Lack of voucher debate shows Oklahomans favor public schools

Sunday, July 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Last month's Supreme Court decision upholding a school voucher program probably will not affect policy in Oklahoma because so much of the state favors public education, authorities say.

``It's an attitude here that public education is important, and Oklahomans want public education to be a priority in our state,'' said Carolyn Crowder, president of the state's largest teachers union. ``People have confidence in our public education system.''

About 95 percent of Oklahoma students attend public schools, according to national statistics. The national average is 90 percent. Only five states rely more heavily on public education than Oklahoma.

So far, only Florida, Milwaukee and Cleveland have programs allowing public money to pay the private school tuition of some students. Programs in some states let parents claim a tax deduction for part of their children's tuition.

State schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said state officials would have to review the Oklahoma Constitution and state laws before launching a voucher program and said some state constitutions make vouchers illegal.

``It's very important to realize that we have worked very hard to provide lots of choices under the existing system,'' she said.

State law allows students to transfer to any district as long as the receiving district has space.

Several elementary schools have specialty programs with themes ranging from foreign language to technology and are open to students who live outside the neighborhood.

Middle school students can apply for a variety of traditional public schools, enterprise schools and state-financed charter schools that focus on performing arts, health sciences and engineering or science and technology or that take a back-to-basics approach and require parental involvement.

Homeschooling _ which isn't regulated in Oklahoma _ also is a popular choice among many families.

``It's a different landscape from 20 or 30 years ago from when you went to whatever school was in your neighborhood,'' said Brandon Dutcher, research director of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs .