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The Oklahoma Legislature is poised to try again this year to pass a policy that would send public education dollars to private and home schools. Voucher proposals have been filed by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee.

Both bills would allocate the amount of funding the state would have spent on a student’s public education to instead be used on private school or homeschool costs. The funds could be spent on tuition, books, uniforms, activities, transportation and a variety of other expenses.

Under Daniels’ proposal, any Oklahoma student would be eligible.

Jett’s bill limits the program to students living in counties with a population of 10,000 or more unless their zoned school is a “trigger district,” which the bill defines as any school district that allows or tolerates: violations of House Bill 1775, bathroom use based on gender identity, climate change “ideology,” social and emotional learning, books that are obscene, curriculum that is “sexual in nature,” animal rights activism, Marxist curriculum, employees interested in animals with human characteristics (“furries”) and other issues.

A voucher plan was one of the most contentious education issues taken up by the Senate in 2022. That bill, by Pro Tem Greg Treat, divided the Senate and ultimately failed 24-22. It wasn’t heard in the House.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters are outspoken supporters of school vouchers.

Critics say school vouchers siphon funding away from public schools, lack accountability and transparency, and violate the state constitution’s provision that the Legislature “establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.”

It’s notable that Treat steered clear of filing a voucher bill this year. Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, presented an agenda that includes proposals to raise teacher pay, give teachers paid maternity leave, increase funding for reading proficiency in early grades and many other reforms.

None of those bills would send public funds to private schools. “Vouchers are not part of my plan,” said Pugh, who chairs the Senate education committee and the appropriations subcommittee.

We’ll be watching these bills throughout the session. Any others we should keep our eye on? I’d love to hear from you via email or direct message.

— Jennifer Palmer

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