Brayden Love: Public school vouchers are bad for rural schools, and bad for Oklahoma
Brayden Love is a pre-law student and member of the President’s Leadership Class at the University of Oklahoma. In this guest op-ed for The Oklahoman, he explains why Oklahoma’s voucher plan is a bad idea, particularly for rural school districts.
Make no mistake, school vouchers would disproportionately affect rural schools like the one from which I graduated, as well as negatively affect Oklahoma’s public education system as a whole. For a $3,600 voucher, will private schools provide bus routes miles into the countryside? Will they provide free and reduced meals for students who might very well be receiving their only meals of the day at their school? Since they accept public tax dollars, will they ensure accommodation to students with disabilities or those that require individual education plans?
While proponents might have genuine intentions, in actuality, this is a reverse Robin Hood bill that will cut off millions of dollars from public schools while leaving rural Oklahomans with little to no alternative options. Put simply, it would erase the progress that Oklahoma public education has made in previous years.
Not only would it be detrimental to an already cash-strapped system, but legislation like this invites the possibility for massive fraud and misuse. For example, the state auditor and inspector disclosed that Epic Charter Schools is responsible for “the largest amount of reported abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of this state.” Why would we want to pass policy that would certainly see abuses like these become far more common?
Rural schools are economic engines for sparsely populated areas and serve to unite the community behind a common good. Why are we willing to let policy being pushed by Washington, D.C., billionaires like those funding attack ads against opponents of SB 1647 dictate policy in rural Oklahoma?
As House Speaker Charles McCall has said, “The obvious question for a person that lives in Atoka … (is) what does a kid with a voucher do?” I ask myself the same question. “What does a kid from Woodward do with a voucher?”
We don’t defund fire departments and give citizens a check to buy a fire extinguisher. We don’t defund ambulance services and give citizens a check to buy a first aid kit. We should recognize that supporting strong public services means a strong state for all of us. If there has ever been a time to stand up in defense against attacks on a system that educates 95% of Oklahoma’s students and serves to better us all, the time is now.