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Oklahoma Senate votes down Oklahoma Empowerment Act

Posted at 6:30 AM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 12:18:02-04

TULSA, Okla. — A bill that would allow funds to follow a student from public to private school failed last night in the Oklahoma Senate.

For several hours, lawmakers were locked in a statement with a debate on Senate Bill 1647, also known as the Oklahoma Empowerment Act.

Both sides of the argument say this bill is about the kids but some believe this isn't the way. Republican Sen. Jake Merrick says parents are upset and want change, but are unsure the bill will be beneficial in the long run.

In the end, it was a close vote but SB1647 failed by a vote of 22 to 24. The bill needed 25 yes votes in order to pass.

Had it passed, it would have taken more than $3,000 of state funds allocated for a student and put them into a savings account the parents can access. The money could have been used toward private school tuition, tutoring services, or specialized after-school or summer programs.

Gov. Kevin Stitt championed the bill during last month's State of the State address saying: "We need to fund students, not systems."

Stitt released a statement on Thursday about the bill's rejection:

“I am grateful to Pro Tem Greg Treat and every senator who voted to put parents in charge of their child’s education. At the same time, it is deeply concerning that so many voted to deny parents and students choices and keep them trapped in a system that has failed many Oklahoma children and left our state 49th in the nation in education.

Every child deserves the opportunity to attend the school that best works for them, regardless of their zip code or income level, and I will never stop fighting to empower parents and fund students over systems.”

The bill was written by President Pro Tempore and Republican Sen. Greg Treat. He says he has no plans of taking money from public education but believes both systems of private and public schools should be more equal.

Treat says that the bill is ultimately a work in progress.

Senators Kevin Matthews and Nathan Dahm, who both represent the Tulsa area, were not in attendance at the vote.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister made the following remarks after the bill failed to pass:

“Senate Bill 1647, a voucher scheme designed by Gov. Stitt, would have effectively destroyed public schools in Oklahoma. I am grateful 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 on increasing support for all our public school students and to urgently solve our teacher shortage. Our kids can't wait.”

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