School Voucher Bill Fails Following Senate Vote

Thursday, March 24th 2022, 9:32 am

The highly contested education voucher bill is dead after a late night vote. 

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Just before midnight, state Senators narrowly rejected the measure by only two votes.

After more than two hours of debate, Senators came to the final decision, voting no on the Oklahoma Empowerment Act with 24 'no' votes and 22 'yes' votes.

State Senator Greg Treat, who wrote this bill and other supporters, believed this legislation allowed parents and students to choose the best opportunity for them.

"It is a bill designed to give opportunity of school choice for kids and their parents, it is attempting to put the focus on the students rather than systems." said Republican Senator Shane Jett of Shawnee.

Republican state Senator Kim David said that in North Tulsa, a private school has helped revitalize the area.

She said this bill would give parents who feel like they have no option a choice.

"For me this isn't about while, oh you can send your kid anywhere, no there are times you can't send your kid anywhere, it's not safe. And for you to think that every place in our state is just like rural Oklahoma, it’s wrong." said Porter.

After Porter spoke, George Young, a Democratic state Senator from Oklahoma City spoke. Young said most parents tell him they wouldn't even use vouchers.

"You can give them to me as much as you want, and they will lay on the kitchen table because there are so many other disparities that prevent us from being able to access those places that you call better schools." 

He says the money should go toward making public schools within access better,

"They want me to make their schools better. Why are we taking funds away from them when they could be used in our schools? The schools that are close enough that they could walk to and get to so that they can get the education they need." said Young.

$128 million has been allocated through an amendment to the bill that was added Wednesday, in order to pay for what the State Department of Education estimates the measure will cost.

That money would have been taken away from public schools right off the bat, which is one of the main reasons some educators and lawmakers were against it.

J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, is also concerned about oversite,

"This issue is something that has always been clear to me with my constituents and with Oklahomans in general, we do not want public dollars to go off the grid unaccountable and hope that we receive the benefit from where those dollars went."

The evening vote comes after weeks of contentious debate and public pushback against the measure, including a protest in the Capitol rotunda.