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Education voucher bill no longer includes home schoolers as it jumps another hurdle to becoming Oklahoma law

A bill that would give families savings accounts to pay for private school tuition can now be heard by the full Senate after it narrowly passed in an appropriations committee meeting Wednesday.

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 other education services.

In the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat answered a barrage of questions about his Education Savings Account Bill that was touted by Governor Kevin Stitt in his State of the State Address. It passed by 12 votes to 8, after receiving votes from a handful of members who don’t normally cast votes during the meeting. It had passed in a similarly tight fashion through the Senate Education Committee in February by 8 votes to 7.

The measure works like this: individual families would use accounts worth thousands of dollars to pay for private school tuition or education services.

During the committee hearing Wednesday, Treat said it no longer includes homeschool families like a previous version and features a new income cap similar to free or reduced lunch qualifications. A family of four would need to have a household income of $154,000 or less annually to qualify.

An Oklahoma State Department of Education analysis estimates the program would cost between $118 and $161 million. Treat said the figure could be reduced because of the revisions to the bill.

He said the accounts will help students transfer to schools that are better for them.

“We are trying to help make sure that we fund students in the best educational environment for their needs,” he said

The bill still has a long way to go.

Next up is the full Senate. But it will face revisions there and the House of Representatives before it arrives at Governor Kevin Stitt’s desk. The Governor has said he fully supports it and tweeted out a message touting it Wednesday afternoon.

“Momentum for school choice is building!” Stitt tweeted. “Thank you to those who voted to put parents in charge of their child’s education, not government-controlled systems.”

House leadership has publicly opposed the measure.

"I don't plan to hear that bill this year," McCall told reporters last month.

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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