(The Center Square) – School choice was not the only issue in the Oklahoma gubernatorial race, but it was one of the most prolific.
Gov. Kevin Stitt vowed to “think outside the box” and “stand with parents over big unions” when asked about school vouchers during a debate with his opponent, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
“His voucher scheme is a rural school killer,” Hofmeister said. “You kill the school. You kill the community.”
Polls showed the candidates were in a tight race. The results showed otherwise on Tuesday as Stitt won more than 55% of the votes over Hofmeister’s 41%.
Current Education Secretary Ryan Walters, who also supports school choice, won by a wide margin. The Republican took 56% of the vote to Democrat Jena Nelson’s 43%.
“2022 elections were a mandate for the people for school choice,” said Jennifer Carter, senior adviser for the American Federation for Children in Oklahoma in an interview with The Center Square. “Reelecting the governor and election state superintendent elect Walters was a decisive message from the people that we want more options for parents.”
Claims by Hofmeister and others that school choice kills rural schools are not true, according to Carter.
“What you see in states that have adopted robust school choice is that all schools thrive,” Carter said. “To my knowledge there’s not a single school that has closed as a result of school choice.”
Thirty-one states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. offer some type of school choice program, according to the American Federation for Children’s website.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and other lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 1647 during the 2022 legislative session, which created the Oklahoma Empowerment Account Program. The bill would give parents the money appropriated by the state for their child’s education. Parents could use the money to send their children to a school of their choosing.
The bill failed to garner enough votes to make it out of the Senate, but it could be revived in the 2023 session.
“I think there’s some education that needs to be done to help folks understand better the accountability measures that exist to protect the taxpayer dollar to ensure that the money goes where it is intended to go and again making sure that we put parents in the driver’s seat with their children education,” Carter said of the bill.