Most everyone agrees every student deserves the very best opportunity to learn, but the battle over public education funding in Oklahoma hides an important fact: Public school isn’t always the best place for every child.
Some students require attention for special needs. Some need to escape bullying. And some simply learn better with the comfort and caring found in a smaller classroom.
Private schools offer a wide variety of options for parents and cater to the diverse needs of Oklahoma’s students. Although more affluent families can easily make these choices for their children, many lower-income families can’t afford the education they prefer without some assistance.
A few years ago, Oklahoma made a move to help these families gain an opportunity. The Legislature created scholarship-granting organizations. These funds are not vouchers. They work in a unique way that provides benefits for every part of the system.
How it works
Students apply to an accredited private school. If, for example, an Opportunity Scholarship Fund member school accepts the student, the family can then apply for financial assistance with that member school. If the member school deems there is a financial need, they will grant an award to the family toward the student’s tuition.
Funding for the scholarships comes from private donors, not the state. Additionally, to encourage donations from individuals and corporations, the state allows donors to claim tax credits up to a certain limit.
An economic impact study found that for every $1 of tax credits issued for donations to scholarship-granting organizations, the state saved $1.24 in spending on common education.
Put another way: Donors and the state both benefit from these scholarship tax credits, and the Legislature has more money it can allocate for public education.
But there’s something more important than fiscal responsibility happening.
The Opportunity Scholarship Fund has provided scholarships to over 1,800 students at more than 60 member schools across the state. That means that these students are getting the classroom experience that fits them, which should be the ultimate goal of any education program. They feel safer, learn more and get more out of their time in the classroom.
Private schools see the benefits, too. The roster of schools is growing, providing a broader range of options for Oklahoma’s families. More options mean more ways for students to reach their full potential.
Room for improvement
Word is spreading. New member schools join the Opportunity Scholarship Fund monthly, and last year the organization set records by raising $5.1 million in donations. There is a cap, however, for tax credits allowed to be given to donors each year.
This tax-credit cap means donors will not receive their full tax credit in the year that they donated as expected. For scholarship-granting organizations to continue to provide funding to all students who want the best educational experience, the Legislature must raise the cap on tax credits.
It’s the right thing to do for our most vulnerable Oklahoma students and families.