Oklahomans want education alternatives

Wednesday, June 25th 2008, 6:51 pm
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

The vast majority of Oklahomans favor alternatives to public education such as private or charter schools, according to a public opinion survey.

The survey was released Wednesday by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and eight other sponsoring organizations. Similar surveys have been conducted in Idaho, Tennessee, Nevada, Illinois, Georgia, Florida and Arizona.

The survey of 1,200 likely Oklahoma voters shows that, if parents could select any type of school they wanted, more than 40 percent would send their kids to private school, while less than 20 percent would opt for regular public schools - a sharp contrast to the actual numbers.

"Ninety-two percent of students here in the state attend regular public schools," said Paul DiPerna with the Friedman Foundation. "Compare that to what we found in the poll indicating that only 17 percent would send their children to a regular public school. There's a disconnect."

A measure to create a statewide scholarship fund through tax deductible private donations passed the Senate but was defeated in the House last session. Opponents claim that the plan would take money away from public schools, but supporters insist that's not the case, and said they'll try again next session.

"There's an alarm at the gate and we've gotta move now or we're gonna lose many, many more kids," said Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-District 73). "I don't want that to happen under my watch. I can't live with that."

More than 50 percent of those surveyed, including both Democrats and Republicans, favored the concept of school vouchers and charter schools.

DiPerna said the bipartisan support for those programs was greater in Oklahoma than in other states.

Asked to rate the state's public school system by suggested categories, 33 percent rated it "good," 30 percent rated it "fair," 11 percent "poor" and 7 percent "excellent." Nineteen percent were undecided.

Thirty-six percent believe public school funding is "too low," 33 percent "too high" and 31 percent "about right."

Jayme Broome said she couldn't live with seeing her child fail in Tulsa's public school system, and took matters into her own hands. She co-founding a low-tuition private school five years ago and said a scholarship fund is a great idea.

"It allows the parents who really want their children to be successful and want them to be challenged," she said. "It gives them the opportunity to enroll their kids in a school like mine."