Tuesday, July 21, 2020

House Dems complain about Stitt's use of some COVID funds for private schools

Democrats Respond to Governor’s Use of Public Ed Money for Private Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Members of the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus today responded to Governor Stitt announcing his plan to give at least $10 million out of $39.9 million in the GEER funds to private schools.

The Democratic lawmakers point out that private schools have additional opportunities to generate revenue, like tuition and forgivable federal small business loans, that public schools don’t have.

Since the GEER fund was announced by the US Department of Education in March as an effort to help schools navigate the pandemic, Oklahoma Democrats and Oklahoma’s public education community have made it clear that these public funds should not go to private schools.

“Private schools in Oklahoma have been granted millions in forgivable federal small business loans, while public school districts have not had that option,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano. “Adding $10 million of the GEER funds to the tax dollars these private schools have already received, it appears that private schools are being placed in a much better position to safely return to school next month.” 

Ninety percent (703,000) of Oklahoma’s students attend public schools. After accounting for homeschooled students, private school students make up less than 10 percent (39,000) of our state’s student population.

“It is no surprise that after months of receiving federal GEER funds, Gov. Stitt has finally chosen to spend them in a way where children and families have to compete with one another through another grant program to see relief,” said Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater. “We need public education funding for all students without the added barriers.”

By creating private school vouchers with public dollars, our state’s public school system, which is already underfunded, will suffer financially.

"I’m disheartened to see that Governor Stitt still seems to think it’s OK to spend public dollars on private schools, in any fashion,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman. “These voucher-type schemes only serve to further harm our public schools.”

The governor chose to spend significantly more dollars on private school students than the public school students he is constitutionally mandated to serve.

“When you do the math on the number of students, even if the rest of the GEER fund money he apportioned goes to public schools, which is no guarantee, the governor allocated significantly more per private school student than public school student,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City. “Like more than $225 dollars more per student, which is obviously unacceptable.”

"None of this spending is in response to COVID-19,” said State Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa. “He is spending it on private interests exactly as he would if no pandemic had occurred."

UPDATE (10/22/2020)

A member of the Attorney General's office responded to the above complaint by House Democrats, finding no basis for their issues with the Governor's use of these COVID-related funds. You can read that letter here.

Charlie Hannema, a spokesperson for Governor Stitt, had this to say to the news: "Governor Stitt appreciates the work of the Attorney General’s Office to look into these issues and is pleased to find the allegations made by House Democrats have no merit whatsoever. However, this was clear from the beginning, and could have been quickly explained had the House Democrats called our office before tying up state legal resources."


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