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Proposed Bill Would Allow Funding For Private Education Needs

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State Rep. Jason Nelson says it's unfair to force students to go to a local school that's failing them. The program would be funded by state education dollars, but Nelson feels his bill will actually put more money in public schools hands. State Rep. Jason Nelson says it's unfair to force students to go to a local school that's failing them. The program would be funded by state education dollars, but Nelson feels his bill will actually put more money in public schools hands.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

Using public school money for private education needs, that's what one lawmaker is proposing with the Oklahoma Education Savings Account Act.

The bill helps parents pay for tutors and private school tuition if they feel their child's needs aren't being met in public school.

State Rep. Jason Nelson says it's unfair to force students to go to a local school that's failing them. The program would be funded by state education dollars, but Nelson feels his bill will actually put more money in public schools hands.

"It all started with Dylan, when he was in 3rd grade, the school he was going to was our neighborhood school, but it wasn't working," said Tulsa mom, Lauren Marshall.

Marshall says she also tried homeschooling her son for a few years, but that wasn't working either because 15-year-old Dylan says he needed specialized teaching at his own pace.

"Flexibility. That's really the biggest thing," said Dylan Marshall, who now attends the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, a public school done at home. "If you get stuck on a subject, you can take your time instead of just being rushed through it."

Lauren Marshall says she kept researching what her other options were as a parent because they could not afford private school. To address this issue, Nelson wrote the Oklahoma Education Savings Account Act, or House Bill 3398, which would give money from public schools to parents to pay for tuition, tutors, therapists or textbooks, at home or at private schools.

Parents of students on the free and reduced lunch program can apply for funding to assist their child's needs. Once approved, although 100% of the requested amount will never be approved, the money is issued to parents on a debit card that can only work at certain vendors. There would be restrictions too, the money cannot be used for transportation or consumable school supplies.

Nelson believes taking these children out of the public school system will free up more money for districts.

"The more children that use this program, the more it will increase the revenue going to public school children," he said. "If one student leaves, that's one less student in public system and whatever money they don't use, stays with the system, so more money for fewer students."

Nelson says funding for a student could range from $1,500 to $15,000 based on showing significant need. Steve Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration says many school leaders won't stand behind stripping money away from public schools.

"I don't see how it would work, you can't say schools will receive more money when you're taking from the public schools in the first place," said Crawford, whose organization has 3,000 members, including superintendents and administrators. "We need to be making public schools better, not taking away students from the system."

Crawford said public schools are already required by federal law to work with parents whose children have disabilities or special learning needs.

"You can't take your tax dollars away from the prison system if it doesn't work for you, so why would it be ok to take away taxes from public schools?" Crawford said.

Nelson says his bill is not an attack on the public school system and has children who attend public schools.

"What we're doing is taking public money, but making it work to the public's advantage," Nelson said. "I think it's immoral to force kids into schools that aren't helping them, and it doesn't matter how much money you give public schools, there are still going to be issues, and parents should have the right to choose."

Marshall says any additional funds for her son's educational needs are a Godsend.

"As a parent, who can't afford it, that extra money is life changing," said Marshall, who is also the director of PublicSchoolOptions.org. "Because every child deserves the best education, it shouldn't matter what zip code that you're in."

Norman Public Schools released the following statement in response to the bill:

"Norman Public Schools, led by Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano, does not approve of school vouchers. With Oklahoma public schools receiving the highest education cuts since 2008 (more than $230 million in cuts) and with approximately 50,000 more students enrolled in Oklahoma public schools today, our school district asks the Legislature to follow through with the public's will, which is reflected in state opinion poll after opinion poll, to properly fund our public schools and to reject any schemes that will further harm them.

If NPS just had the same funding it did in 2008, we would have $6 million more this school year to invest in our students. So until our funding is restored, having any discussion about redirecting public funding for public schools to private entities is highly inappropriate."

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