Voucher Bill Narrowly Defeated in Major State Senate Topic at TPS Legislative Breakfast | Local News

A controversial voucher bill, narrowly defeated in the Oklahoma State Senate earlier this week, dominated discussions at Friday’s annual meeting between Tulsa Public School leaders and lawmakers in the region.

The public forum had to be rescheduled twice due to wintry weather conditions in recent months, so its occurrence mid-legislative session was rare, if not unprecedented, and came about coincidentally following the most publicized joint education of 2022.

Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist told lawmakers that she herself helped found a choice school in another city earlier in her career and that Oklahoma’s largest school district, which she oversees, has six partner charter schools, as well as a host of language immersion, Montessori, and magnetic schools. options for parents and a virtual school that currently accommodates 800 students.

“In Tulsa, we have school choice. We have a lot of choices,” said Gist, who noted that Friday’s event was taking place at one of the city’s many choice programs for high school students – the television, film and television program studio. of Webster High School’s digital media.

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“We know, when you look at state assessment data, in particular, that students are not achieving the level that we want.

“What doesn’t make sense is to say because of this, we want them out of the system where we won’t know how they are doing at all,” she said. “If you’re in that mindset — the system you need to put in place is one that has adequate funding in the first place, which Oklahoma doesn’t have.”

Senate Bill 1647 would direct state funds to “Oklahoma Empowerment Accounts” for families with school-aged children to be used for private school tuition, books, computers, uniforms, tutoring or home school expenses or extracurricular activities.

Sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Speaker Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and championed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, the measure failed in a vote Wednesday night by 22-24, short of the 25 votes needed to pass the Senate.

Ahead of the vote, Treat amended the bill to invest $128.5 million to offset the cost of the measure, saying it didn’t think it would cost that much.

But critics insisted the measure would lead to a cut in funding for public schools, while doing nothing to increase school choice in rural areas of the state where private schools may not be accessible.

While advocates have said a parent’s choice of school is accountability enough, a bipartisan group of senators who voted no questioned the lack of accountability for taxpayer dollars sent to private schools when Public schools are subject to an enormous amount of accountability measures imposed by lawmakers.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, had said he would not hear the bill in this chamber.

So what would TPS leaders rather than lawmakers focus on?

Gist said: School staff shortages and national and local decreases in the pipeline of new teachers; the mental health and well-being of students and their families; financial stability for school districts; and long-term “realistic” pandemic recovery.

But she also made a point of saying that funding alone won’t solve school districts’ problems, throwing out state bureaucracy while she was at it, saying, “I’ve done this work in six states and I have never seen the bureaucratic grip on schools like we have in Oklahoma.

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, asked, “How could we advocate for targeted resources?”

Gist responded by saying the added “weightings” for students of color and students with special educational needs under the state funding formula have not been updated in 30 years.

Other lawmakers in attendance were Sen. Jo Anna Dossett, D-Tulsa, Sen. JJ Dossett, D-Owasso, Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Tulsa , and Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa.

TPS board members Jennettie Marshall and Suzanne Schreiber said the focus should be on the needs of traditional public schools, which serve the vast majority of Oklahoma school children.

Marshall said the lack of state investment has caused an exodus of traditionally certified teachers.

“Funding is fundamental. Public education is fundamental. At this point, we absolutely have to stop thinking that “the charter is better than the public,” Marshall said. “If we fund public education, our teachers can meet the needs of our students. When we look at performance, they basically operate at the same level.

Gist noted that when people ask her if charter schools are better than traditional public schools, she replies, “Are coffee shops better than restaurants? The answer is that it depends.

“Some charter schools don’t work very well. The Tulsa Honor Academy has incredible academic records and that is something we should all pay attention to. But there are others who have academic difficulties.

Member John Croisant said that despite the political rhetoric, the Tulsa School Board is focused on student outcomes, especially in early literacy and college and career readiness.

“If you’re like us, focus on what we can do for kids instead of what adults do,” he said.

Video: Tulsa World Newsroom: How does a book end up in your child’s school library?


Jessica C. Bell