Oklahomans overwhelmingly oppose using public money to pay for private schooling, according to a new poll released Monday.
The poll found:
- Oklahomans strongly oppose school vouchers by a two-to-one margin. Twenty-four percent said they strongly favor giving parents money for their children to attend a private or religious school compared to 48 percent who strongly oppose it.
- Self-identified Republican voters are divided in their support of vouchers.
- Swing voters — those who don’t identify with either party — opposed vouchers by a more than three-to-one margin.
- Voters in rural communities were the most opposed to vouchers. Suburban voters also voiced their opposition.
- More than 60 percent of parents said they oppose state government giving parents money to pay for private or religious schooling.
“There is simply no desire on the part of Oklahoma voters to begin providing parents with school vouchers,” said Glen Bolger, whose Public Opinion Strategies firm conducted the poll last week.
Poll results show even base Republicans and very strong conservatives become less supportive of school vouchers once they learn more. “In short, school vouchers are a losing issue with swing voters, and also far from a sure thing with the Republican base,” Bolger said.
The results should encourage lawmakers to vote against Senate Bill 609, according the leaders of three organizations representing school board members, school administrators and suburban schools. SB 609 is a school voucher-type bill that would give money earmarked for public education to parents via a debit card. Parents could use the debit card to pay for private school tuition, online curriculum, extracurricular activities including athletics, tutoring and college tuition.
“The poll results leave no doubt: Oklahomans want lawmakers to focus on supporting public schools that serve all children,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which represents more than 2,700 school board members statewide.
Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to per-student funding since 2008, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Oklahoma public school enrollment has increased more than 43,000 students since 2008, but funding has not kept pace.
Steven Crawford, executive director the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, said SB 609 would further dilute per-student funding schools receive from the state. Every student entering pre-kindergarten this fall would be eligible for a voucher without ever having attended a public school.
“Class sizes are increasing and schools can’t find enough teachers because schools simply don’t have the resources to offer the pay and other support teachers deserve,” Crawford said. “Oklahomans want lawmakers to provide the resources schools need to make sure every child receives a high-quality education.”
Ryan Owens, executive director of the United Suburban Schools Association, said lawmakers have spent the last several years passing legislation to hold schools accountable for student achievement and how they spend public money. SB 609 provides no such oversight.
“What we’re talking about is public money,” Owens said. “If private schools are going to accept public money then the same rules should apply.”
Owens also said the bill is legally questionable because it gives money specifically dedicated to public schools to private individuals in violation of the state constitution.