Rural school 'killer'

State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister (center) has a casual chat moments before stepping up as the guest speaker at a meeting in central Oklahoma last week.

Keeping taxpayer money for schools in public schools was the main message of Oklahoma’s top school official during a visit to central Oklahoma this past week.

Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister used some of her address last week to criticize a recent Senate bill, known as the Oklahoma Empowerment Act.

Also called the “voucher” bill, which failed to get out of the state Senate, it called for state funds to follow students choosing to attend private schools.

In fact, Hofmeister said the proposed Senate Bill 1647 would have a devastating effect on school districts in rural areas of the state if every enacted into law.

“The voucher scheme put forward is a rural school killer,” Hofmeister said.

For the state’s school superintendent the killer part of the measure is vouchers would take taxpayer money away from public schools already in need of a lot more improvement.

“Oklahoma is the 47th lowest state in per pupil expenditures; in what our children have for their education,” she said.

“When you siphon money from schools and give it to a private management company – it’s fraud. Taking something so scarce from our schools – it is fraud.

“And when rural schools close it kills that community. It’s extremely disruptive.”

Even though the bill was voted down in the Senate by a 22-24 vote on March 23, Hofmeister believes there is a possibility of it making a return at some point in the future.

“It was voted down in the Senate, but that bill is not dead. You might ask why would we do that, bring it back,” Hofmeister said.

“Some say it’s about competition. We’re in competition with other states and that includes teachers.

“We’re at a tipping point with the teacher shortage. We’re losing people to other states. For us the teacher shortage is more severe than other states. This is a real issue.”

She adds it’s an “upstream” problem of ensuring Oklahoma has enough teachers and other “pieces” to help students be successful.

“For every student we have got to keep them as our top priority.”

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