For the current status of SB 1647: universal school vouchers, please visit POE’s Action Center
What the Bill Would Do:
- Senate Bill 1647 proposes a universal school voucher for all Oklahoma students. Under the proposal, students would be eligible to use the voucher for any private school or other education-related expense. The voucher cannot be used in any public school district, public charter school, magnet school, or homeschool. If a student receives a voucher and then enrolls in any public school, the voucher would be revoked. The exact worth of the proposed voucher is unknown, but it is expected to be in the range of $3,300 to $4,500 dollars. The total cost to the state is expected to be more than $175 million annually.
5 Reasons to Oppose SB 1647:
- POE members oppose SB 1647. In POE’s recent member’s survey of nearly 2,000 members, the vast majority of respondents (almost 83%) “oppose” or “strongly oppose” SB 1647. Only 8.35% of respondents “support” or “strongly support” the bill. And 9.2% were neutral.
- The voucher will primarily help those already in private school, and do so at the expense of the 90% of Oklahoma students currently attending public school. Many K-12 households do not have the means to attend private school or provide personal transportation outside of their local school district. The proposed voucher will not change this fact. Instead, it will divert state funding from Oklahoma public school students to those already attending private school. Although we strongly support the rights of parents and students to attend private school, and we appreciate the considerable sacrifices many families make to do so, we cannot in good conscience support a bill that diverts funds away from Oklahoma’s most vulnerable public school students to help those already attending private school.
- SB 1647 will hit rural Oklahoma schools the hardest. Rural schools in Oklahoma already operate on the margins, stretching every dollar as far as it will go. With the prices of fuel and natural gas on the rise, many rural school districts will face unprecedentedly diminished budgets in the fall. Thus, every single dollar diverted away from public schools will impact rural areas the most, considerably more than metro and suburban areas. POE has been and will remain a strong supporter and defender of rural schools and communities in Oklahoma.
- Many private schools do not want money from the government. Many in the private school community intentionally chose to forego public school in favor of a more autonomous option. The primary concern is that once tax dollars begin to flow into private schools, then government regulations will inevitably follow. A secondary fear of private schools is that the voucher will shift the market and incentivize small private schools to open that are fully dependent on government money. If the state government ever decided to implement regulations, many private schools will not have the economic stability to resist the government mandates—an option that is extremely important to many private schools in Oklahoma.
- SB 1647 is being pitched as a pro-school choice measure. But, we must ask, school choice for whom? The worth of the voucher is insufficient to cover the tuition of most private schools in Oklahoma, let alone cover the full cost of attendance, which generally includes expenses like transportation, textbooks, computers, uniforms, etc. Furthermore, in most rural areas, there are no private school options. The $3,300-$4,500 voucher will do nothing to help underprivileged families or rural families have more choices. Admittedly, there is a small number of families that are on the fringe of affording a private school near their home that may benefit, but the primary beneficiaries of SB 1647 will be those who already have the means to attend the private school of their choice. While it would be nice to provide these families with a discount, it would, unfortunately, have to come at the expense of all families who send their children to a traditional public school, a charter school, a magnetic, or a virtual charter school.
“We believe every student in Oklahoma should get the education that is best for them, but the current voucher bill does not help accomplish that goal.“Ginger Tinney,
Executive Director of Professional Oklahoma Educators