House speaker says school voucher bill won’t get hearing
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A proposal endorsed by Oklahoma’s governor and Senate leader to allow public school funding to follow students to private schools or home schools won’t be heard in the House, Speaker Charles McCall said Thursday.
“I don’t plan to hear that bill this year, and I’ve communicated that,” McCall, R-Atoka, told reporters at a legislative forum hosted by The Associated Press and the Oklahoma Press Association.
“That topic is just not on the radar or the minds of our members as a priority,” McCall said. “It’s never been discussed in our caucus retreat as a priority of our members.”
The proposal is a priority for Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, and Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsed the idea Monday in his State of the State address to the Legislature, saying it would make the state a national leader in school choice.
“We know education is not one-size-fits-all, and I pledge to support any legislation that gives parents more school choice, because in Oklahoma, we need to fund students, not systems,” Stitt said Monday.
But the idea has faced bipartisan opposition in the Legislature, particularly from members who represent rural districts where there are few private school options for students.
“It’s a bit of geographical issue,” said McCall, whose district in southeast Oklahoma includes towns like Atoka, Davis, Mannsville and Tishomingo. “He (Treat) is a suburban Oklahoma guy. I’m a rural Oklahoman. We see things through the lens of our individual districts.”
Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said he realizes his proposal faces an uphill battle, but that he remains undeterred.
“At this stage last year, we were told that the Opportunity Scholarship Fund was DOA in the House,” Treat said. “I didn’t give up then and I won’t give up now.
“The speaker is my friend. I like him. We disagree. I hope I can convince him and our colleagues that every child deserves a great education.”
Treat also said the idea that rural students have no other educational options is a “false narrative.”
“I have received emails ... from communities around the state that say, ‘We’ve been looking at trying to create a school at our church or in our community, and this finally gives us that opportunity,’” Treat said. “Our parents want another choice, and that’s rural, that’s urban and that’s suburban.”
Treat’s bill, dubbed the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, is pending in a Senate subcommittee.