Inspired perhaps by the anti-public school rhetoric of Betsy DeVos or funded perhaps by billionaire Charles Koch or encouraged by Trump’s white evangelical base, Oklahoma Republicans are proposing a bill that would crush public schools.

Not content to open more privately managed charters or to offer more vouchers to disgruntled parents, Republicans want to use public money to pay for whatever parents want to do. Jeanne Allen of the pro-privatization Center for Education Reform has for many years referred to this approach as a “backpack full of cash.” Give parents the money that previously went to public schools and let them decide whether to spend it on home-school, charters, vouchers, computers, tutors or whatever.

Jennifer Palmer of Oklahoma Watch writes that the ultimate goal of this approach is to abandon the state constitution’s pledge to support a public school system, replacing it with a ragtag array of choices. She doesn’t say it, but I will. This plan, if enacted, will undermine the quality of education in the state and set back the education of Oklahoma’s children. Instead of improving schools, it will turn the money for public schools into a grab bag.

She writes:

Of the 2,300 bills filed by state lawmakers for the upcoming session, which starts Monday, the one I will be watching most closely is Senate Bill 1647 by Senate leader Greg Treat. He’s calling it the Oklahoma Empowerment Act.

The legislation would create universal vouchers by giving any parent a state-funded account for their child’s education.

The funds could be used on private school tuition, homeschool expenses, tutoring, books, computers, supplies, transportation to school and many other qualifying expenses. The effect would be moving public funds to private entities lacking in accountability and transparency.

The bill envisions each student in the state with a backpack full of money and carrying it to the educational options their parents choose. It’s similar to Epic Charter School’s learning fund but on a much larger scale (and Epic’s learning fund is under audit for possible misuse of public funds for private gain by the school’s co-founders.)

Groups advocating for school choice, like ChoiceMatters and Every Kid Counts Oklahoma (whose executive director is Ryan Walters, secretary of education and a candidate for state superintendent), champion the idea with slogans like “fund students, not systems.” The mantra is also repeated by Yes. every kid., a social welfare organization started by Charles Koch, the billionaire owner of Koch Industries…


The Legislature is specifically charged with maintaining a system of public schools. The bill, if passed, could be challenged on these grounds.

That’s not the only concern I’m hearing. As written, there is no testing requirement for students in the bill, which is required by most other states with voucher programs, according to a2021 comparison by the Education Commission of the States.

That means there would be little way for the public to ascertain the quality of the education these students are receiving. Oklahoma already has the most lax homeschool law in the country, and private schools report almost no data, even when they receive funds through the current school choice programs: the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Fund and the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program.

Treat’s bill does not prohibit private schools from discriminating against students if they are LGBTQ or pregnant or for a number of other reasons (private schools can’t, though, discriminate on the basis of race if they are tax-exempt.) The proposal states an education provider “shall not be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policy, or curriculum” to accept payments from the program.

Treat, recognizing the sure-fire opposition to this proposal, in a video with ChoiceMatters last week said: “There’s going to be plenty of criticisms to hear. Just put on the armor. Get ready for the fight. It’s going to be a fight. But our kids are worth it.”

So says the legislator whose plan violates the state constitution, destroys the state’s public schools, and guarantees that the quality of education will sharply decline as the grifters and religious zealots make their pitch for taxpayer dollars.