School Choice a Contentious Issue in Oklahoma Governor’s Race

Incumbent Republican Kevin Stitt says state should fund students, not systems.
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(The Center Square) – Oklahoma has some of the best open enrollment practices nationwide, according to a report released Thursday.

Reason Foundation, which conducts nonpartisan public policy research, found Oklahoma was one of only five states that have implemented four out of five best practices that allow students to transfer to public schools outside of their assigned school district or zone boundaries.

School choice has emerged as a leading issue during the state’s gubernatorial race.

Incumbent Republican Kevin Stitt faces challenges from Joy Hofmeister, who is running as a Democrat after having previously been registered as a Republican, and Independent candidate Ervin Yen. Both are critical of Stitt’s approach to education. Libertarian candidate Natalie Bruno is also in the race.

Stitt put his weight behind Senate Bill 1647, which would have created the Oklahoma Empowerment Act. The act would have allowed eligible public school students to use state dollars toward other education opportunities like private school or homeschooling.

Stitt said the bill’s goal was to fund students, not systems.

“It makes sure that money follows the student, and it would make us a national leader in school choice,” Stitt said during his State of the State Address earlier this year.

The bill failed in the state Senate in March. The governor was open about his disappointment, saying every child deserves to attend the school that works best for them, regardless of their zip code.

“It is deeply concerning that so many voted to deny parents and students choices and keep them trapped in a system that has failed many Oklahoma children and left our state 49th in the nation in education,” Stitt said at the time.

Hofmeister, who currently serves as Superintendent of Public Instruction in Oklahoma, called the bill a “voucher scheme.”

”This measure would have effectively destroyed public schools in Oklahoma and I’m grateful parents and communities have been heard loud and clear,” Hofmeister tweeted after the bill failed to move past the Senate. “Oklahomans want strong, neighborhood schools in urban areas and in small towns across the state. We must focus on increasing support for all public school students and urgently solve the teacher shortage.”

Hofmeister said she supports equitable access to public education, broadband at home for all students, early engagement with parents from birth to preschool, and the creation of a Governor’s Parent Advisory Council would help put parents in charge of their children’s education.

Yen said he supports significant pay raises for teachers and an “equitable distribution of education funding,” Yen wrote on his campaign website he believes the act would have killed public education in rural communities.

“I’m not opposed to alternative forms of education-I simply believe that we must first fix public education (as it has been failing our children for countless years),” Yen wrote on his campaign website. “Once this is completed, we can then discuss funding other forms of education.”

Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Natalie Bruno wants to eliminate the state board of education, which she says would save over $16 million dollars and give control back to individual school districts, teachers and parents.

“Unfortunately, since the U.S. Department of Education was created in 1979, government spending on education has increased, while the quality of education has declined,” Bruno wrote on her campaign site. “For every eleven cents that the federal government gives our schools in funding, it costs Oklahomans fifteen cents to comply with all the red tape that comes attached. Our state actually loses money by accepting funding from the federal government.”

This story was originally published by The Center Square and used with permission.

Merrilee Gasser
Merrilee Gasser is a contributor for The Center Square.

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