Gov. Kevin Stitt let down Oklahoma public education by using much of remaining discretionary federal emergency funds for private school scholarships that will benefit a small fraction of Oklahoma’s school-age students.
Last week, Stitt announced his plans to allocate $30 million left from a U.S. Department of Education emergency block grant. This is the governor’s discretionary funding from the CARES Act.
He is using $10 million for a fund to keep low-income students attending private schools, though it is uncertain what federal poverty level cap will be used to determine eligibility.
Other allocations included $12 million for expanding digital content and $8 million to bridge the technology gap experienced by low-income students in their homes.
Those are appropriate priorities. The shutdown unveiled the depth of technology inequities among homes, particularly the lack of accessible and affordable internet service.
Other challenges included a lack of teacher and student support services for distant learning and required intensive cleaning. Families also dealt with child-care challenges with virtual learning, and some families faced hunger.
These should have been the first concerns for education emergency funds, not propping up private-school tuition for a tiny number of children.
The state’s private schools serve less than 39,000 children, compared to about 704,000 in public schools.
By Stitt’s estimation, about 1,500 private school students will benefit from his allocation, representing less than 3.8% of private school students and about 0.2% of all school-age students.
This is a poor use of taxpayer money meant to shore up everyone’s problems from the pandemic.
Federal standards say the governor couldn’t refuse to give support to private schools, but rather than underwriting the tuition of a select few, why not do things to help all the children in private schools? How about more frequent deep-cleaning services or personal protective equipment for teachers?
The goal should have been doing the most good for the most children in the most need. Sadly, Stitt chose an option to help only a handful, a mystifying and inappropriate choice.