An Analysis of Three Oklahoma Voucher Bills: SB822 (Daniels, 23), SB943(Jett, 23), SB1647 (Treat, 22)
To study the Voucher (state aid – aka tax dollars/public funds – for private schools) issue in Oklahoma, I have reviewed three Oklahoma voucher bills originating in the Oklahoma Senate – one from 2022, the other two from the 2023 legislative session – and compared them against each other.
According to an article in 538 – 14 states already have universal voucher programs or are attempting them via legislation in 2023.
Oklahoma, then, is not leading, we’re simply following the explosion of ‘universal’ voucher legislation being forwarded through the states from a variety of national, multimillion dollar private, non-profit organizations, including Milton Friedman’s EdChoice, a Charles Koch/Walton Foundation joint venture called yes. every. kid., Jeb Bush’s ExcelInEd, The Walton Family Foundation, Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children, and a conglomeration of many school choice advocate groups led by DeVos under the umbrella The Alliance For School Choice and Americans For Prosperity.
Oklahoma houses state groups operating under their national parents – American Federation for Children and AFP – as well as Oklahoma-originated “choice” groups, OCPA and Scissortail, both of which are interconnected and involved with the groups Choice Matters and the Parent Voice Oklahoma network.
Yearly, millions of dollars are spent by ‘school choice’ advocacy groups, whose donations fund election campaigns for and against ‘choice’ candidates and lobbying efforts, instead of creating and seeding the Education Savings Accounts they spend so much money on lobbyists to force STATE TAX PAYERS to fund.
OKLAHOMA PARENTS HAVE EDUCATIONAL CHOICE
Let’s be clear. Oklahoma parents have EDUCATIONAL CHOICE. In fact, one of the first school “choice” organizations, EdChoice, outlines the variety of ‘choices’ available to parents in Oklahoma on their website, saying:
“Oklahoma offers K–12 students and their families several types of school choice, including two private school choice programs, charter schools, magnet schools, home schooling and inter-district public school choice via an open enrollment policy.”
So, not only does Oklahoma have a WIDE VARIETY of choices available to parents to educate their children, we also have TWO SEPARATE WAYS to help Oklahoma public school students attend PRIVATE SCHOOLS without further legislation.
If Oklahoma already has full Educational Choice, what does the term “School Choice” mean other than specifically, “universal vouchers”.
If Oklahoma already has full Educational Choice, then why must Oklahoma institute Universal vouchers? Vouchers, like other ‘private/public’ partnerships take private schools and introduce money from the state coffers. All state money should come with strings that provide public accountability for the money forcibly taken from the tax payer and benevolently gifted to another for use. In that case public money MUST impose restrictions on private schools/institutions that weren’t there before the public dollars were introduced. Thus, private becomes – in essence – public, no matter what any legislation says.
Why would Oklahomans want to be deprived of the choice of true private schools? How does that action provide educational choice? And for all the tin-foil-hat-wearing readers – doesn’t making all schools public provide excellent inroads toward one world government? Just a few thoughts to mull over while reading the mechanics of the bills.
All three bills have the same opening lines in Section 1 (the first section of New Law) – my favorite of which begins, “It is the intent of the legislature…” Apparently the authors haven’t read the axiom about the road to hell and intent.
By my count, all three bills make the State Treasurer’s office responsible for no less than 20 EXTRA jobs – and that’s on top of the biggest job of all – accountability for a whole new Revolving Fund storing taxpayer dollars.
SB822’s (’23, Julie Daniels; co-author SB1647 ’22) voucher program is called the “Oklahoma Education Freedom Act”. Freedom, however, isn’t provided by 7 new sections added to the overcrowded books of Oklahoma law.
SB943’s (’23, Shane Jett; co-author SB1647 ’22) voucher program is called, “The Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids Account – or the OK PEAK Account”. The state cannot ‘empower’ parents by taking money from their budgets by force and then offering that money to others to do something they couldn’t already do on their own budget. That’s welfare, not empowerment.
SB1647’s (’22 Greg Treat) voucher program was to be called, “The Oklahoma Empowerment Act”. (To find the text of the bill, go to the Oklahoma Legislature. From the top menu, click on “Legislation”, then click on “Advanced Bill Search”. Type in SB1647 in left box, pull down 2022 regular session and select, then push “retrieve”. Click on the “floor version” hyperlink as that was the bill voted on in the Senate last year.)
|Identifies the Treasury as “Agent/Agency” over created student accounts – drastically expanding that office||X||X||X|
|Number of new sections added to Oklahoma State law||6||7||6|
|Stipulates qualifying student must be within 300% of income to qualify for free or reduced lunch||X|
|Calculation made for each eligible student approved to participate in the Account = total State Aid factors including pupil category weights for the applicable school year X grade weight generated by the student for the applicable school year||X||X||X|
|Constitutional homeschoolers carved out of participation with specific language “other means of education”||X||–||–|
Here I will summarize ALL parts of the bills. In some cases, I will copy the bill word-for-word and CAPITALIZE the lettering. These are the points that need careful consideration and the points on which I will opine in my next piece.
