By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant
Hello again, everybody! The word “bipartisan” often is tossed around in politics to suggest if something has bipartisan support, then it is a good thing.
That is not necessarily the case. A perfect example of a bill with bipartisan support that I believe is bad policy was one relating to education that passed the Senate and was sent to the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago.
Euphemistically called the “New Hope Scholarship Program,” the measure would give a 50 percent tax credit to individuals who donate to a fund providing private school scholarships. For students to qualify, they would have to be in low performing, urban public school districts. This tax credit would be on top of any charitable tax deduction donors would get.
Ironically, the program is based on a scholarship program started by philanthropists in San Antonio to help kids in a challenged district there. The key difference is that these philanthropists got no additional tax credit for their good will.
The Oklahoma bill creates a voucher system that would take public dollars and transfer them through the use of the tax credits to private schools. That means those kids who, for whatever reason, cannot escape the poor public school are left behind in a school with fewer resources.
The argument used by supporters of this voucher scheme is that these public schools are so irreparably broken that we have to provide an escape route for a lucky few. For us, however, to abandon the rest of the kids in such a school is social Darwinism at its most perverse. Only the strong – or lucky – will survive under this scheme.
This is the easy answer; this bill encourages the “cherry picking” of a few kids, lifting them out of a poor school, and leaving behind hundreds of others. The harder mission – and the far nobler one – is to improve the school for every kid. It is not beyond our ability to do so; it just will be more difficult.
Nevertheless, the mission of public education is a difficult one. Unlike private schools, public schools have a responsibility to educate every child. Every Oklahoman – even those families who put their children in private schools or philanthropists who give to a voucher scheme like this one – benefits because we offer a free public education to every child.
It is my strongly held belief that America owes its position as the world’s last remaining superpower to the fact every child – regardless of the wealth of his or her parents – can get a public education. Giving every child a chance to become everything God intends for him or her to become creates opportunity for all of us.
With the “New Hope Scholarship Program,” we have said, “We give up; we cannot give every kid a chance.” I believe that is the dead wrong message for us to send.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week and may God bless you all.