School Vouchers

Here’s a fun topic: School Vouchers. Yes, the bane of public schools all across the country. Let’s talk, shall we?

School vouchers can go by a few different names. We’ve seen Education Savings Accounts, state funded scholarships, Tuition Grants, and Tuition / Scholarship tax credits. All are some vehicle for taking education tax dollars out of state coffers and delivering them to private schools. If we ever allow vouchers to be the normal funding mechanism, education will become a commodity available on an open market. A lot like online virtual schools. Do we need to review that story?

Here’s the argument for vouchers. I pay taxes, and I should have the ultimate decision on how and where my child is educated; therefor, my taxes should be applied to my child’s education how and where I choose.

Hard to argue with that on the surface, but education is different than almost every other tax funded entity. It’s necessary for the survival of our democracy that every citizen has a standard level of education. I’ll refrain from a long history lesson, but please take time to read what our founding fathers said about the need for EVERY citizen to receive an education. OK, I’ll give you one.

This is taken in part from, from Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy by Derek W. Black:

John Adams was explicit: the education of “every rank and class of people, down to the lowest and the poorest” had “to be the care of the public” and “maintained at the public expense.” Its importance required that “no expense . . . would be too extravagant.”

The first state to require free public education, Pennsylvania, did so in 1804 with the expressed intent to serve the poor, and those with means were required to continue to pay their own way as they had been doing for some time. Now, I don’t know how the mechanics of such a system would work, but the idea is clear. Public education funding is necessary and for those needing or desiring a public education. It is not to be a subsidy for the wealthy to continue paying for private education.

Hopefully, we can agree that it is necessary for a healthy republic and the responsibility of its citizens to provide some basic level of public education. So why not vouchers? The first problem is the pesky issue of “basic level” of education. Oklahoma has made up significant ground over the last several years in education funding. However, would any reasonable person argue that we’re over-funded? There is estimated to be a minimum of 65,000 children currently in private school or homeschooling. That’s just about 10% of our current public school enrollment. OSSBA estimates that if only the current non-public school students received vouchers, state aid for schools would be reduced by up to $174 million. Without additional state funding to at least replace those dollars, Jones Public Schools would have no choice but to drastically reduce staff and programs. We have had to manage a few budget shortfalls, but the loss of $174 million from state aid would be a nightmare scenario unlike anything we’ve managed before.

Some of the politicians pushing for vouchers will claim it gives poor students in struggling schools access to private school education. And they say it with a straight face. No one can really believe that the amount available through a voucher will cover a private school tuition. Only public schools are expected to operate on such limited revenue.

How will rural school students be able to use vouchers? The rural school districts will be hit just has hard financially, but those families will not have an option to use vouchers unless they homeschool. There are several logistical issues with a voucher system, but I want to keep this short enough that you’ll read it.

A voucher system is a tax break for the wealthy. It subsidizes their private education that they have already chosen and are paying for. Private schools are not required nor do they accept every student that applies. They can and do say no for a host of reasons. Poor grades, discipline, attendance, and special needs are all reasons to deny enrollment. Despite the gains in education spending, Oklahoma is still last in the region in per-pupil funding. The recent influx of federal dollars has given us some extraordinary programs. The after-school tutoring and transportation, reading specialist, curriculum materials, additional computers and new buses show us what we can do with additional funding and how it dramatically impacts our students. That funding and the programs it provided will be gone soon. Imagine if our state funded public education at that level every year. Instead, they are working to reduce our opportunities for success and give it to the wealthy private schools.

We hear it from our legislators all the time, “we just don’t hear from our constituents on this.” Please take time to contact your state representative and senator.

Current State Senators until Nov 22, 2022:

Shane Jett (17) 405-521-5539 /
Adam Pugh (41). 405-521-5622 /
George Young (48) 405-521-5531 /

Senators starting Nov 23, 2022:

Brenda Stanley (42) 405-521-5584 /

Current Oklahoma House member:

Preston Stinson (96) 405-557-7400 /
Jason Lowe (97) 405-577-7367 /

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