‘3F’ scholarship bill narrowly advances

Members of a state House committee have narrowly approved legislation that would allow students at Oklahoma’s worst public schools to receive state scholarship funding to attend private schools.

Opponents said those students should not be allowed such options and argued school-funding increases are more important than parental control, voting against the bill even though it would also provide a substantial increase in state funding to failing public schools.

But supporters said the bill would address children with some of the most pressing needs in Oklahoma.

“I’m trying to help the kid that I meet on the doorstep that tells me he fights every day—because if he doesn’t fight every day, he’s going to get picked on,” said Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “I’m trying to help the kid that I meet on the doorstep—these are real stories, by the way—that tells me he’s contemplating suicide because he cannot find a way to fit in in his school.”

House Bill 2673, by Echols, would provide a “transfer allowance” to students who attend a public school given an F grade on state report cards for three consecutive years, which lawmakers referred to informally as “3F” schools. The transfer allowance funds could then be used to pay for private-school tuition.

The amount of the transfer allowance would be based on the normal per-pupil funding allocated for a child, or the cost of private-school tuition, whichever is less.

The bill would not take effect for at least four years, because no state report card will be issued this year and a school would have to receive an F for three consecutive years before students qualify for the transfer allowance.

In addition to giving students funding for private school, HB 2673 would also boost state funding to the “3F” school by providing that school with 110 percent of the normal per-pupil allotment. That funding increase would be provided even if no child uses a transfer allowance to leave.

One lawmaker suggested that funding increase could create unintended perverse incentives.

“This does redirect more funds in the funding formula,” said Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow. “A greater piece of the pie will go to failing school districts. And so my question is how do we make sure we’re not incentivizing that?”

Others argued for even greater funding increases in poor-performing schools and against allowing students an easy option to leave for private school.

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