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Your help is needed to stop passage of SB639 in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives

March 26, 2021

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Promises are not made to be broken, but that’s exactly what our legislature will accomplish by passing SB639.  This bill would convert what began with the promise of scholarships for higher education into a messy loan program that puts both students and institutions at risk for more debt and higher expenses.

Oklahoma made its promise to students when our state legislature passed the Oklahoma Higher Access Learning Program, known as Oklahoma’s Promise, to help families send their kids to college. Oklahoma’s Promise is funded from income tax revenues allocated by the State Board of Equalization based on number of students enrolled. Income-eligible students must apply to the program no later than the summer after completing the 10th grade. They are basically required to graduate from high school with a 2.5 overall grade point average (GPA), take the appropriate courses for college prep and stay out of trouble. In 2018-19, there were 15,935 scholarship recipients in Oklahoma colleges and universities.

According to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, students who receive the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship are more likely than students who didn’t to go to college, persist/return for their sophomore year, be full-time students, and complete a college degree.

Under the current structure, Oklahoma’s Promise students are allowed the time they need to complete education courses and college degrees, whether it’s a two-week certificate program, a 60-credit associate degree that might take three years to complete for a single parent, or a bachelor’s degree that takes five-and-a-half years when the student is working full time.  In higher education, there is no one-size-fits-all.  Especially in rural districts where students might be working and facing the daily challenge of insufficient Internet service. 

Under Senate Bill 639, a “clawback” repayment agreement with institutions would be required of Oklahoma’s Promise students.  Students would be required to pay back all of the grant if they do not graduate within a specified period of time.  Even if they have been successful in the classes they have completed.  And to top it off, SB639 turns colleges and universities into makeshift collection agencies charged with tracking down students and issuing demand letters for repayment.  If collections areoutsourced, institutions will pick up the tab.  

First and foremost, Oklahoma’s Promise is, and should remain, a scholarship program designed to encourage students to pursue education after high school.  A more educated population benefits our state as a whole and improves lives of individuals. Communities collect more taxes on higher-paying jobs, have lower unemployment rates, and benefit from happier residents who are more likely to volunteer and vote in local elections. We should all support and cheer on students who begin this path with the help of Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship funds.  

I would challenge all K12 school superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and anyone else dedicated to ensuring that Oklahoma kids are ready for as many opportunities as possible to voice opposition to this bill. 

Senate Bill 639 turns Oklahoma’s Promise, something that has long been a win, win into a stunning lose, lose for all involved. Please get in touch with your representatives to voice opposition for SB639 so we can keep our promises to students who seek out the best in Oklahoma post-secondary education.  Payback was never intended as part of this promise.