Weekly Wonk: Private school vouchers are wrong turn for Oklahoma | Delivering targeted, fiscally responsible tax relief | Capitol Update | More

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Vouchers: Another Wrong Turn for Oklahoma Schools: Oklahoma legislators are considering several unpredictable, expensive, and dangerous proposals to drastically change our state education policy. A school system long defined by equal access and shared responsibility could be hurt by a voucher program. Proposals being considered this session would use everyone’s tax dollars to fund private education for fewer than 1 in 10 Oklahoma children and take funding from public schools. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Gov.’s education plan ignores public school funding equity, provides tax cuts to only benefit a small percentage of Oklahomans (Capitol Update): Gov. Kevin Stitt has made a late entry into the school funding discussions between House and Senate leadership with an $800 million three-part plan: $300 million to the “Oklahoma Student Fund;” $300 million into the funding formula based partially on Sen. Adam Pugh’s (R-Edmond) Teacher Pay Raise Plan; and $200 million for the “Oklahoma Parental Choice” tax credit model for parents to send their children to a private school. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Modernizing the Sales Tax Relief Credit will cut taxes for those who need it: While cutting the grocery tax may be the politically popular choice, it could make inflation worse, it would provide little to no impact to the lowest-income Oklahomans, and it would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Lawmakers who truly want to provide meaningful inflation relief to Oklahomans who need it should instead opt to modernize the Sales Tax Relief Credit. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Long-term costs of private school tax credits: Instead of delivering inflation relief to everyday Oklahomans, lawmakers this session are hell-bent on moving forward with an educational voucher scheme — this time disguised as refundable tax credits — that would financially damage our public schools, leaving our state’s education system worse off in just a few years. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Together Oklahoma Events

Tuesday, May 2, 6:00 p.m., Strengthening Democracy Affinity Group (Online Only). This meeting will be an opportunity for advocates statewide to come together, share ideas, and discuss ways to ensure that our voices are heard and that state policies don’t infringe the political power of Oklahomans. Join the Meeting Online

Tuesday, May 9 | CHANGE IS POSSIBLE | Join Together Oklahoma on May 9 for our 2023 Day of Action at the Capitol

Together Oklahoma will be holding its 2023 Day of Action at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 9, to help everyday Oklahomans engage with lawmakers and help build political power in our communities. Advocates from around the state will gather together at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City to advocate for change that makes our state healthier, safer, more equitable, and more representative. [Learn more and register]

For more information and a full list of Together Oklahoma events, visit TogetherOK.org/events

Weekly What’s That

Conference Committee

A conference committee is a joint committee whose function is to arrive at a single version of a bill which has passed the two legislative chambers in different forms. Bills are assigned to a conference committee if the chamber of origin rejects amendments made in the second chamber, or if the bill has a stricken title or enacting clause.

Conference committees contain at least three members of both chambers assigned by House and Senate leadership. Appropriations bills and bills with fiscal impacts may be referred to the General Conference Committee on Appropriations (GCCA). Beginning in 2011, the House established additional permanent standing conference committees that hold public meetings and votes. Previously, few conference committees other than the GCCA actually met. On the Senate side, conference committee negotiations generally remain closed to the public.
If a conference committee comes to an agreement, it will propose a Conference Committee Report (CCR). The report must gain a majority of signatures from members assigned to the committee from each chamber. CCRs are then submitted to a vote of the originating chamber and then to the second chamber.  Reports can be approved or rejected, but not amended. If the CCR is approved, the bill is then brought up for a vote on fourth and final reading. If a CCR is rejected, another conference may be requested with the same or different members appointed by the two chambers.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“Public dollars should go to public schools.”

– House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, in response to Gov. Stitt’s education proposal that would setting aside taxpayer dollars for private-school tax credits. [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Tulsa World Editorial: How much longer do Oklahoma teachers need to wait?

We have to remember that the teachers are watching. And judging. That’s the teachers who are in the classroom this semester. And the teachers who aren’t in a classroom anymore but have a valid teaching certificate. Don’t forget the teachers who are now principals trying to put great teachers in every classroom.

What do they see?

They see a debate at the Legislature on the future of funding education.

They see that it’s not clear yet whether a raise is coming.

And now they see a signing bonus.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education made headlines with $16 million being set aside to attract certain kinds of teachers in certain situations.

As Tulsa World education reporter Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton reported this week, the bonuses starting at $15,000, target educators who commit to teaching special education, prekindergarten, kindergarten, first, second or third grade in an Oklahoma public school for at least five years, with additional amounts awarded to teachers who agree to teach in a rural district or one where at least half of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

The bonuses can go up to $50,000 for teachers with more than five years of classroom experience. It’s a pilot program and, as of now, exists only for the next school year.

