Another State Moves Toward Giving Parents Choice, Opponents Say It Will Destroy Rural Schools
The goal, though, as seen in numerous states now, is allowing for parents to finally have more say so in their children’s education. For various reasons (mainly COVID-related), public school systems are taking a beating across the country as they continue to dictate the terms in which they will work or return to work. Parents and lawmakers across the country are fed up, seeing children suffer greatly from the constant school shutdowns and remote learning they have been forced to endure. While these parents' and lawmakers’ point is perfectly understandable, Wright’s point is also worth considering as well.
In Oklahoma, they have proposed over 2,000 new pieces of legislation for their upcoming legislative session. Of course, not all of those new proposals will move forward, but there is one key education bill that is gaining steam with a lot of support. That would be SB1647 or the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, a bill that would allow Oklahoma parents school choice for their children.
This Oklahoma school choice bill is designed to give parents control of their public-school tax funds. It would allow for parents to take these funds and apply them for an education that is not in the public school system. Vouchers would be given to each student to help families offset the tuition costs of a private school education.
As it stands right now, Oklahoma public schools receive around $8,000 per student in public schools. SB1647 would drastically change that. If the law, as it is currently written, passes, then that $8,000 per student of state aid would go from the public schools into the private school systems. In Oklahoma, they already have nearly 34,000 students in private schools, so if the bill were to pass, then nearly $300 million of state aid would go from public to private schools.
Private schools do not have access to any state money currently and handing them those funds could be devastating to Oklahoma’s rural public schools, claims Erika Wright, head of Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition. She says her Coalition plans to fight the bill, claiming that most rural areas in Oklahoma do not enjoy a private school option.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re in the middle of a teacher crisis, and now they’re talking about diverting literally hundreds of millions of dollars out of public-school classrooms,” Wright said.
The goal, though, as seen in numerous states now, is allowing for parents to finally have more say so in their children’s education. For various reasons (mainly COVID-related), public school systems are taking a beating across the country as they continue to dictate the terms in which they will work or return to work. Parents and lawmakers across the country are fed up, seeing children suffer greatly from the constant school shutdowns and remote learning they have been forced to endure. While these parents’ and lawmakers’ point is perfectly understandable, Wright’s point is also worth considering as well.
“So, you will have less money left over for all the programs that those of us in rural areas want to have to maintain a quality education for our kids. Obviously, academics are important, teachers, and then all of the other things that rural public schools and communities rally around, their ag programs, their Friday night lights, all of these things,” Wright said.
Proponents of the bill say what Wright ignores is that with parents able to send their money to private schools, more private schools will open. Private schools will become an option, even in rural areas. Private schools are proven to do a better job of educating children than public schools, which could, if all goes to plan, mean better education for all.
But Senator Greg Treat, who filed SB1647, is more concerned about choice. Just because the bill gets passed, doesn’t necessarily mean those in rural areas are taking their funds elsewhere, it just means that IF they wanted to, they now had the choice. He explained that the new bill would create Oklahoma Empowerment Accounts where the money would be disbursed into. Parents then had the choice to keep these funds for public school, or they could take the funds to a private school if they so choose.
This new bill would be one final push for complete Oklahoma school choice. Last year Oklahoma passed its open transfer laws that allowed parents to transfer their children out of their resident school districts. The laws just went into effect on January 1, 2022.
You can read the full bill below…
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Tommy Turner is the superintendent of Batiste Public Schools and he echoed Wright’s sentiments saying that the new bill, if passed, would create a terrible drain on public school resources, especially in areas that would probably never give private school options for parents. “In our area here, because of geography, it simply does not make financial sense for private schools to operate here. Even with the vouchers, it doesn’t make sense, our funding is not made up strictly of state aid,” said Turner via News 9.
What is imminently clear is that parents in Oklahoma are fighting back. They feel they are the ones who should have the final say in where and how their children are educated. They want school choice, they have public schools in their sights, and they have lawmakers ready to back them up. The entire SB1647 bill can be read here.