Climate change education threatened by a "school choice" bill in Oklahoma

Oklahoma State Capitol.

A "school choice" bill in Oklahoma cites "climate change ideology" as a justification to divert state funds away from the state's public school system.

Senate Bill 943 (PDF), prefiled by Shane Jett (R-District 17), is intended to allow parents and guardians "to access educational services that meet the needs of their individual children by directing State Aid for which each child is eligible to the education provider of their choice."

Eligibility for the program would depend on the population of the county in which the child lives or the parent works. In counties with a population of more than 10,000, all students eligible to enroll in a public school in Oklahoma would be eligible.

In counties with a population of less than 10,000, however, students would be eligible only if they would be "eligible to enroll in a public school in this state that has been determined by a reporting agency to be a trigger district."

A trigger district is defined as one in which any of thirteen "concepts or activities have been advocated or tolerated," including "climate change ideology including, but not limited to, disparaging the oil and natural gas industry or the agriculture industry."

No definition of "climate change ideology" is provided in the text of the bill, but it is suggestive that the Tulsa World (January 23, 2023) understood the bill to be targeting districts "that teach about climate change."

The distinction between eligibility criteria for populous and for non-populous counties is apparently intended to protect small districts by making it harder for parents and guardians to remove their students from the public education system.

As the Tulsa World noted, "Educators in some rural districts, which typically have fewer students, have expressed concerns about the loss of funding that could occur should some students receive vouchers to attend private schools."

If Senate Bill 934 were to be enacted, such districts would be motivated to avoid being determined as trigger districts and consequently might decrease or eliminate climate change education in their schools.

Students enrolled in the program would be expected not to be enrolled as a full-time student in a public school district, public charter school, or magnet school.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.