Is SB1647 (Education Voucher) Now Only For Homeschooling Families? An Analysis.

Is SB1647 (Education Voucher) Now Only For Homeschooling Families? An Analysis.

Often, it takes hours to really read a bill because it’s important to look up associated laws and terms that may not be obvious to the reader. Then it requires reading passages over and over and comparing them to other passages to make sure of context. Truly, to do it right, each bill requires a substantial time investment to read properly. And to think – legislators must read hundreds of bills during just one half  of session alone…

I am not going to paste the entire bill into this post. Please find it here and download the version that was posted March 3rd, labeled, “Senate Floor Version March 2, 2022”.

PLEASE NOTE: ROPE will never be for an education voucher system – only a tax credit system. This analysis simply explains the major issues we’ve found in the bill.

*Page 1: Section 1B: “by directing State Aid for which each child is eligible to the education provider of their choice”. 

Page 16: Section 5 lines 3 and 4 – fund is to contain “appropriations, gifts, grants, donations, and bequests”.  

This is a mixing of public and private funds and certainly not simply “State Aid” making these sentences inconsistent.

*Page 2: Section 2 A3: “OEA means the account in which funds are deposited by the Agency…” 

Page 7: Section 2G1: “The Agency shall notify the State Department of Education and request calculation of the amount of State Aid for which the student is eligible.”

Page8: Section 2 G2: “The State Department of Education on a monthly basis shall transfer to the Agency for deposit into the OEA Revolving Fund”

Page 15: Section 5 creates the Oklahoma Empowerment Account Revolving Fund to which “All monies accruing to the credit of the fund are hereby appropriated and may be budgeted and expended by the office of the Agency (State Treasurer) for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the OEA”. Monies “received by the office of the State Treasurer from appropriations, gifts, grants, donations, and bequests”.

Another apparent inconsistency: The Agency deposits funds, the OSDE transfers funds, “appropriations (State Aid?), gifts, grants, donations, and bequests” are placed in this account. 

*Page 2: Section 2 A4: “Education Service Provider means a person, business, public school district, public charter school, magnet school, institution within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education or organization that receives payments from a parent directing an OEA…”

Why would the OEA pay a PUBLIC school for any service? Wasn’t the idea for kids to go OUTSIDE the public school? So this bill uses state and private funds to pay public schools? Why? For what function?

*Page 2: Section 2A5: “Eligible student means a resident of this state who is eligible to enroll in a public school in this state…” 

“Eligible student shall not mean a student who is educated pursuant to the other means of education provided for in subsection A of Section 10-105 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes”.

An “eligible student” then is: 1. Any student who can go to public school 2. Whose family income is 300% of free/reduced lunch price and 3. Not educated by “other means”.

*Page 3: Section 2A6: “Empowerment student” is an OEA eligible student. 

 Page 5: Section 2Cb – (parent must sign an agreement upon application for the OEA to):

– b. not enroll eligible student as a full-time student in a public school district, public charter school or magnet school AFTER acceptance of an OEA

– d. not accept a scholarship from the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program while participating in OEA

Page 5: Section 2D – “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require that an empowerment student be enrolled full time or part time in a private school or a nonpublic online school”.

Let’s review: to be a student ‘eligible’ for the OEA, that student 1. can’t be enrolled in public school 2. can’t be a student in the LNH scholarship 3. isn’t required to be enrolled at a private school 

Granted, 2D is so poorly written it’s hard to make heads or tails of, but if it’s saying that an OEA Empowerment student isn’t required to be in private or non-public online school or public school, or an LNH scholarship student – the ONLY category left would have to be HOMESCHOOL student. I would doubt that’s what’s meant, but that appears to be what was said.

This bill as written, then, creates two types of ‘homeschool students’: those who get state funds and those who “Constitutionally educate” their children and don’t take state funds – but it doesn’t appear to apply to private schools.

This is a HUGE issue. EPIC (public school at home) has already muddied the water in the mind of the public as to what Constitutional “by other means” homeschoolers are (parents pay taxes for public schools and assume all economic responsibility for the raising and education of their children). How in the world would anyone be able to tell which homeschoolers are NOT taking public funds and which ones WERE?  And how would a homeschooler that takes public funds be any different than an EPIC user now? While this may seem like a nothing to most people, once a form of homeschooling is identified by state law and regulated, it will be very easy to regulate the other – it’s precedent. To date, homeschooling in Oklahoma has been so successful and unprecedented because of the “by other means” language in the state Constitution, which has NEVER been defined and therefore very hard to be regulated. 

