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Educating 90 percent of children in Oklahoma, public schools have been tasked with creating a top-10 educational system while being given a bottom-10 budget. Despite the challenges of state funding, story after story recounts schools and teachers innovating and finding creative solutions to educate young Oklahomans. This past legislative session, state lawmakers proposed funneling hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools, sending them instead to private entities. Thanks to the work of public school supporters across the state, the legislation was defeated.

Below are some common questions from parents, voters and educators that were essential to understand in order to defeat the voucher legislation. 

What is a voucher program?

They go by many different names: empowerment accounts, education savings accounts and tuition tax credits. Yet they all do the same thing - divert taxpayer dollars from public education and their public school students to private entities with minimal oversight.

The voucher proposals for Oklahoma would have shifted critical funding away from educating over 700,000 children who are enrolled in their neighborhood public school.

How would voucher programs have impacted public school funding?

Had legislation passed, the implementation of the Oklahoma Empowerment Act and similar voucher programs would have cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year – and would have been taken directly away from public education dollars. Every time a voucher is utilized – even by families who are already sending their children to private schools – funding would have been funneled away from ALL public schools. This result could have been a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the public school funding formula – an outrageous disservice to children in our public schools

How would vouchers have affected rural students and their families?

Voucher programs would be the most damaging to the children and families living in rural communities. Most private schools are in urban and suburban areas, so rural schools and taxpayers would be subsidizing the private education for urban and suburban kids. The geography of rural students does not provide reasonable options for private and charter schools in their area, yet public schools in these areas would lose critical funding to educate their local children.

Many rural schools are already operating on minimal budgets, having trouble attracting teachers and dealing with expensive fixed costs (building, utilities, etc.). Their school buildings are more than just an education center; they’re gathering places for the community. It’s where we vote, host meetings, celebrate and rally as a community. Voucher programs would have hurt these critical budgets for rural schools even more, further harming their efforts to provide rural children with the best education possible.

How can parents have a choice in where their child attends school?

School choice already exists in Oklahoma - and Oklahoma's current choice system is more extensive than any of its neighboring states, including Texas. Parents already have a wide array of free choice options. Last year, open transfer legislation was passed that allows students to transfer to any other public school in the state at any time, provided the school has room. Many areas of the state have free charter school options along with statewide virtual charters. The state has a variety of selective vouchers and tax credits already in place such as the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship. In 2021, Oklahoma spent nearly DOUBLE the amount on private choice compared with its five neighboring states COMBINED. 

Regional Spending on SCHOOL CHOICE