For Oklahoma to become a “top 10” state in education, policymakers can’t afford to ignore an idea that’s successfully expanding opportunities, boosting outcomes and saving state dollars.
The Legislature can expand this program by approving Senate Bill 407, which would increase the amount of tax credits that can be issued for donations to programs that give private-school scholarships to low-income and special-needs children or to programs that support traditional public schools.
The bill would raise the cap so up to $15 million in tax credits can be issued annually for the scholarships and $15 million for the public-school side, a total of $30 million per year.
Professors Jacob Dearmon and Russell Evans at Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business analyzed the scholarship side of the program and found Oklahoma government saved $1.39 for every dollar in tax credits issued in the 2017-2018 school year.
More important than the dollars are the kids. The program has been life-altering for recipients like 15-year-old Alexis Hord. She used a tax-credit scholarship to attend The Cross Christian Academy in rural northeast Oklahoma. Hord’s father had been abusive and she was on a downward spiral of drug use and arrests before attending the faith-based, residential school. Hord says the program gave her a new beginning. Countless other tax-credit scholarship kids have similar stories.
But SB 407 doesn’t just benefit children who need to attend private programs. It also incentivizes private giving to traditional public schools. Tax credits are already helping boost STEM offerings in rural communities. SB 407 expands the program so all public schools can participate.
Put simply, SB 407 will incentivize millions in private contributions to Oklahoma education. Is it any wonder Oklahomans support this legislation? Polling conducted by WPA Intelligence, commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, found 60 percent of Oklahomans support raising the cap; just 23 percent are opposed. Support was strong in all parts of the state and across party lines.
When respondents were told beneficiaries include children with special needs and kids whose families are homeless, support surged to 79 percent.
Oklahoma gives tax breaks for CNG use, windmills, rehabilitating old buildings, and even American Ninja Warrior filming. Why would we support those causes, but then refuse to use tax credits to boost education funding for Oklahoma children? It’s time to raise the cap.
Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).
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