OK lawmakers consider Education Savings Accounts

Posted at 6:35 PM, Mar 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 23:43:30-05

A new poll released Monday shows a majority of likely Oklahoma voters support Education Savings Accounts.

Oklahoma House Bill 2949 would create the accounts, which would operate similar to a debit card. Parents would be able to apply for the accounts and then use the funds to send their child to a private school, pay for textbooks or even tutoring. 

Jim Pohlman, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Tulsa, believes an ESA system would benefit students by giving families more choices.

"Kids that are happy in school are going to do better. Parents are going to be excited and be connected," Pohlman said. "What we want for all of our schools, private or public, is to have kids engaged and have parents engaged so they have success and they continue on."

A Sooner Poll released Wednesday showed more than 56.3 percent of likely Oklahoma voters support Education Savings Accounts, up slightly from 2015 when 55 supported the accounts. In the poll released today, 63 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats supported the accounts. 

The thought process behind the accounts is that students can attend the school best fit for them, by having more choices. Families that might not be able to traditionally afford a private school, would be able to to with an account in their child's name. 

Pohlman said it could let families come back to Catholic schools in Tulsa, after perhaps walking away because of financial reasons.

"Education Savings Accounts would certainly help families that have looked at schools as you say, and say, 'we really can't afford it, we don't have the means to do that,'" Pohlman said.

Several public school superintendents though are speaking out against Education Savings Accounts. 

A spokeswoman for state superintendent Joy Hofmeister wrote to 2 Works For You today, "her focus is on the budget. She has expressed serious concerns with whether this is the right time to experiment with a new government program that could have significant funding impact." 

On Tuesday Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist took to Twitter to discuss an ESA system. 

Over a series of tweets she wrote critical comments about the idea. First, "DYK (Did you know) that schl vouchers could reduce Tulsa Public Schools funding by 15M? Public ed is the most impt investment that we can make! #ESAisNotOK"

Then she posted, "#OKlaed has already lost $109M & will lose more next yr. This is not the time to further decrease ed funding through vouchers. #ESAisNotOk"

A third tweet read, "No matter how you feel abt vouchers, as Oklahomans we have to ask if the timing is right to enact new leg. that reduces ed funding #OKlaed"

Her final tweet on Education Savings Accounts, "Make no mistake, this bill is not good for our kids. We cannot affort it, & there is now accountability for tax $. #ESAisNotOk"

In a letter sent to parents, Owasso's Superintendent Dr. Clark Ogilvie also stated he is against House Bill 2949 and stated budget concerns. 

Inside Tulsa's Catholic schools, Pohlman said he doesn't expect a large rush of new students if Education Savings Accounts are approved, but he did say they would let students find the best fit.

"It is just about giving people that want a different opportunity, or have a child that needs a smaller environment, to get that opportunity, to go and seek that out," he said. 

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