Democratic lawmakers in the Oklahoma House of Representatives are pushing back against Gov. Kevin Stitt's announcement that he will award $10 million of federal coronavirus education funding to private schools.
“Private schools in Oklahoma have been granted millions in forgivable federal small business loans, while public school districts have not had that option,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano in a statement. “Adding $10 million of the GEER funds to the tax dollars these private schools have already received, it appears that private schools are being placed in a much better position to safely return to school next month.”
GEER refers to the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund that was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, passed by Congress.
"Ninety percent (703,000) of Oklahoma’s students attend public schools. After accounting for homeschooled students, private school students make up less than 10 percent (39,000) of our state’s student population," according to the House Democratic Caucus.
"None of this spending is in response to COVID-19,” said State Rep. John Waldron in a statement. “He is spending it on private interests exactly as he would if no pandemic had occurred."
In a press release issued Friday, Stitt's office said the money would help homeless and low-income children, and quotes the CEOs of several private schools who serve those populations.
On a phone call with Public Radio Tulsa, Provenzano said that the bulk of the students who "truly need" financial aid are in the public school system.
"These public funds need to be spent in the public arena," Provenzano said.
Stitt's office did not respond to a request for comment.