Point of View: Who Will Fight for Students, Parents?

Last year, thousands of teachers walked out of classrooms to protest low salaries and years of underinvestment in public schools. Two budget deals later, teachers have now received more than $7,300 in combined pay raises and are leading the region in total compensation. This year, the Legislature also threw in another $74 million in classroom funding for good measure.

Like many Oklahomans, I think that is a good thing. I want teachers to be fairly compensated and for schools to be adequately funded. But I can’t help from feeling angry that so much has been overlooked in this process, starting with students and families, particularly students and families of color or of limited economic means.

In fact, if there is one defining feature of our current public school system, it is race-based inequity. If you are a black or brown child in a traditional (non-charter) public school in the Oklahoma City metro area, you are six times more likely than a white student to attend a school with an “F” grade. Meanwhile, white students are six times more likely than their Hispanic peers to attend an “A” school and 11 times more likely than a black student to attend an “A” school. Simply put, white children in Oklahoma City are going to high-performing schools; minority children are not.


School Choice at the Heart of State Ed Board Debate

Democrats in the state Senate have revolted against the governor’s picks to the state Board of Education, a product of a mostly partisan divide over school choice policies.

Advocates for charter schools and school vouchers have praised some of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s picks to the board for their depth of education policy and their experience with nontraditional public schools.

But most Senate Democrats view the picks as a threat to traditional public education and in conflict with the mission of the state school board.

The clash came to a head last week when state Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, declined to shepherd two of Stitt’s board appointees through the Senate confirmation process — Jennifer Monies and Estella Hernandez.

With just nine of the 48 members in the Senate, Democrats alone can’t prevent the appointments, which require Senate confirmation.

School choice advocate Robert Ruiz said he’s optimistic about Stitt’s nominees to the board because of some of the appointees’ education policy experience and because the new members will add diversity to the seven-member board.

(click here for complete article on NewsOK)

Free Market Friday: Unseemly Glee in the face of Suffering Children

Imagine for a moment an organization that claims to stand “for the children” engaging in fist-pumping glee over its effort to deny some of those children the chance to overcome deadly addictions.

Imagine these supposed advocates for learning bitterly opposing a voluntary program to encourage and make possible more learning by children with disabilities. Imagine a group that claims to stand for truth using blatant falsehoods to defeat a sincere effort to help kids who are in low-income or minority families.

The Oklahoma Education Association union did this when the full House of Representatives failed to vote on Senate Bill 407, which would have raised the cap on the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Program.

The bill would have expanded tax credits available to individuals and corporations making voluntary donations to a scholarship fund granting organization or public schools. The program is generating hundreds of thousands of new dollars for innovative programs in public schools. It also helps kids attend schools that better meet their needs.

In Chickasha public schools, the program has provided funds so students gain firsthand experience in science and technology by participating in the district’s award-winning robotics program.

The program literally saves young lives. Some 80 percent of students attending Oklahoma City’s Mission Academy sober high school are funded by Equal Opportunity Scholarship dollars. Why are they there? They suffer from life-threatening addictions and need the nurturing recovery-oriented focus Mission Academy provides.

Other Equal Opportunity Scholarship funds help children from broken homes or dire poverty make up the severe learning deficiencies that often accompany such conditions. Positive Tomorrows serves homeless students. Yet OEA union leaders slam the door in the face of those kids and then high-five one another.

Then there are students at Crossover Preparatory Academy or Tulsa Hope Academy, both eligible for scholarships, who routinely thrive after struggling in their previous school.

“Thanks be to God!” the mother of one student at Crossover said, noting how her son was now making high grades and performing at grade level. The OEA would condemn such youth to a life of diminished prospects and despair.

The OEA union is supposed to advocate for teachers, not sabotage programs that help public schools and help children learn and, in some cases, literally save their lives. OEA union leaders’ glee is unseemly. Let’s hope kids win despite them in the end.

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

Published in the Journal Record

Backers of Controversial School Tax Credit Bill Urge Passage

Supporters of an education tax credit program on Monday urged lawmakers to approve the measure.