FYI: ESP = Education Service Provider, OSDE = Oklahoma State Department of Education, Agency = The Oklahoma State Treasurer’s Office. Act is used to cover EVERY Act since they are nearly 100% similar and Account is used to denote every Account though the bills give them specific names.
|*Section 2 (New Law); definitions are all the same excepting Act/Account names||X||X||X|
|Section 2C1; Applications made to Agency – no deadline for submission||X||X||X|
|Section 2C2; Agency establish procedures to approve applications – parents agree to: Use Account for only qualified expenses, NOT ENROLL STUDENT IN FULL-TIME PUBLIC SCHOOL, Comply w/Agency rules, NOT ACCEPT Lindsey Nicole Henry SCHOLARSHIP FOR STUDNETS W DISABILITIES||X||X||X|
|Section 2C3; Antidiscrimination provision||–||X||X|
|Section 2D; Student not required to be ENROLLED FULL OR PART TIME IN A PRIVATE BRICK/MORTAR OR ONLINE SCHOOL||X||X||X|
|Section 2E; Accounts may be closed if: Student RE-ENROLLS IN PUBLIC SCHOOL FULL TIME||X||–||–|
|Student ENROLLED FULL TIME IN PUBLIC SCHOOL||–||X||X|
|Intentional misuse, Graduation, or age 21||X||X||X|
|Section 2F; If student moves to PUBLIC SCHOOL deposits suspended/remitted to GR fund at year end||X||X||X|
|Section 2G1; Agency requests state aid eligibility from OSDE (via calculation listed above) Student accounts funded monthlyAgency notifies OSDE regarding account changes||X||X||X|
|Section 2H; ESP can’t share/refund/rebate money to parent or student only to Account||X||X||X|
|Section 2I; PARENTS PROBHIBITED FROM DEPOSITING INTO ACCOUNT||X||X||X|
|Section 2J; Account monies NOT TAXABLE||X||X||X|
|Section 2K; Funds accrue monthly/yearly||X||X||X|
|Section 3 (New Law)A; Agency maintains public list of ESPs||X||X||X|
|Section 3B; Agency provides Account holders information including the ROLE OF ANY PRIVATE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT FIRM OR OTHER PRIVATE ORGANIZATION WITH WHICH THE AGENCY MAY CONTRACT TO ADMIN THE ACT||X||X||X|
|Section 3C; Agency provides Account students w/disabilities notice that PARTICIPATION IN THE ACCOUNT 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 (IDEA) and rights parents of Account holders have under IDEA and any applicable state laws/regulations.||X||X||X|
|Section 3D; AGENCY MAY CONTRACT WITH PRIVATE FINANCIAL MGT FIRM OR OTHER PRIVATE ORG TO ADMIN ACCOUNT.||X||X||X|
|Section 3E; Agency may withhold funding from deposits to admin Account at 5% first 2 yrs and 3% yearly after||X||X||X|
|Section 3F; Agency SHALL establish system to pay ESPs from Account via electronic or online funds transfer||X||X||X|
|Section 3F1; Payment system requirements||X||X||X|
|Section 3F2; AGENCY MAY CONTRACT W PRIVATE ENTITIES TO DEVELOP PAYMENT SYSTEM||X||X||X|
|Section 3G; Agency implement rating system for ESPs||X||X||X|
|Section 3H; Partial payments in advance of services may be paid to ESP and then deducted from deposits||X||X||X|
|Section 3I; AGENCY HAS AUTHORITY TO CONDUCT/CONTRACT FOR ACCOUNT AUDITING – SHALL CONDUCT RANDOM AUDITS OF 10% OF ACCOUNTS ANNUALLY||X||X||X|
|Section 3J; Agency as authority to remove eligibility if intentional/substantial misuse of Account funds||X||X||X|
|Section 3J1; Agency creates procedures to determine misuse. If misuse by parent, student shall be eligible in future||X||X||X|
|Section 3J2; Agency has authority to refer to AG for fraud investigation||X||X||X|
|Section 3J3; Parents may appeal revocation of account eligibility||X||X||X|
|Section 3K; Agency may cease payments to ESP for: Intentional misrepresentation/failed to refund overpaymentsRoutine failure to provide services||X||X||X|
|Section 3L; Agency shall create procedures for ESP sanctions, ESP must notify parents if prohibited, ESP may appeal prohibition||X||X||X|
|Section 3M; AGENCY MAY ACCEPT GIFTS AND GRANTS FROM ANY SOURCE TO SUPPORT ADMINISTRATION OF ACCOUNT TO – ADVERTISE PROGRAM – AND FUND ADDITIONAL ACCOUNTS||X||X||X|
|Section 3N; Agency promulgate rules for Act Creation of anonymous online fraud reporting service, Creation of anonymous phone hotline for fraud reporting, Requiring surety bond for ESPs funded over 100KRefunding payments from ESPs back to Accounts||X||X||X|
|Section 4 (New Law)A; AGENCY MAY APPROVE ESPs ON OWN INITIATIVE, AT REQUEST OF PARENTS, AT REQUEST OF A PROSPECTIVE ESP.||X||X||x|
