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Senate education voucher bill squeaks through committee, faces long path to becoming law

The cluster of 14 Oklahoma flags at the state Capitol.
Cool Kats Photography
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A bill to open up education savings accounts across Oklahoma cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1647 would give more than $3,000 to students to spend on an array of educational programs, including private school scholarships, tutors or even homeschool supplies.

In a Senate Education Committee hearing room overflowing with interested observers and media, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat answered a barrage of questions about his Education Savings Account Bill that was touted by Governor Kevin Stit in his State of the State Address.

In almost two hours of questions and debate, Treat repeatedly said the measure gives parents more choice and accountability for the education of their children.

Opponents say it would take money away from an already strained public school system and was opposed by several rural Republican senators in the committee hearing.

“Public money should stay in public schools,” Sen. J. J. Dossett, D-Owasso said while debating against the measure.

It was ultimately approved by an 8-7 vote in the Senate Education Committee.

It now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it can be heard by the full State Senate. If approved in that chamber, its future in the State House of Representatives is even murkier.

House Speaker Charles McCall has said he doesn’t expect to hear the measure in his chamber this session. So it remains unclear if the bill will become law.

The bill appears to be an early centerpiece of policy debate in the state’s governor’s race.

Stitt has made it clear that the measure is one of his top priorities this session and he applauded SB 1647’s advancement in a statement Tuesday..

“I stand with the Oklahomans across the state who overwhelmingly support empowering parents to choose the best education for their children and I am pleased with today’s vote,” he said in a written statement.

His potential opponent in the general election next fall - Democratic State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister - panned the measure in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“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,” Hofmeister said in a written statement. “Simply put, vouchers are wrong for Oklahoma kids. Schools cannot provide the high-quality education our children deserve under Stitt’s plan.”

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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