Senate Bill 407, by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, and House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, could be heard on the House floor this week. If approved, it would return to the Senate for consideration of amendments or go to a conference committee.

The measure allows those who donate to the Opportunity Scholarship Fund for private schools or foundations supporting public schools to reduce their tax liability. It would raise the cap on total tax credits to $30 million from $5 million.

Raising the cap means thousands of additional students would have access to the program, Echols said.

(click here to read the complete article from the Tulsa World)

Bill is a Way to Help Oklahoma Students

A program in place for several years has given low-income Oklahoma students the opportunity to attend private schools instead of struggling in their assigned public school. Legislators can widen that net by approving a bill under consideration.

The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act provides tax credits to businesses and individuals who donate to groups that give private school scholarships. The kids who benefit from the scholarships must come from families with no more than 300 percent of the income required to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, have a learning disability, or live in a school district the state has said is “in need of improvement.”

Scholarship donors get a tax credit equal to 50 percent of one-time donations and 75 percent for multi-year donations. The credits are capped at $100,000 for qualified business donors, $2,000 for taxpayers filing jointly and $1,000 for individual tax filers. Tax credit payouts are capped at $5 million annually, with $3.5 million for donations to scholarship groups and the remainder for donations to public school grant organizations.

(click here to see the complete article by the Oklahoman’s Editorial Board)

Sen. Smalley Supports Amended Equal Opportunity Education Program Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – Sen. Jason Smalley announced Monday that he will be supporting amended legislation to raise the cap on the Equal Opportunity Education Program when it comes back to the Senate. The Stroud Republican voted against the measure when it came through the Senate in light of his opposition to school vouchers but said the amended bill will help Oklahoma’s schools and students.

“Given the amendments, this truly is a scholarship program that helps low-income and special needs students get an education that better meets their needs,” said Smalley. “This bill will help encourage more investment in our schools and students through charitable giving.”

(click here to read the complete article on The Shawnee News-Star)

Controversial School Tax Credit Bill Survives House Test

OKLAHOMA CITY — A revamped proposal to allow $30 million a year in tax credits for contributions to certain organizations supporting public and private schools won narrow approval Wednesday in the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ appropriations and Budget Committee.

Senate Bill 407, by Sen. David Rader, R-Tulsa, survived on a 16-13 vote, with seven Republicans joining the six Democrats present to oppose the measure.

(click here for the complete article in the Tulsa World)

Senate Review

Several bills relating to public and private education were considered by the Senate during the last week of floor consideration. 

Probably the most contentious debated education bill was SB 407, which relates to increasing the tax credit amount directed to provide scholarships from $5 million to $20 million for Oklahoma students to attend a K-12 accredited private school.

Tax credits directly reduce the taxes you pay on a dollar-for-dollar basis. An Oklahoma state income tax credit is like a gift card from the State of Oklahoma that you can use in exchange for paying your income taxes. For example, with a $1,000 tax credit from the State of Oklahoma, you do not pay the percentage of $1,000 in state income taxes.

(click here to read the complete article on the Countrywide Sun)

Senate passes bill to lift tax credit cap for private, public school programs

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure that would increase the cap for tax credits for those who donate to public and private schools.

Senate Bill 407, by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, passed by a vote of 27-20 following lengthy debate over funding for public schools versus private schools.

The measure would expand the annual cap to $20 million from $5 million on tax credits available through the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

Some $10 million would be available for private schools and $10 million for public schools.

(click here to read the complete article from the Tulsa World)

Lakewood gets $132K from Opportunity Scholarship Fund

Lakewood Christian School in McAlester has $132,752 worth of reasons to support the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act.

That’s the amount of scholarships provided to the school through the Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

The Scholarship Act makes it possible for individuals or businesses to obtain Oklahoma state income tax credits through making a donation to organizations that grant scholarships, if the organization is recognized by the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

In this case, the Oklahoma Scholarship Fund uses the contributions to grant scholarships to eligible students so they can attend a private, accredited school, such as Lakewood.

(click here to read the complete article from the McAlester News-Capital)