Oklahoma House Democrats decry opportunity scholarship bill
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Published: 27-Apr-2011

After yesterday’s passage of Senate Bill 969 in the House of Representatives, three members of the House Democratic caucus decried the legislation as a “voucher bill” and said the legislation amounts to direct support of private schools.

“Make no mistake about it, bills like the one heard today are all part of an effort to unravel our public education system - by labeling our public schools as failing while consistently underfunding them, by telling parents that public schools are not good and charter schools are the answer, and by advancing charter schools, which is a thinly veiled effort to privatize education under the guise of providing ‘choice’,” said Representative Emily Virgin, a Norman Democrat.

Senate Bill 969 by Senator Dan Newberry of Tulsa and Representative Lee Denney of Cushing, both Republicans, allows creation of scholarship-granting organizations that can receive contributions from individuals or corporations. Contributors in return will receive tax credits for the contributions. The measure passed 64-34 yesterday (Tuesday, April 26), with the support of 62 Republicans and two Democrats.

Rep. Virgin asserted, “At a time when public education, like all other government services, face another year of cuts due to our budget shortfall, SB 969 will mandate that we take $5 million from our general revenue and give it to the wealthiest individuals and corporations who can afford to donate thousands of dollars to private institutions. 

“They are exploiting legitimate concerns and frustrations with our public education system, but instead of attempting to address these problems, they are redirecting vital public education dollars to private schools.”

Virgin continued, “Over 90% of our entire student population is in public schools, and instead of focusing on the broad constituency we are giving taxpayer dollars to the wealthiest families by providing private school vouchers. This only exacerbates inequities by placing more money in wealthier districts and less money everywhere else.”

Two other member of the House minority caucus spoke out against the measure in a Tuesday afternoon release.

“Decreasing public education dollars will not do anything for our rural schools other than make it harder for them to provide a quality education,” said Rep. Steve Kouplen, a Beggs Democrat. “Using taxpayer dollars for private school vouchers will only lead to additional teacher layoffs and larger classroom sizes. Beyond the fact that this is the beginning of a voucher system, 70% of the funding will go to scholarships which realistically cannot be utilized by rural students.”

Another lawmaker noted the larger implications of segregating the student population according to socio-economic status.

“One of the backbones of democracy is the right to a public education, regardless of race, class, gender, religion or any other variable that may divide us,” said Rep. Mike Brown, a Tahlequah Democrat. 

“The siphoning of privileged students into separate learning environments will come at a hefty cost – and at the expense of the students, teachers and eventually all of us as members of the larger society.”

Rep. Virgin serves on the House Common Education Committee and the Higher Education & Career Tech Committee. She criticized what a staff press release described as “the reality of the consequences of providing public taxpayer dollars for private schools.”

Virgin asserted, “Many legislators who support these bills say they are trying to reform our public schools, yet at the same time they are providing the funding and the tools, not to public schools, but to charter schools. Senate Bill 969 says we give up – it says that the solution is to cherry-pick a handful of school kids whose parents can already afford a private education, and give them even more dollars to do so. It will help funnel dollars to the schools that least need it and all the folks who will be left behind will be left to fail.”

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