*Page 3: Section 2A8b: Qualified expenses – “tuition and/or fees for non-public online learning programs”

2A8d: “services contracted for and provided by a public school district…”

Why would the state provide state funds to send an Empowerment Student to an already-funded state school when the idea was to remove the student from a public school? 

*Page 4: Section 2A8k: “tuition, fees, instructional materials, and assessment fees for a curriculum or program offered by a technology center school 

Page 5: Section 2A8m: “tuition and fees for concurrent enrollment at an institution with the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.

This seems like an open door for fraud. Students in Oklahoma under 18 may attend technology center schools without paying for the service. Universities charge for books and fees, but not tuition for concurrent coursework.

 *Page 7: Section 2F: “Any unused funds remaining in the OEA at the end of the applicable calendar year shall be remitted to the General Revenue Fund.”

Page 8: Section 2H: “An education service provider shall not share, refund or rebate any amount of an OEA with the parent or empowerment student. A refund or rebate for goods or services purchased with an OEA shall be credited to the OEA.”

Why shouldn’t ANY unused or rebated funds return to the OEA? The General Revenue Fund is a ‘slush fund’ that can be used for any reason. Why take money from the state coffers and then not return it to the account from which it was to be distributed in the first place? 

*Page 9: Section 3 C: “participation in the OEA program shall have the same effect as a parental revocation of consent pursuant to 20 U.S.C. Sections 1414(a)(1)(D) and 1414(C) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act”…

It appears that parents who take the voucher may not have their child evaluated for a disability while on the program. I assume because the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship already covers disabled children.

*Page 10: Section 3 F, 1, 2: All of this information from lines 12-23 appear to be creating the Digital Wallet.

ROPE has had major concerns with the Digital Wallet program. We believe it pulls kids into the State Longitudinal Data Base where reams of data are collected and sent to many, many state agencies and it’s a perfect place for implementation of ESG (social credit) scores

Superintendent Ryan Walters is not only the state’s Secretary of Education, but he runs an organization called Every Kid Counts OK (ECKO). During the pandemic, Governor Stitt applied for federal CARES ACT funds. Eight million dollars was funneled through ECKO using a digital wallet private vendor called “Class Wallet“, so the program has already been beta tested. Now that they’ve used the program and a private vendor to take payments, it appears the next step is to take the program state wide as the backbone of an educational voucher system.

Since federal money was funneled through a private organization, there is no direct oversight set in place for the movement of those funds at the state level. This is not at all a transparent way to handle tax dollars at any level – but then again, creating an entirely new bureaucracy in the State Treasurer’s office isn’t the way to make government smaller, more local and more responsive either.

Early in the session this year, ROPE noticed that Representative Martinez in the House and Senator Quinn in the Senate, both had “Creating the Digital Wallet Program Act” bills. We went to both authors, explained our issues and asked them to please not run the bills. Both actually agreed, yet we were stunned to see Senator Quinn’s on the Senate Ed Committee roster 2/22/22.

That afternoon, I made a phone call to our Secretary of Education, explained our concerns to him and asked that Oklahoma not go down the digital wallet road. Fortunately, Senator Quinn’s bill was pulled from committee and Representative Martinez’ bill was not heard. 

In politics, however, those with an agenda ALWAYS have a fail-safe. It appears SB1647 contains the language that is that fail-safe for this program.

In closing, though I read – and marked up every line of the bill – I didn’t cover every line of the bill here – I just stuck to the issues of greatest concern to us.

Since we have begun lobbying against this particular bill, our group – and me personally – have been the brunt of numerous character assasinations – I’m a liar, I don’t care about others, I’m an elitist, I want kids trapped in failing schools. 

Certainly, this is disheartening and frustrating, but no matter what dissenters say, our stance is defined upon the following three concepts – the same three upon which our organization has stood from the beginning; 

1. Personal Responsibility 

2. Smaller government 

3. Individual Liberty

SB1647 grows government, infringes on the individual liberty of those who have taken the personal responsibility to care for their own children to the point of paying twice (taxes and tuition) and takes responsibility from churches and individuals to help those who need help. The concept is wrong and the bill is poorly written. That’s really about all there is to it.

Jenni White

Education Director, ROPE