Thomas Jefferson, when referring to the importance of public education, said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” You might have noticed that Gov. Kevin Stitt gave his State of the State Address recently. As a supporter of public education, there is one thing in particular that really stuck out: Gov. Stitt stated in his address, “Now is the time to raise the cap on the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship to $30 million.” The cap currently sits at $5 million with Gov. Stitt wanting to add $25 million to it, which happens to be a 500% increase, all while only wanting to add $12 million to the funding formula for public schools.
The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship was launched in 2013 and gives tax credits to individuals and businesses that contribute money toward the organizations that provide these scholarships. In the education community, we call these “tax credit vouchers.” The program’s website claims they have 2,555 participating students, and that the average scholarship is $2,017. However, the number that sticks out the most pertains to the income requirements in order to receive a scholarship. Many people who support the program claim that it is meant to help low-income families and poor students. They will shame anybody who speaks out against it for these reasons. According to the website, however, a family of four making up to $142,193 is eligible for scholarships.
You’ve probably also heard of “school choice.” The term is extremely misleading because it implies that parents don’t have a choice, when the reality is every parent already has school choice for their child. Parents can choose to send their child to a public school, private school, religious school or even home school. School choice isn’t about giving parents more options. It’s about using taxpayer dollars to give wealthy families a discount on their choice of school. The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship is a prime example of this.
A key talking point amongst supporters of “school choice” is that the parents’ tax dollars should follow them. This thought is scary because if fully implemented, it would result in public schools completely closing. Supporters of “school choice” fail to mention that these vouchers only pay for a fraction of what it actually costs to these private and religious schools, therefore proving this is nothing but a scam to give wealthy families discounts on the education of their choosing.
In Oklahoma, we currently have more than 700,000 children who are educated in the public school system. This is over 90% of children whose parents have chosen public schools for their child’s education. Oklahoma spent $8 million last year on voucher programs that primarily benefit private schools. States like Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Missouri spend 0, making us No. 1 in the region for private school funding. On the flip side, Oklahoma was once again last in the region for public school funding with $8,884 in per-pupil spending. The regional average was $9,905. Oklahoma politicians continue to push for more private school spending despite already being No. 1 in the region.
We must continue fighting for public schools, the more than 40,000 teachers and the more than 700,000 kids who attend them. Actions speak louder than words, and if Gov. Stitt is truly serious about becoming top 10 in education, he will reconsider his position. As long as we continue to have high class sizes, emergency certified teachers, unacceptable teacher retention rates, a severe shortage of counselors and the loss of arts, music, orchestra, band and foreign languages, there should be no talk of anything but how we can strive to improve public education for the 90% of Oklahoma families who choose and use it.
Alberto Morejon teaches eighth grade U.S. history at Stillwater Junior High School. He is the founder of Oklahoma Teachers — The Time Is Now, the Facebook group that helped propel the 2018 Oklahoma teacher walkout.