A controversial bill to open college savings accounts in Oklahoma cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 1647 would give students more than $3,000 to spend on an array of educational programs, including private scholarships, tutors, or even home school supplies.
In a Senate Education Committee hearing overflowing with interested observers and media, Pro Tem Sen. Greg Treat answered a barrage of questions about his college savings account bill introduced by Governor Kevin Stitt in his State of the State address.
In nearly two hours of questions and debates, Treat repeatedly said the measure gave parents more choice and responsibility for their children’s education.
Opponents say it would take money away from an already strained public school system and was opposed by several rural Republican senators during the committee hearing.
“Public money should stay in public schools,” Sen. JJ Dossett, D-Owasso, said during a debate against the measure.
It was eventually approved by an 8-7 vote in the Senate Education Committee.
It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it can be heard by the full state Senate. If he is approved in this chamber, his future in the state House of Representatives is even murkier.
House Speaker Charles McCall said he did not expect to hear the measure in his chamber this session. It is therefore unclear whether the bill will become law.
The bill appears to be an early centerpiece of political debate in the state’s gubernatorial race.
Stitt has made it clear that the measurement is one of his top priorities this session, and he applauded the progress of SB 1647 in a statement Tuesday.
“I stand with Oklahomans across the state who overwhelmingly support empowering parents to choose the best education for their children, and I am pleased with today’s vote,” he said in a written statement.
His potential challenger in next fall’s general election — Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister — rejected the measure in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“Governor. Stitt’s voucher system is a rural school killer that will decimate funding for all public school children and negatively affect all public school students in the state,” Hofmeister said in a written statement. “Put simply, the vouchers are not suitable for Oklahoma kids. Schools cannot provide the high quality education our children deserve under Stitt’s plan.