Local

New school choice office being set up within State Department of Education

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters (R) announced late last week he is setting up a new Office of School Choice within the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Walters announced at the beginning of last week’s state board of education meeting.

“This will be a one-stop shop in everything related to school choice,” Walters said about the office being set up within the state agency he oversees.

Walters said there were already offices within OSDE that handle charter schools, private schools, and vouchers among other things, and this new office would combine all those resources into one. That office would then put together resources for parents to look at their options.

“There are a few states that have these. Not very many. So we’re very excited to offer this to the parents of Oklahoma,” Walters said.

But some at the state capitol said it’s another political stunt designed to increase Walter’s image nationally instead of improving student outcomes locally.

“I would like to remind Superintendent Walters that he is the superintendent for public schools, not for private schools. Private schools can do their own advertising,” said State Representative John Waldron (D-Tulsa). “We’ve given them $150 million in public money through the voucher program. I think they can advertise for themselves. They don’t need some state office to help find students for them.”

Waldron, who taught at Tulsa Public Schools for years, said since the state set up a voucher program, private schools have not increased their capacity and made room for many new students, if any.

He said the only choice the vast majority of parents still have are public schools, and when it comes to low and middle-income families, the voucher only picks up part of the cost. A difference most families cannot afford to make up.

“There are only 35,000 slots in the state for private schools. There are 700,000 students enrolled in Oklahoma. So until our private school system expands twenty-fold, we still really aren’t going to get school choice the way the superintendent says it is,” Waldron said.

Waldron also said private schools continue to be selective of the students they choose to admit instead of welcoming everyone with open arms as long as they have the ability to pay.

“The admissions process still allows schools to choose their students and not students choosing their schools,” he said.

FOX23 sent a list of details questions to OSDE about he new office, but after days of waiting, no response was ever given. Walter’s announcement did not mention when the new office would open.

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