Gov. Kevin Stitt’s first thoughts to use federal emergency education funds for bolstering what amounts to private school vouchers does nothing to help public schools in crisis.
It would not address the multiple inequities uncovered during the COVID-19 pandemic and would deny money to a public school system that needs it.
At a press conference last week, Stitt said many options are being considered on how to spend the $40 million block grant made available by Congress in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
The two specific areas he cited were putting money into the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship program and expanding Advanced Placement classes for rural areas.
We don’t support either idea.
The emergency funds should be used to shore up urgent problems arising from the current pandemic that has kept children home.
Among the most critical problems revealed by the coronavirus shutdown are a shortage of computers and internet access among public school students. In Tulsa Public Schools, at least one-third of students could not access online work from home. Oklahoma City and rural areas are similarly plagued with poor connectivity.
Special education teachers are adapting Individualized Education Programs for every child with disabilities in a short time with no extra help.
Programs such as the child nutrition program have become critical to fight hunger as parents lose their jobs or work hours.
The public schools have done a masterful job in applying bandages, but they need help, which is what the federal funding should provide.
The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship program is a tax-credit scheme largely dedicated to giving money to private schools for scholarships.
And, while adding AP classes is a worthy goal, it is not an emergency and can clearly wait while more urgent needs are met.
Stitt said education advocates will be consulted before decisions are made.
We hope there are plenty of public school representatives in that conversation. About 700,000 students attend public schools in Oklahoma, compared to about 39,000 in private schools.
Put emergency education money where the crisis has been felt the deepest: public schools.
Gallery: Images of Owasso 7th Grade Center's grab-and-go meals