The measure would have allocated about $128 million to an education savings account program that would distribute money to private school students based on the amount they receive from the public school funding formula.
But Senate Pro Tem Bill Author Greg Treat told reporters Thursday that although his Oklahoma Empowerment Act is dead, the idea behind it is not.
“I’ve been in this building long enough to know that if people really want something, we can do it,” he said.
It is unclear exactly how this would happen. Treat took issue with it when pressed by reporters on Thursday. However, Oklahoma’s budget process that mostly happens in the dark could be a vehicle for financing school vouchers.
But, Treat recognized there is a long way to go for college savings accounts in Oklahoma. Speaker of the House Charles McCall defiantly opposed the measure and said he wouldn’t even consider it if she walked through the Capitol.
Treat said, however, that House leaders are interested in the ideas contained in the bill in the coming years. So even if the state doesn’t ultimately pass a college savings account bill this year, next year might be an option.
“Leaders on the House side indicated before the session that this is not the session, but the next session was, if the governor is re-elected, they would support the choice of the school, and that is coming from the upper echelons of their direction,” Treat said. “So I’m hopeful that they will.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt has been very supportive of the measure, touting it in his state of the state address. He expressed his disappointment with the failure of SB 1647 on Thursday.
“I am grateful to Pro Tem Greg Treat and all of the senators who voted to put parents in charge of their child’s upbringing,” he said in a statement. “At the same time, it is deeply concerning that so many people voted to deny parents and students choice and keep them trapped in a system that has failed many Oklahoma children and left our state in 49th place. country in education.”
Stitt continued, “Every child deserves the opportunity to go to the school that’s best for them, regardless of zip code or income level, and I will never stop fighting to empower parents and fund education. students in relation to the systems.”
It looks like the school voucher debate will be a major sticking point in the 2022 campaign for governor. New Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister hailed the bill’s failure. She is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to face Stitt in the November gubernatorial election.
“Senate Bill 1647, a voucher system devised by Governor Stitt, would have effectively destroyed Oklahoma’s public schools,” she said in a statement. “I am grateful that parents and communities have been heard loud and clear. Oklahomans want strong neighborhood schools in urban areas and in small towns across the state. Parents want the focus to be on increasing support for all of our public school students and urgently solving our teacher shortage. Our children cannot wait.