Ray Carter | February 16, 2022

Former Oklahoma House Speaker Shannon endorses school choice

Ray Carter

Both Gov. Kevin Stitt and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat have endorsed significant expansion of school-choice opportunity in Oklahoma with Treat filing the most expansive school-choice bill in the nation.

Now a former leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives is joining them, publicly voicing his support for empowering parents.

During a recent public appearance, former House Speaker T.W. Shannon noted that school voucher programs have demonstrated “effectiveness in fixing the public schools.”

“I think that is the answer to fixing the government-run schools,” Shannon said.

He made those comments during a school-choice discussion hosted by the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee that featured Shannon and Kevin McGary, a California resident who founded Every Black Life Matters.

Attendees at the event were provided information on, and encouraged to contact their legislators in support of, Senate Bill 1647, by Treat. That legislation would create the Oklahoma Empowerment Account (OEA) Program. Under the program, any student eligible to enroll in a public school would be eligible for an OEA, which could be used to pay for a range of education services, including private-school tuition. Money deposited into the account would come from the per-pupil allotment of state funding already dedicated for education of a child.

A Republican who was elected to lead the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2013, Shannon is a nationally prominent black conservative and member of the Chickasaw Nation who opposes Critical Race Theory and similar worldviews that parents say have been increasingly inserted into public-school curricula. Shannon said the growth of political ideology in the classroom is not an accident.

“The Democrats have a strategy, and that strategy—a big part of that—are these government-run schools,” Shannon said. “They have totally infiltrated and taken over the role of government schools, taken over the responsibility of educating our kids from the parents, from the churches, and placed it solely in the arms of government schools.”

Shannon said public schools once served the common good and “used to be a really shining area for freedom, where every boy and girl was to be educated—a novel idea that was started by the churches.”

Shannon and McGary indicated public schools can serve that role again—and that school choice is a major way to achieve that goal.

“How do we begin to move the needle on the issue of government schools that just aren’t doing the job?” Shannon asked.

“You really have to make sure that these bills pass,” McGary responded, referring to SB 1647 and similar measures.

He said school choice creates incentives to improve where few exist today.

“A lot of us are raised differently, and we have different learning styles and learning skills. It’s unfair for us to say, ‘Look, there’s a cookie-cutter way to do it and it’s all going to be public schools,” McGary said. “The more competition we create with these ultimate platforms—homeschool networks, learning pods, charter schools and parochial schools and Christian schools and all of that—the greater the opportunity then for public schools to eventually improve their standardized education and methodologies. If there is no incentive, because there’s no competition, then there won’t be any improvement. That’s just the way it works. The more competition you can infuse into your system, the better off the children are going to be, now and into the future.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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