|Section 4B; Prospective ESP shall Submit notice to Agency of desire to participate and receive funds, AGREE NOT TO REFUND, REBATE, OR SHARE ACCOUNT FUNDS WITH PARENTS/STUDENTS||X||X||X|
|Section 4C; Public school of Account student must provide records to PRIVATE SCHOOL ESP||X||X||X|
|Section 4D; NOTHING IN THIS ACT SHALL LIMIT THE INDEPENCE OR AUTONOMY OF AN ESP OR MAKE THE ACTIONS OF AN ESP THE ACTIONS OF STATE GOVERNMENT. ESPs SHALL BE GIVEN MAXIMUM FREEDOM TO PROVIDE FOR THE EDUCATIONA NEEDS OF ACCOUNT STUDENTS WITHOUT GOVERNMENAL CONTROL. AN ESP ACCEPTING PAYMENTS FROM ACCOUNT AS DIRECTED BY PARENTS PURSUANT TO THIS ACT SHALL NOT BE CONSIDERED AN AGENT OF THE STATE OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.AN ESP SHALL NOT BE REQUIRED TO ALTER ITS CREED, PRACTICES, ADMISSIONS POLICY OR CURRICULUM TO ACCEPT PAYMENTS AS DIRECTY BY PARENTS FROM AN ACCOUNT.||X||X||X|
|Section 4E; NOTHING IN THIS ACT SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO EXPAND THE REGULATORY AUTHORITY OF THE STATE, ITS OFFICERS, OR ANY PUBLIC SCHOOL TO IMPOSE ANY ADDITIONAL REGULATION OF ESPs BEYOND THOSE NECESSARY TO ENFORCE THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE ACCOUNT.||X||X||X|
|Section 4F; If judicial finding of noncompliance w D/E Agency docked 5% in state funding for following fiscal year||–||X||X|
|Section 4G; Account student/parent has cause of action against Agency in case of noncompliance w D/E||_||X||X|
|Section 5 (New Law); Creates continuing, yearly, revolving fund for Account. Account SHALL CONSIST OF ALL MONIES RECEIVED BY THE OFFICE OF THE STATE TREASURER FROM APPROPRIATIONS, GIFTS, GRANTS, DONATIONS AND BEQUESTS. Agency budgets, appropriates and expends Account monies. Expenditures made by Agency issued warrants.||X||X||X|
|Section 6 (New Law)A; State bears burden in legal proceedings challenging application of Act to ESP||X||X||X|
|Section 6B; NO LIABILITY SHALL ARISE ON PART OF AGENCY, THE STATE, A PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT/CHARTER/MAGNATE SCHOOL BASED ON AWARD OF OR USE OF AN ACCOUNT||X||X||X|
|Section 6C; If the Act is challenged in court, parents are allowed to defend the Act against the challenge||X||X||X|
|Section 6D; The Act provisions are severable so that if one is struck by the court, the rest of the Act survives||X||X||X|
|Section 7 (New Law); An additional $274,743,402 will be appropriated to the OSDE to support public schools||X|
|Section 7 (Section 8, SB822); Act effective July 1, 2023||X||X||X|
|Section 8 (Section 9, SB822); Emergency clause||X||X||X|
* Selected definitions:
4. Education Service Provider (ESP) = person, business, public school district, public charter school, magnet school, institution with The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, or organization that receives payments from a parent directing an Account to provide educational goods and/or services to Account students.
5. Eligible Student = resident of the state eligible to enroll in a public school in the state
6. Account student = eligible student approved to participate in Account
7. Qualified Expenses include: tuition/fees to PRIVATE school, NON-PUBLIC ONLINE school, services contracted for and provided by a PUBLIC DISTRICT or PUBLIC SCHOOL, instructional materials, computer/technology needs, tuition/fees for extracurricular activities, NATIONALLY STANDARDIZED ASSESSMENTS, tuition/fees for summer programs, tuition/fees to a technology center school, OCCUPATIONAL/BEHAVIORAL/PHYSICAL/SPEECH-LANGUAGE/AUDIOLOGY therapies, tuition/fees concurrent enrollment, transportation fees, ANY OTHER QUALIFIED EXPENSE APPROVED BY THE AGENCY
SB943 (Jett) includes the following definitions not found in the other bills. Though the definitions are included in SB943, there is not a single place in the bill that mentions either definition:
9. “Reporting Agency” =
a. parent’s state representative or senator
b. the board of education for the resident district of the parent, as determined by Section 1-113 of Title 70 of the OK Statutes
c. the State Board of Education, or
d. the county sheriff for the county in which the parent resides
10. “Trigger district” = a school district in this state where (a whole range of liberal/woke concepts/activities) have been tolerated:
a. example; obscene books, furries, sex ed, gender identity/sexual orientation instruction