Two bills filed at the Oklahoma Capitol would resurrect a proposal to spend state education dollars so more students could home-school or attend a private school.
State Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, submitted separate, but similar, voucher bills.
Both bills suggest families should be able to use the same amount of money the state would have spent on their children’s public schooling to instead put toward private-school or home-school costs. Each family would have an account with the Oklahoma State Treasurer to spend on qualifying expenses, such as tuition, tutoring or uniforms.
The state treasurer would randomly audit 10% of all family accounts annually under both bills.
A similar bill from Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat failed in the state Senate last year.
Jett’s proposal, called the Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids (PEAK), would offer funds only to students living in counties with a population of more than 10,000 people. Students living in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents could access voucher funds if they attend a “trigger district.”
Jett defined a “trigger district” as a public school system that allows or tolerates House Bill 1775 violations, use of school bathrooms according to gender identity, anthropomorphic behavior known as “furries,” disparagement of the oil and gas industry, lesson plans promoting social-emotional learning and animal rights activism, among other topics.
Daniels’ bill, called the Education Freedom Act, doesn’t limit eligibility for the program. She proposed increasing state education funding by $275 million to pay for it.
“It’s time to empower Oklahoma parents to be able to choose the best education for their own children, regardless of their zip code or financial circumstances,” Daniels said in a Thursday news release. “The Education Freedom Act gives them the tools to make that happen.”
Daniels also filed Senate Bill 825 to marginally increase funding for small public school districts.
Neither senator’s voucher proposal would require a private school or education service provider to change its admissions policies or curriculum to accept voucher payments. Instead, they would be guaranteed “maximum freedom” without governmental control.
Expansion of school options beyond traditional public schools is a major policy priority of Gov. Kevin Stitt and new state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters.
Walters ran a winning campaign based upon a platform of promoting school choice and opposing “liberal indoctrination.”
In a statement on the two bills, Walters said “every option is on the table” to improve Oklahoma’s education system.
The state should have the “most comprehensive school choice in the country,” Walters said in a video posted to social media Thursday morning.
“That means that all of the money follows the kid, and that means that parents get to choose the school of their choice,” he said.
Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.