keri Knutson, a parent and former teacher.
Senate Bill 1647 would give parents around $3,600 in an education savings account to pay for private school or homeschooling.
The author, Sen. Greg Treat, says it gives families more options.
“We must have quality access for every child in Oklahoma, regardless of where they live, regardless of their race, regardless of their parents’ income,” Treat told KFOR. “We need access.”
However, those who oppose it say this bill will do the opposite.
“It’s going to increase waste fraud and abuse and we’ve seen this with Epic(Charter Schools),” said Hofmeister. “This is Epic on steroids. It’s a bad idea.”
The embattled Epic Charter Schools is already facing legal trouble for a misuse of funds.
“It’s particularly dangerous to our rural schools where there aren’t options for our families and we want to make our public schools be a top choice and not starve resources that are desperately needed in every public school in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said.
“If you aren’t aware, we are 48th in the nation in overall tax collections,” said Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn. “There are only two slots we can go lower or we will be funding things like roads and bridges and education like Haiti and Guatemala.”
These parents and state leaders say public schools must be funded for the children.
“We have heard the governor say that he wants to fund students, not systems. Well, I say you can do both. We should do both,” Hofmeister said. “It is a constitutional responsibility and moral obligation in Oklahoma to be funding the students of Oklahoma public schools.”
The bill is headed to the Senate next for debate.
House Speaker Charles McCall said he doesn’t plan to hear the bill if in the House this session.