HB 2949 Passes* Committee 9-8
This afternoon, Representative Jason Nelson’s voucher bill passed the House Education Committee with a vote of 9-8. If you just count the 15 committee members, it lost by a vote of 8-7, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney came in to tip the scales. This is all fair within the rules of the House.
When I posted last night that we need to call and email and visit and tweet to the committee members, thousands made the effort. It wasn’t in vain. I’m glad it took the leadership sweeping in to make the final vote. That puts more people on record.
Before I get much farther, I want us to remember to reach out to the eight committee members who voted to support public schools:
Prior to the vote, Nelson faced the usual questions and had the usual responses. Two things in particular fascinated me, though.
First, he said that parents receiving vouchers would actually have more fiscal accountability because they’ll be making their purchases in real time and that someone would be monitoring those – someone at the SDE, he said. I’m sorry, but that’s nowhere close to the fiscal accountability public schools face. Saying otherwise shows just how little he knows.
Second, he said that private schools taking voucher students wouldn’t be required to face the same academic accountability measures because they go through a rigorous private school accreditation process. Besides, he said, the state will have an agreement with the parents, not the schools. It’s a convenient side-step of accountability, and a slap in the face of the public school educators he wants to micromanage.
The best part of the meeting, to me, was when Dan Vincent spoke. Dan, you’ll remember, is a UCO professor and the parent who authored my most popular blog post of all time. Dan was kind enough to share his prepared remarks with me.
Good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me speak to you as a parent with 2 kids in public schools; one in 5th grade and one in 3rd. I value the work you do and hope this session will be productive in supporting the myriad of issues facing our public schools and teachers.
Over the past several years, I feel I have had a good pulse on schools in our state; I keep up with legislation and volunteer regularly in schools around the metro. For the life of me, I cannot figure out WHY this bill and WHY NOW. About 2 weeks ago, I emailed most of you about my opposition to ESAs, or Vouchers. From my view, most parents and citizens OPPOSE this.
Since that email, I have read over this bill again and have become even more convinced that this might be the most harmful bill to impact education this year. To be clear, I am not opposed to home school or to private schools. Two of my best friends have chosen those options. What I am opposed to, however, is using taxpayer money…my money…to support those who make that choice.
I have many reasons, but for time sake, let me explain the 5 biggest reasons. And for the record, I am not using the talking points from the OSSBA or the CCOSA; these are my own thoughts:
- Over the past several years our state has been feverishly mandating more accountability on public schools. Yet ESAs or Vouchers, as this bill currently outlines, contains little to no accountability for HOW our tax dollars are used. The RSA, ACE, A-F and others have hit schools hard and have hit kids hard but will not apply to ESA schools. If these are vital for schools receiving tax-payer money, how can we not mandate these on private schools? If you say they are not important for private schools, then the same should be said for my kids in public schools.
- We have passed then repealed Common Core; we are currently awaiting your vote on the new standards for Math and Language Arts. You are the gatekeeper for the content we teach kids in publicly funded schools; with ESAs, there is NO public oversight on WHAT is taught to kids. As a taxpayer, I cannot imagine WHY we would not want oversight and input into what kids are learning in schools at taxpayer expense. Again, I am not opposed to religious education or home schooling. I am, however, greatly opposed to using tax money to fund it. There is a reason you vote on standards for schools; what we teach matters to society. ESAs would completely neglect this responsibility.
- Although it is not a blank check to private schools or parents, when compared to the transparency and oversight required of public schools, it might as well be a blank check. The bill includes ‘audits’ but the amount of reporting, disaggregating and categorizing of funds is non-existent. This is not how I want my tax dollars used, and I think most of you can see these reasons.
- The details in this bill describing the responsibilities of those accepting ESA money is highly suspect. Private schools can accept, reject or kick-out kids seemingly at will. Public schools cannot. One can see the type of system this potentially creates. Let’s not kid ourselves; it is not the families who have the choice; it is the ESA school.
- Currently, there is legislation, actually several bills, that would consolidate smaller districts into larger ones, to supposedly save on administrative overhead; with ESAs you are de facto creating MORE small schools…again without public oversight and transparency. In addition, the bill actually mandates the creation of two NEW “Administrative Funds.” If you feel administrative costs are the problem, ESAs are not a solution.
At a time when our state is carefully scrutinizing the subsidies and tax breaks we give, I would suggest that we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT create Private School Tuition Subsidies…what this bill calls Educational Savings Accounts. At a time when we are placing more and more mandates on public schools, I would suggest we think rationally about how ESAs are set up to include virtually NO mandates and NO public accountability. Our tax money should support PUBLIC education, and as a parent I am 100% opposed to my tax dollars being used as ESAs.
Again, thank you for your service, and I hope your committee will do good for ALL kids.
Dan was cut off before the last point, which I think is the most critical. Our legislators keep targeting public schools. With the state continuing to face huge budget problems, pulling more and more money away from us with precious little accountability is irresponsible. There’s nothing conservative about this.
The committee had quite an audience too. There were two packed overflow rooms. There were supporters of vouchers and public school supporters as well. And yes, at this point, I’m drawing that line.
Of the seven committee members who voted for HB 2949, four are in their first terms. Only Sally Kern is in her last term. Hickman and Denney are in their last terms too.
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These are districts in which the incumbents desperately need challengers. Put another way, voters need options. Choice matters, after all.
This is why we can’t wait until the end of the session to figure out who is trying to help public schools. We already know, and what we know now is enough. When HB 2949 goes to the floor, we’ll know even more. And then there’s the Senate, which is a whole different mess.
The legislative candidate filing period is April 13-15 this year. The filing packet is online. If you’d like to run for any of these seats – or any other seat – by all means, you should. If you have friends you’d like to encourage to run, pass the information on to them.We need people who support public education, not just people who say they do.
And keep calling. We won’t win all the battles. But we won’t lose them all either.