Oklahoma House passes private tuition grant bill

Thursday, April 10th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Students at Oklahoma's private colleges and universities would be eligible for tuition grants of $2,000 a year under legislation passed Thursday by the Oklahoma House.

The measure, known as the Tuition Equalization Grant Act, passed 66-27 despite objections from those who said using state funds for private college tuition is a form of education voucher that could drive up tuition at Oklahoma's publicly supported institutions.

``We're taking assets away from public education, giving it to private institutions,'' said Rep. Dale Wells, D-Cushing. ``Public education has made this country great, not private education.''

Opponents also warned that state subsidies for students at church-supported colleges could violate the separation of church and state.

``It's a dangerous precedent,'' Wells said. ``It may not be unconstitutional, but it's wrong.''

Under the Senate-passed measure, Oklahomans who are full-time undergraduate students at a private or independent college or university in the state would be eligible for $2,000 grants to be used toward their tuition.

To qualify, the student's family income cannot exceed $50,000 a year and tuition costs at the school must be higher than a comparable public school. The grants are contingent on the availability of state funds.

Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, who attended Oklahoma Baptist University, said 34 other states have similar programs to help private college students with their tuition costs.

The measure's author, Rep. Barbara Staggs, D-Muskogee, who went to graduate school at the private University of Tulsa, said the grants are not vouchers. The tuition grants would go directly to students, not to the individual schools.

``It is expensive to go to college,'' Staggs said. ``We owe them the opportunity to go there.''

The measure, Senate Bill 520, returns to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.