Monday, August 20, 2018

OCPA column: School choice is helping these kids


School choice is helping these kids
by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

You may recall that state legislation authored in 2011 by GOP lawmakers Dan Newberry and Lee Denney created an “equal-opportunity scholarship” program. Nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations give private-school tuition assistance to kids who need it; the donors to those organizations get a tax credit.

The bill had numerous co-authors—Jabar Shumate and Judy Eason McIntyre on the left, for example, and Steve Russell and David Brumbaugh on the right. Helping the most vulnerable is not a partisan issue.

The program is already a success on the fiscal merits alone. 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.”

But the fiscal results pale in comparison to the human lives that are being changed. The latest example is Cristo Rey, a new private school serving low-income, inner-city kids who otherwise likely would not be college-bound. The tax-credit scholarship program is a key reason Cristo Rey decided to open a school in Oklahoma City.

Other examples abound. Have you heard about Crossover Preparatory Academy in north Tulsa? Lamenting that only 22 black senior boys were college-ready in Tulsa Public Schools in 2015, some compassionate Tulsans decided to open a private school. Thanks to tax-credit scholarships, lives will be changed.

Or how about the epileptic little girl with a rare genetic disorder? The tax-credit scholarship has been “a godsend,” her mom says. “The impact on our family is huge.”

How about the recovering addict who maxed out her time at the rescue mission? She and her elementary-age son were sitting on the curb when the folks from Positive Tomorrows came and got them. Tax-credit scholarship funds allow him to attend the school. It was “literally a lifesaver for me and my son,” she says.

How about the recovering addicts attending Mission Academy, a “sober high school” in Oklahoma City? “It’s amazing to be able to live again,” says one female student. “My son has received a second chance at life,” says a mom.

How about the mom whose autistic, mostly non-verbal Down syndrome child wasn’t making much progress in his local public school but thanks to a tax-credit scholarship is now thriving? “The most meaningful breakthrough this year is when he finally called me ‘Mama,” she says. “I waited eight years to hear my firstborn say my name.”

Incredibly, the teacher’s union and many in the education community cast aspersions on this program and don’t want to expand it. Fortunately, they’re on the wrong side of history.

There are many, many kids yet to be helped.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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