November 17, 2010
Bill Shapard

Most Oklahomans think school districts should comply with disability scholarship law

Six school districts in Oklahoma who question the constitutionality of the recently passed House Bill 3393 have vowed not to comply with the law. A recent SoonerPoll finds that Oklahomans disagree with the school districts decision by a 2 to 1 margin.

The law, which gives students with disabilities currently enrolled in public schools a scholarship if they choose to enroll in private schools, has raised controversy as many express concern about its constitutionality.

When asked whether school districts should comply with the law until a constitutional ruling is made, 61.4 percent believe that they should compared to 29.5 percent who believe that school districts are not obligated to comply until a constitutional ruling is made.

"Six school districts in Oklahoma have announced that they are not going to comply with this students-with-disabilities scholarship law. The six school district say it violates the state constitution and thus they have a duty not to comply with it. Others say a state law should be presumed constitutional and obeyed until a court says otherwise. Which comes closer to you own?"

61.4% School districts should comply with the law until a constitutional ruling is made.

29.5% School districts are not obligated to comply with the law until a constitutional ruling is made.

9.1% Don't know/Refused

Five school districts, Owasso, Jenks, Union, Bixby and Broken Arrow, have vowed not to comply at all with the law while Tulsa Public Schools' board decided to process six scholarship applications that the district received before deciding last month to turn away all other applicants.

Last March, when the legislation was passed, SoonerPoll found that 54.7 percent of likely Oklahoma voters supported the proposal, which means one of two things; support for the legislation has grown since its passage or many opposed to the bill believe it should be complied with regardless of their opinions.

"It is interesting to note that when the results are cross-tabulated by party and political label no major statistical differences are seen between Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives," Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll, said. "Regardless of whether you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent -- liberal, moderate or conservative -- over 60% of Oklahomans believe the school districts should comply."

Broken Arrow and Jenks were the first two school districts to challenge the law. Doug Mann, attorney for both the Broken Arrow and Jenks school districts, told the Tulsa World that the new law requires state money to be paid indirectly to private institutions when the Legislature is authorized only to establish and maintain a free public school system."

Though four other school districts have followed Broken Arrow and Jenks lead, their decisions have been met with strong opposition by parents of special needs children denied scholarships by the districts.

Just last Monday at an Owasso school board meeting a couple whose son has Asperger's syndrome beseeched the board to comply with the law. The Farrells moved their son from Owasso's Ator Heights Elementary School to Hodson Elementary School because Hodson has a special program for children with autism spectrum disorders and Asperger's, they assumed they would be reimbursed under 3393.

"Now we need to think about suing the school board to make them do what's right," Loretta Farrell said in an interview with News On 6. "Because they're choosing to violate the law they don't agree with? It makes no sense."

Despite the Farrell's concerns, the school board took no action. Doug Mann, who represents the six school districts, has not been shy about his hopes of being brought into a legal battle where he believes 3393 will be ruled unconstitutional.

"One of the potential benefits of a diversity of local school districts is the ability to potentially seek out an educational environment that can best serve your children," Keith Gaddie, Vice President of SoonerPoll, said. "3393 is designed to help parents get the educational assistance their children need while minimizing the potential costs to burdened districts. Budgets are tough for all districts, but violating the law and opening the district up to an exposure through litigation is a risky and potentially costly strategy that far outweighs the cost of complying with the law.", Oklahoma's public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 518 likely voters from Nov. 5-11. The study has a margin of error of ±4.3 percent.

Bill Shapard
About the Author

Bill Shapard

Bill is the founder of and ShapardResearch, a full service market research firm based in Oklahoma City. Bill began his career in polling after working on major campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats in Oklahoma from 1996 until founding SoonerPoll in 2004.