The fact that a legislative bill that would have created education savings accounts in Oklahoma has been pulled from consideration is a victory for public education and overall a positive development this session.
— Americans United (@americansunited) March 7, 2017
One always knows something good has happened on a legislative matter when it prompts a wildly misleading editorial in The Oklahoman, the ultra-conservative newspaper, which lamented the bill’s demise because, get this, everyone, it would have helped children from low-income families.
Since when has The Oklahoman cared about impoverished people or overall poverty in this state or even basic children issues? Since never, and it still doesn’t. The newspaper is a stalwart entity of right-wing extremism that not only supports further enriching the extremely wealthy people in the state through income tax cuts but also sells daily its toxic brew of income disparity initiatives and trickle-down economics as modern miracles of bold, enlightened thought.
What the editorial leaves out is what’s important here. It’s the wealthy, not the impoverished who ultimately benefit the most from education savings accounts in which families are given taxpayers dollars, or per-pupil dollars, to use to pay for private schools. Let’s be clear that poor and even middle class people usually don’t have enough money to come up with the tuition of most private schools, such as Oklahoma City’s Casady and Heritage Hall, even with partial financial help from the government. But the extremely wealthy, whose kids are already in private schools, could always use the extra money, right? That’s how vouchers work. It’s a transfer of money to the extremely wealthy.
The editorial, titled “Poor families lose with withdrawal of Oklahoma ESA bill,” begins by quoting liar-in-chief Donald Trump and then commences with its own series of whoppers. The editorial notes that Republicans “ignored the needs of some of Oklahoma’s neediest children,” without acknowledging how similar voucher programs in other states, such as Indiana, have primarily been taken advantage of by people who would have sent their children to private schools anyway.
Meanwhile, voucher programs drain public schools of needed money, and, in a place like Oklahoma, which funds its schools and pays its teachers at some of the lowest levels in the country, every dollar counts.
The ESA bill, sponsored by state Sen. Rob Standridge, a Norman Republican, was supposedly specifically designed to help low-income children in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties through a sliding scale of per-pupil dollar amounts, but it also allowed, as the editorial noted, “not-quite-as-poor children” to get funds for private education as well through tax dollars. Standridge pulled the bill from consideration because it lacked enough Republican support. He plans to introduce the bill again in a future session, according to media reports.
The editorial even used a partial quote by Martin Luther King Jr. to make its case. The conflation of implicit praise for Trump and Dr. King in a single editorial is bizarre as it gets, but in this case and during these not-so-normal times it’s borderline evil on a rhetorical level. Trump is a huckster and unhinged liar and an authoritarian, who threatens our democracy with each passing day. King was a pacifist minister, a legendary hero, who risked his life and bodily harm as he ushered in the civil rights era in this country.
The main problem with vouchers or whatever the right-wing wants to call them at any given moment to deceive people into privatizing education is that it takes away money from public schools, which are still tasked with educating all children despite their income level or learning ability. This is particularly important in Oklahoma, which has cut funding to education the most of any state since the 2008 recession.
Given this state’s long history of underfunding education, it will never be the right time here for ESAs or vouchers or any major privatization of our school systems. Those who stood up against the bill should be lauded, not falsely shamed for supposedly not helping poor children. It’s The Oklahoman editorial board and its supporters and apologists, with their right-wing lies and their long history of supporting policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class, that should be publicly criticized.