OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Opponents call them “school vouchers,” but the head of the Oklahoma State Senate says “Education Savings Accounts” make more options for parents when it comes to the education of their child.
Basically, we are talking about using public funds to send kids to private or home schools.
Today in a marathon 2-hour session just to debate the one bill the Pro Tem of the Senate take the first step that he says allows for parents to be in charge of their child’s education. Opponents say it will devastate Oklahoma’s public schools.
“We must have quality access for every child in Oklahoma, regardless of where they live, regardless of their race, regardless of their parents income. We need access,” said Sen. Greg Treat.
The Republican Pro Temp talking Tuesday in front of a packed Senate Committee about his “Oklahoma Empowerment Act.” It would put an estimated average of just over $3,600 into a education savings account that parents to could use to help send their child to private school or to spend on the educational needs for those who home school.
Democrats firing back with questions about education quality accountability and the potential for fraud citing the recent Epic Charter School audit.
Sen. J.J. Dossett saying, “Public money should stay in public schools.”
The Oklahoma Education Association estimating it would take more than $260 million out of the state’s public education funding.
“This bill will eliminate, eliminate the five years of increases to education funding that the legislature has committed to,” said Katherine Bishop of the Oklahoma Education Association.
But some parents say it’s a solution to their complicated education needs.
Liz Miller, an Edmond parent, saying, ”I have one child that thrives where she is and we would keep her in public school, but my youngest, she would benefit from smaller class sizes.”
“If we are not liking what we are seeing in the public, we already have the ability to take our children out and go to another school if we want to,” said Joshalyn Ocker, a home school parent.
The bill getting pushback from some in an unlikely corner that could potentially financially benefit from the legislation.
Jenni White of Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment saying, “Those of us that do home school, do it out of our own pocket. We don’t want the government involvement.”
But others say it’s a fix for recent educational difficulties.
“Parents in my district and across the state are feeling frustrated with lack of options available to them to educate their children, especially in the wake of school closings and mask mandates from the COVID pandemic,” said Sen. Joe Newhouse of Tulsa.
Ultimately the bill passed committee by the smallest of margins 8-7.
Shortly after the bill passed committee, long-time parental choice supporter, Governor Kevin Stitt tweeting, “Great news. Well done Sen_GregTreat.”
But State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who is running against Stitt in November, releasing a statement saying,
“Gov. Stitt’s voucher scheme is a rural school killer that will decimate funding for all children in public schools and will negatively affect every public school student across the state. Simply put, vouchers are wrong for Oklahoma kids. Schools cannot provide the high-quality education our children deserve under Stitt’s plan.”
SB1647 now makes its way to the Oklahoma State Senate floor for debate. But a reminder, Speaker of the House Charles McCall has gone on record saying the Oklahoma State House of Representatives will not hear this bill.