Gov. Kevin Stitt announced an $800 million education reform plan that supported school vouchers and teacher pay raises Friday morning, one day after Oklahoma Senate and House Democrats announced their own plan.
Stitt unveiled his education reform plan Friday. The plan was developed after several meetings with House and Senate leadership and members of both chambers according to a press release. Stitt's plan titled, “Education and Parental Choice Plan,” it also would allocate $800 million to education.
The plan is divided into three sections: $300 million to the Oklahoma Student Funds, which would allow every school district to receive up to $2 million to improve local schools, $300 million that would go to teacher funding, including Sen. Adam Pugh’s (R-Edmond) Senate Bill 482 and $200 million that would go to the Oklahoma Parental Choice tax credit.
The tax credit would give students in Oklahoma $5,000 in the first year of the credit program and prioritizes households earning under $250,000 annually. In the second year, students would be given $6,000 and then $6,500 in the third.
Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman) said he favors some aspects of the governor’s proposal, specifically the inclusion of Pugh’s bill, but is confused about why Stitt continues to promote private school vouchers.
“Obviously, majority party leadership, at all levels, is out of touch with what parents, teachers and other public education stakeholders want and need to protect and strengthen our public schools,” Rosecrants said.
The Democrats’ plan, called “Oklahoma Kids First,” aims to implement smaller class sizes, outside-the-classroom resources focused on safety and mental health and pay raises for all teachers up to $12,000, without supporting school vouchers, according to a press release.
Rosecrants wrote that the plan involves several bills including changes in transportation from Senate Bill 112, co-authored by Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) and Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah), and school security from Senate Bill 101, co-authored by Rep. Dick Lowe (R-Amber) and Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee).
“The House & Senate Democrats Oklahoma Kids First plan consists of common sense bipartisan policies to truly help our children by fully funding our public schools and providing pay raises for teachers and support employees,” Rosecrants wrote. “This would all be accomplished without tying any of this to private school vouchers.”
School vouchers would give education tax dollars to parents, allowing them to pay for tuition at private schools for their children, according to the state Board of Education. Legislations and public education advocacy organizations like the Oklahoma state School Boards Association worry a voucher program would pull funding away from public schools.
The committee deadline for new bills has already passed, but Rosecrants wrote the Oklahoma Kids First plan could be passed by amending preexisting bills.
“If we’d simply think outside the box and move to action, instead of enduring more infighting and inaction from the majority party over an already unpopular private school voucher system,” Rosecrants wrote.
Rep. Annie Menz (D-Norman) wrote that the assumption all Democrats are against school choice is lazy, considering parents can already choose which school to send their children to.
Menz wrote the Democratic caucus is taking its constitutional duty to fund public education very seriously as preenrollment for the 2023-24 school year has already begun in several places.
“Folks all over the state are already deciding what to do for next school year,” Menz wrote. “They need their legislature to set aside partisan bickering and get a budget passed so that their family can make the educational decision that works best for them.”
This story was edited by Karoline Leonard and Jazz Wolfe. Ansley Chambers and Nikkie Aisha copy edited this story.
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