Poll: Oklahoma Republican voters strongly support school choice

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A poll of likely Oklahoma Republican primary voters revealed strong support for school choice generally and specific school choice proposals, as strong in the rest of the state as it is in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas.

The poll was commissioned by the American Federation for Children and conducted by the Tarrance Group prior to the June 24, 2014, Oklahoma primary. Scott Jensen, the former Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and a senior advisor to AFC discussed the results last night at a reception at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame hosted by State Sen. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa), a leading proponent of school choice at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Oklahoma currently offers charter schools in metropolitan school districts and two scholarship programs that include private schools as options, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for children with special needs, and the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship tax credit, where donors to scholarship-granting organizations can get a partial tax credit for their donations. The Henry scholarships have the support of 76% of Republican primary voters and the scholarship tax credit is supported by 72%. Support for both of these existing measures is even higher outside of the two major metro areas, 78% and 76% respectively.

Despite overwhelming Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature, two broader school choice measures were defeated this year: Educational Savings Accounts and expanding charter schools to rural areas. Jensen noted that legislators often hear first and most emphatically from those with an interest in maintaining the status quo. On school choice issues those voices usually belong to the school superintendent or school board members. Part of AFC's mission is to make the voice of parents who support school choice heard at the state capitol, through polls and through mobilizing parents who want choice for their kids to interact with legislators. ESAs were supported by 64% of likely Republican primary voters, and 82% support allowing charter schools throughout the state.

The local affiliate for AFC, Oklahoma Federation for Children, is co-chaired by Tulsa oilman Bob Sullivan and Oklahoma City publisher and broadcaster Russell Perry. This is the first Oklahoma election cycle in which the organization has been involved in educating voters about the school choice views of primary candidates. The affiliated OFC Action Fund was engaged in four primary races. OFCAF made independent expenditures in support of school choice advocate Rep. Anastasia Pittman (D-Oklahoma City) in her winning primary campaign for Senate 48, Bruce Fisher in his unsuccessful effort to unseat school choice opponent Mike Shelton in the House 97 Democratic primary, and Sen. A. J. Griffin in her successful defense of the Senate 20 Republican nomination.

In House 69, an open seat, the group opposed the nomination of Melissa Abdo, a Jenks school board member and an opponent of school choice. The Jenks district sued parents of special needs children who sought Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships, and Abdo is personally a plaintiff in a later lawsuit to block the scholarship program. Abdo finished first in the primary but fell short of the majority; she faces an August runoff against Chuck Strohm.

RELATED:

State Rep. Jason Nelson has a collection of links concerning the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships.

A December 2013 Friedman Foundation survey of Oklahoma registered voters found that 59% support educational vouchers, and, while over 90% of Oklahoma children attend traditional public schools, only 39% of those surveyed would choose a traditional public school as first choice for their own children, while 31% preferred private schools, 11% homeschool, and 8% charter school.

Positive Tomorrows is a tuition-free Oklahoma City private school meeting the needs of homeless children. School leaders say that Educational Savings Accounts would allow them to expand those opportunities and serve more children.

This 24-minute documentary reports on the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program and some of the children who have benefitted.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 10, 2014 12:07 PM.

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