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Expand Parental Choice in Education

January 29, 2018 - 4:38pm CST

By Brandon Dutcher

Oklahoma has two private-school choice programs which are benefiting students. In 2018, policymakers should expand them and enact new ones.

Vouchers

Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities, is helping hearing-impaired children, autistic students, rural students who want a faith-based education, and many more. In 2017, lawmakers expanded program eligibility to include foster children and children adopted out of state custody.

“It is not about saying that public education is bad—I’ve never said that and I never will,” said state Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie), who spearheaded the 2017 expansion. “It is about saying that some children who have suffered a brain change, it requires them to have a different environment in order to thrive and learn.”

  • Recognizing that many more children also need a different environment, lawmakers should create a scholarship program—modeled after legislation (HB 1) introduced in Florida—for victims of bullying, harassment, sexual offenses, physical attack, and more.

Tax Credits

Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program gives individuals and businesses a tax credit for contributions made to philanthropic organizations which award private-school scholarships. The program is helping bullied children, homeless students, teenage students battling addiction, children of Fort Sill enlisted families, and more—all while saving the state money.

As The Journal Record reported on October 6, 2017, “The state budget saves $1.24 for every dollar of tax credit issued to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, according to an Oklahoma City University study released Friday.” The study was conducted by economists Jacob Dearmon and Russell Evans of OCU’s Meinders School of Business.

“Out of a total of 28 empirical studies (before the new one in Oklahoma) that have looked at this question, 25 studies find school choice saves taxpayer money,” said Dr. Greg Forster, a political scientist who studies school choice. “The other three find choice programs to be revenue-neutral. No empirical study has ever found that school choice is a net drain on taxpayers.” Thus, it’s no surprise that lawmakers overwhelmingly (38 to 4 in the Senate, 64 to 23 in the House) saw fit to expand the program in 2017 by making more tax-credit cap space available.

  • Lawmakers should raise the tax-credit cap and build in an automatic escalator whereby the cap would increase automatically as the program continues to serve more students.
  • Lawmakers should also create an individual tax credit. Parents paying for private education or home education have to pay twice: once in taxes and once for tuition or curricular expenses. To address this inequity, Oklahoma should join the eight other states which provide for individual education tax credits or deductions.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

Six states have created an Education Savings Account (ESA) program in which the state deposits a portion of a child’s per-pupil funding into a bank account controlled by the parents. Parents use the funds to pay for private school tuition, online learning programs, private tutoring, educational therapies, or a customized mix of options. They can even save some for college.

  • Lawmakers should create an ESA program.

Again, none of this is to disparage the public education system. “I am very pro public schools,” writes Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid (and an ESA supporter). “God gives parents the responsibility to be the primary educators and formers of their children’s faith. Parents should be able to consider the best option for their children’s whole education and formation.”

Parents, not government officials, have the moral right to raise their children according to their consciences. State lawmakers should work to secure that right in 2018.

Brandon Dutcher (M.A., Regent University) is senior vice president at OCPA. He is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts and is editor of the book "Oklahoma Policy Blueprint," which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine, Forbes.com, Mises.org, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the United States.