Friday, April 4, 2008

The audacity of New Hope: Oklahoma Democrats and school choice

On March 13 the Oklahoma Senate debated the New Hope Scholarship Act. The bill, SB 2093, provides a tax credit for taxpayers who contribute to organizations that provide private-school scholarships for low-income children attending failing schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

OCPA research fellow Pat McGuigan writes about the debate in the April issue of Perspective. You’ll want to read the entire article, but here are some highlights from the debate.

Each of the 24 Republicans in the Senate voted for the measure, but it was the debate among the Democrats which proved to be the most interesting.

State Sen. Jeff Rabon (D-Hugo) didn't like the bill because he said "it strikes me as giving up."

State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) thinks it would "send up the white flag to abandon many for the benefit of a few."

State Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) said that although the bill would "allow some children to escape the problems of a failed school, if that is in fact what we want to call it," it seems unfair that not everyone would be able to get out.

State Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) asked why we would "want to take some of the kids out of the public schools and essentially leave the rest on the sinking ship."

Arguing in favor of the bill, state Sen. Tom Adelson (D-Tulsa) pronounced himself "embarrassed" by the "lofty and empty rhetoric" he had heard from his fellow Democrats. "If we're going to criticize we better have something ourselves," he said.

State Sen. Earl Garrison (D-Muskogee), a longtime public school educator, agreed. "If you've got a better way to do this, let's do it," he urged his fellow Democrats. "Let's just don't keep on playing politics with kids' lives."

State Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre (D-Tulsa), a 16-year veteran of the Tulsa Public Schools board of education, said for years she has worked to get someone to "do something about these same schools that have gone on for years and years and years and nobody cared. ... I'm trying to get us to do what we need to do that nobody in a position of power has even said anything about."

State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) said for now he was "willing to work to go forward on this issue so kids can have these opportunities" because, although there are some great public schools, "we've got other schools that we've been telling [parents] for years and years and years that it's going to change. And I would not risk my child's education to say, 'Well, I'm going to make you stay in there because I'm committed to fixing the school, and the next thing you know they're in 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade and maybe the damage has been done. ... I wouldn't do that." He said that he and his wife happen to have the resources to take their own children out of a bad school if necessary. So "why should I turn to my constituents, especially my low-income constituents, and say they got to stay in there?"

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