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School voucher bill advances, faces uphill battle to become law

Oklahoma classroom (KTUL)
Oklahoma classroom (KTUL)
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After two amendments, SB1647 is heading to the Senate floor, following a 12-8 vote in the committee.

The bill would give each parent between $3,500 and $5,200 to spend on their child’s education.

Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat added a cap to the program – families making more than $150,000 don’t qualify.

Treat released the following statement:

Every child deserves a great education to help him or her reach their full potential. The Oklahoma Empowerment Act empowers parents with the ability and resources to find the best educational setting to fit their child’s needs. Most children in Oklahoma are well-served by quality public schools. But for the few who are not, we should not relegate them to failure but should instead provide parents with the resources and options to find the right setting for their child to achieve academic success.

He also removed the ability for homeschooled children to enroll.

The bill has received pushback from Democrats and Republicans in rural areas.

Robert Ruiz with Choice Matters doesn’t think that’s fair.

“We should be looking at the state as a whole, we should be looking at children as a whole," he said. "Anything that benefits a child in one part of the state, benefits the state as a whole."

Senator J.J. Dossett from Owasso voted "no" on the bill in the committee.

“If you choose to not go into a public school system, it’s kind of on you to pay for it, however you see fit, whether it’s a private school or home school yourself," she said.

Dossett also has concerns about how the money would be tracked, citing the issue with Epic Charter Schools that misspent state money.

“School vouchers is sending public money off the grid, unaccountable to a place, where Oklahomans can’t see how the money’s being spent in the education system," she said.

Ruiz says it would benefit plenty of students who lack quality education in their district and could be a way to send students to private schools for free.

“K-8 private schools average around $6,500 a year and many of our inner-city private schools are even lower than that," he said.

There were "yes" and "no" votes from both Democrats and Republicans in the committee.

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Even though Treat’s bill is heading to the Senate floor, House Speaker Charles McCall said he wouldn’t hear the bill on the House floor, so it may not make it to the governor’s desk.


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