Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Oklahoma Enacts Universal School Choice

'Every Oklahoma family can now decide where and how to educate their children, regardless of their zip code or income level — as is their right... '

(By Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square) Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed private and homeschool tax credits Thursday that was praised by some and called a “voucher scheme” by others.

School choice shouldn’t be just for the rich or those who can afford it,” Stitt said. Now it’s available for every single family in the state of Oklahoma.”

Proponents said the bill would increase school quality statewide.

“House Bill 1934 will help every child in every family find the school that best suits their unique needs. At the same time, it will help improve student outcomes and the academic quality of all Oklahoma schools by injecting more choice and competition into our education landscape,” said Jennifer Carter, a senior advisor with the American Federation for Children-Oklahoma.

House and Senate Democrats challenged the bill saying the tax credits shouldn’t be included in the budget.

“This budget prioritizes vouchers over the needs of our 700,000 public school students,” said House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, in a statement Wednesday. “This budget did not provide increased funding for mental health counselors or school nurses that our public schools so desperately need.”

Families will be eligible for at least $5,000 per child in tax credits in January 2024, with households making less than $75,000 eligible for up to a $7,500 tax credit.

Homeschool students will be eligible for $1,000 tax credits each which can be used for online curricula, tutoring and instructional materials.

The homeschool credits are capped at $5 million a year. The private school tax credits are capped at $150 million in the tax year 2024, $200 million in the tax year 2025, and $250 million in the tax year 2026 and subsequent tax years, according to the bill.

Former Oklahoma state representative Tom Newell, who now serves as vice president of government affairs for “Yes, Every Kid,” said lawmakers had worked on school choice tax credits for years.

“This is a monumental opportunity to remove barriers to learning and modernize the educational experience for students,” Newell said. “Every Oklahoma family can now decide where and how to educate their children, regardless of their zip code or income level — as is their right.”

Also included in the education package are pay raises for teachers. The raises are between $3,000 to $6,000 annually, depending on experience.

The state invested $625 million into education this legislative session, Stitt said.

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