When Oklahomans head to the polls next month, education issues will no doubt be on their minds — particularly in the governor’s race, where current state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister is challenging Gov. Kevin Stitt.

I’ve interviewed both candidates in the past few days for a story looking at what they have and haven’t accomplished in public office. And I listened to Gov. Stitt on Wednesday at a virtual event hosted by the University of Oklahoma Leadership and Policy Center for Thriving Schools and Communities (THRIVE).

School vouchers is probably the issue where Stitt and Hofmeister stand in starkest contrast, with Stitt strongly for and Hofmeister strongly against. She calls school vouchers a “rural school killer,” a message that has resonated with Oklahomans in rural areas, where there are no private schools. School vouchers would allocate public dollars to parents to spend on private school tuition and other education expenses.

Stitt, at the OU event, said if school vouchers are implemented statewide, private schools would expand into rural areas where there currently aren’t any. Private school options did expand in Florida due to that state’s expansive school voucher law, but an Orlando Sentinel investigation found schools with low academic quality.

He claimed Oklahoma schools spend an average of $11,500 per student without citing a source. The latest U.S. Census Bureau report shows the state at $9,508, making it the lowest in the southern region. Stitt used the $11,500 figure to describe the financial impact on an average public school and claimed that because the schools that lose students would keep their local property tax revenue, their per pupil revenue would actually increase.

When asked about consolidating schools in rural areas, Stitt said he was against forced consolidation. But consolidation, he said, “will naturally happen when you inject competition and put parents back in charge.” He said he loves the rural schools that are doing what parents want, and getting students ready for college and careers.

We’ll have more candidate coverage coming up on Oklahoma Watch between now and Election Day, which is Nov. 8. As always, I’d love to hear from you at jpalmer@oklahomwatch.org or via direct message on Twitter.

— Jennifer Palmer

Recommended Reading

  • Oklahoma is believed to be the only state to require an affidavit, what critics are calling a “gender oath,” for students to play sports. [Associated Press]
  • In many rural communities, social services for homeless students come through the schools. But they can be difficult to access. [The New York Times Magazine]
  • Students with disabilities are often met with off-the-books suspensions, a practice known as informal removal. It’s a de facto denial of education, advocates and experts say. [The Hechinger Report]
  • At Oklahoma City area schools, a majority of students scored below grade level in reading, math and science on the latest state tests. [The Oklahoman]

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