Monday, February 15, 2016
By Rick Green February 13, 2016
Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley would like the state to pick up part of the tab for parents who want to switch their children from public to private school.
"The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and I personally support strong public schools; at the same time, we support parental choice in education," he said in a letter Friday to the Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin.
"In the present environment, we don't want our Catholic schools to become preserves for the elite or wealthy, but rather be accessible to all."
Under pending legislation for "education savings accounts," or "ESAs," a portion of the money the state spends to publicly school a child would follow that child if a parent chose to enroll the child in a private school.
The education lobby has scuttled such legislation in the past, arguing that it would drain money from public schools.
Coakley said the proposal would give parents greater choice over schooling for their children.
"I believe ESAs are a tool that would empower parents across our state to choose the best and most suitable education for their children, whether that's an education rooted in their chosen faith, their local public school, an online school or truly, however a parent decides."
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said he appreciated the support from the archbishop.
"There's a variety of folks that see how ESAs can benefit kids, including children who might be vulnerable for a number of reasons," Nelson said.
Some of the private schooling options include programs designed for homeless children and young people in recovery.
Nelson thinks this could succeed even in a tight budget year. It would divert some state money from public schools to private schools, but wouldn't require additional funding.
Coakley said schools would not be hurt financially.
"ESAs actually increase the per-pupil revenue in public schools as more students take advantage of the program," he said. "This is very much a local, educational 'rising tide lifts all boats.'"
Opponents assert that a lowering of the student population in certain public schools could make it hard for those schools to pay some fixed costs.
Phil Horning, a member of the Oklahoma City School Board, said the legislation is an attempt to "voucher funds from underfunded public schools to private ones."
"Welfare for private schools is hardly a conservative notion," he said.
"This public school system is the backbone of the world's most prosperous country. If individuals wish to opt out of this system, they shouldn't expect financial assistance from the state, and wise lawmakers shouldn't offer it."