The bonus money will come from federal funds in the American Rescue Plan Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The plan includes a cap on the total amount of signing bonuses awarded per district at $150,000. Depending on whom the bonus attracts, that could mean only three more teachers per district.

There are lots of qualifications and fine print. To learn more and apply, we encourage you to go to the online application, which is live on the State Department of Education‘s website.

When announcing the bonuses, State Superintendent Ryan Walters said he’s still committed to pushing the Legislature to provide an additional $150 million for merit-based pay raises. Walters also announced that the State Department of Education will create additional certification levels to offer incentive pay raises of up to $40,000 under the terms of House Bill 4388, but strings are attached.
Bonuses for some who aren’t in the classroom now.

Potential pay raises for some of the others who are.

It’s progress, yes, and when every price is going up, it might be what moves a person to dust off that teaching certificate and apply. We hope so.

Mayor G.T. Bynum told the Editorial Board recently that the $15,000 bonuses to recruit police officers have had an effect. That’s good news, because we don’t want to be a city that always has 130 fewer officers than we need. That’s the reality today.

These new bonuses for these specific teaching positions will help temporarily, but when are the teachers going to see something permanent? When are teachers going to judge that Oklahoma is the best place to be a teacher? Every parent wants Oklahoma to be the best place to be a student.

It’s time to engage in the legislative process. Every person who will determine the future of education funding and how much your child’s teacher is paid is at work right now.

Why wait? There are real deadlines and decisions that have to be made.

We have to remember that our kids are watching all of this. And judging.

What do they see?

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 84% – Percentage of private school students enrolled in schools located in urban and suburban areas, compared with 10% of students enrolled in schools located in rural areas and 6% enrolled in schools located in towns. [National Center for Education Statistics]
  • 91.5% – Percentage of K-12 students nationwide who attend public schools vs. private schools. [National Center for Education Statistics]  
  • 80% – Of the nation’s K-12 students who do not attend public schools, 80% enroll at private religious schools. [Georgetown Law Journal Online]
  • $215 to $417 million – Proposals for Oklahoma education vouchers (in the form of private school tax credits) could reduce the Oklahoma state budget by $215-417 million annually by Fiscal Year 2029-30. [OK Policy Analysis]
  • 22% – If Oklahoma adopts current proposals for private school tax credits, it’s projected to reduce Oklahoma’s state aid to local schools by $123 million annually from FY2030 and after. Adjusted for inflation, the combination of prior funding cuts and the cost of vouchers would leave the state aid allocation 22 percent lower in FY 2030 than in 2009 when Oklahoma had 55,000 fewer students than we do today. [OK Policy]

What We’re Reading

  • Florida just expanded school vouchers — again. What does that really mean?: Around the country, the political razzle-dazzle around “school choice” – giving families who enroll in the programs vouchers to spend on a range of school options as they see fit – is electrifying conservatives, grabbing public attention and becoming a GOP campaign banner. What if your child doesn’t get into the school they want or need? What if a school costs more than the voucher’s value (as many do)? How can you tell if a private school is any good? And the big challenge: What does this mean for public schools, which 90 percent of children in America attend? [Hechinger Report]
  • The New Wave of Public Funding of Private Schooling, Explained: To help inform the conversation about new taxpayer funded programs to cover private school education costs, this report reexamined research on private school choice, identified every major private school choice program nationwide, analyzed the trends they reflect, and sought to answer key questions about the programs, including whom they serve and their impact on student achievement. [Future Ed]
  • Tax Benefits and Fairness in K–12 Education: Federal and state policies, including tax policy, have been nudging families away from public schools, encouraging families to retreat into their polarized corners, an alarming trend for American democracy. [Georgetown Law Journal Online]
  • The Fiscal Consequences of Private School Vouchers: In states enacting some type of voucher program, the number of vouchers distributed climbed sharply from 2008 to 2019. Expenditure of public funds on these voucher programs also climbed sharply, with voucher spending in all seven states more than doubling, and growth reaching 883% in Georgia. Florida leads the pack in terms of voucher spending levels, but nearly all the states were diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to voucher programs by the end of the period studied—and these voucher programs have continued to grow.[Public Schools Public Funds]
  • State Policymakers Should Reject K-12 School Voucher Plans: School vouchers typically deplete available state revenues by cutting taxes for people who pay into voucher programs or through line-item appropriations in the state budget. And since the largest share of state spending is on public education, reducing overall state revenues almost inevitably reduces the available funding for public schools, especially as school voucher programs grow. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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