Major components of the Senate Republicans’ education reform agenda received bipartisan support in the Oklahoma Senate on Thursday.
The Senate voted in favor of a tax credit for private school scholarship programs, an expansion of charter school sponsors to include federally-recognized Native American tribes, and a pilot program that would deregulate 10 public school districts.
“These reforms are critical to improving education in Oklahoma,” stated Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. “We’re very happy to see bipartisan support for the Senate Republicans’ plan to improve education for the children of Oklahoma.”
Sen. James A. Williamson, R-Tulsa, successfully attached his amendment creating the New Hope Scholarship Program to SB 1556 on a 30 to 18 vote. Williamson’s amendment provides a tax credit for taxpayers who contribute to organizations that provide scholarships for low income children to attend an elementary or secondary private school in a county with a population of more than 450,000.
“We have too many students who have no choice but to attend schools that year after year are rated as ‘need improvement,’ especially in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties. The New Hope Scholarship gives the parents of children in these schools a second chance for a good education by encouraging contributions to these private scholarship programs,” Williamson said.
Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, successfully passed SB 2100 through the Senate on a 27 to 19 vote. The bill creates a trial program that would allow 10 entire school districts in Oklahoma to be removed from many state mandates and regulations.
“SB 2100 gives school districts the choice to move out from under many state regulations, making way for creativity in education and giving parents more opportunities and options for their children’s education. With this innovative pilot program the burden of many state mandates is removed, the locally elected school board is given more input in what happens in the district, and at the same time the state retains oversight to ensure that student achievement is maintained or improved,” stated Ford.
The Senate also adopted SB 1669 by Coffee on a 26 to 19 vote. The bill would allow Native American tribes to establish charter schools in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. Current law allows the state’s largest public school districts and public universities to establish charter schools, which are public schools established by contract with sponsors Charter schools are freed from many mandates and regulations.
“SB 1669 gives parents of children in failing public schools more education alternatives for their children. Charter schools provide a much-needed complement to traditional public education and are excelling in areas where traditional urban school settings have not. Native American tribes will be an excellent partner in Oklahoma’s charter school program,” Coffee said.