As the Oklahoma House and Senate tussled over various versions of public financial support for private schools, about 125 school choice supporters rallying outside the Capitol on Thursday urged them to reach an agreement soon.
“As my husband said to the legislators, ‘Please stop acting like junior high kids and help the junior high kids,’” said Laura Robinson, the mother of a special needs child and a critic of Tulsa Public Schools’ administration.
Speakers at the rally included Gov. Kevin Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, as well as House Common Education Committee Chairwoman Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, but nobody from the Senate, which was actually voting on education bills while the rally was in progress, spoke to the group.
The Governor’s Office said the date of the rally was set weeks ago and that no slight on the Senate was intended, but Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said he was not asked to speak.
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The Senate over the past few days heavily amended two House bills that included pay raises for teachers, tax credits for the parents and guardians of private and home-schooled students, and more money for the state school aid formula, with a provision that smaller districts receive disproportionately larger shares.
This last piece is widely seen as a sweetener to win over rural Republican lawmakers whose support is needed to pass school-choice legislation in the House. McCall has said the House bills as originally written are more or less an all-or-nothing deal.
The people at Thursday’s rally didn’t care about all of that. They wanted results.
Pastor Philip Abode of Tulsa’s Crossover Preparatory Academy said his far northside neighborhood needed a school unfettered by red tape and bureaucracy.
“We started Crossover Preparatory Academy as a private all-boys school with a mission committed to restoring our community by developing educated, godly young men who love north Tulsa,” Abode said. “Last year we were able to add a sister girls’ school. …
“We wanted to bring the advantages of a private school to our community. Small class sizes. Christ-centered. And the flexibility to change things to really serve our students.”
Crossover has a little over 100 students, who attend at no cost, thanks to private funding.
“We’ve seen miracle after miracle to provide for our school,” Abode said. “The thing is, it shouldn’t take miracles for good schools to exist in our communities. We really need our legislators to work together to provide access for whatever school our parents think is the best school for their child.”
McCall, who in the past has not been enthusiastic about taxpayer support of private schools, told the rally the House has “put together a package that benefits every student in the state of Oklahoma, that supports every parent in the state of Oklahoma, that supports every teacher in the state of Oklahoma.”
McCall said he was able to make choices about his children’s education and that “every parent in this state deserves to make those decisions for their child.”
After speaking briefly, Stitt said he is not taking sides in the House and Senate education talks.
“The good news is they’re talking,” he said. “We’ll be able to work this out. We’re not quite to April. We’ll see some give and take.”
Asked if he has a preference among the various versions floating around the Capitol, Stitt shook his head and said, “I’m just excited they’re talking.”
Other speakers included first lady Sarah Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters. Lending operational support were the Oklahoma affiliate of Americans for Prosperity and the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma, which is seeking authorization for a state-funded Catholic charter school.