Sunday, March 26, 2023

Small: Oklahoma must compete in education

Oklahoma must compete in education
By Jonathan Small

In the competition between states, there is no sitting still. Oklahoma could become a national leader in school choice this year.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has approved House Bill 1935, which would provide all Oklahoma families a tax credit of $5,000 per student for private school or $2,500 for homeschooling.

That proposal would make Oklahoma one of the nation’s most attractive places to raise a child. But other states are not sitting still as Oklahoma policymakers conduct this debate.

In 2021, West Virginia lawmakers voted to provide vouchers of about $4,299 per child to more than 90 percent of families.

Last year, Arizona lawmakers approved an education savings account program that provides around $7,000 per child to pay for private school.

Earlier this year, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law an education savings account program for which all families will be eligible within three years. Iowa families will be provided $7,598 per student.

In neighboring Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed into law a major school choice program for which all families will be eligible within three years. It will provide families about $6,614 per child for private school.

Two more of Oklahoma’s neighbors could soon follow.

In Texas, a bill has been introduced to create education savings accounts of up to $8,000 per child for private school.

In Kansas, a measure has advanced to provide families about $5,000 per student.

And similar debates are taking place elsewhere, including states already booming in population and economic growth, such as Florida, where lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow all families to receive an $8,000-per-student voucher.

In Ohio, one proposal would provide $5,000 for K-8 students and $7,500 for high school students.

And the list goes on.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat has long been an education leader. Treat successfully championed a significant increase in the state’s equal opportunity tax credit scholarship program in 2021. Treat also laid the groundwork for this year’s school-choice possibilities with a bill he pushed last year to provide education savings accounts to Oklahoma families.

This is also popular policy. As Rep. Rhonda Baker recently noted, “Parents have made it very clear to us that they’ve got to have choices about what’s best for their children.”

Passage of school choice that makes it possible for parents to select not only a local public school, but also private schools, will support Oklahoma families and increase the likelihood their children enter adulthood prepared for college or work. It will also make Oklahoma a more attractive place for other families across the country, and their employers as well.

This can be Oklahoma’s year to either shine in education options … or get left behind.

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


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