Education group pans Stitt’s private school funding plan

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/23/2020 02:30 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt faced criticism on July 20 for his decision to spend $10 million in discretionary public funds to pay Oklahoma families to send their children to private schools.

Stitt outlined his plan in mid-July to allocate about $30 million remaining in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief, or GEER, Fund, which was part of a federal relief package approved by Congress this year.

The first-term Republican governor said $10 million will be allotted to allow 1,500 Oklahoma families to access $6,500 in funds for private-school tuition. The funds would target low-income families who have suffered a job loss or other economic impact as a result of COVID-19.

“We have great private schools in Oklahoma that serve homeless children and children living in poverty,” Stitt said in a statement. “Assisting those families will be our first priority and greatest focus, followed closely by helping families who have suffered severe financial hardship from COVID-19’s impact on employment and job opportunities.”

The idea was quickly panned by the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union with nearly 40,000 members. 

“We’re saying 91% of Oklahoma’s children attend public schools, and funding should be at least commiserate with that percentage,” said OEA President Alicia Priest. “It shouldn’t go to fund vouchers to pump up private schools, many of which already applied and received COVID relief funding through other sources.”

In addition to the funds allocated for private-school tuition, Stitt said $12 million will be spent to help schools access online content through the Oklahoma Supplemental Online Course Program. An additional $8 million will go toward $1,500 grants to help low-income families purchase curriculum content, tutoring services or technology.

“By giving families these funds, we are empowering them to choose what materials are most necessary to make their children successful academically,” Stitt said.

Stitt and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister previously announced plans to spend about $16 million in emergency relief funds in grants to schools. That included $8 million in the governor's discretionary GEER funds.

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