••• Education •••

Oklahoma school choice program a slightly different approach

As summarized in a previous blog, Oklahoma just passed into law the Oklahoma Parent Choice Tax Credit Act. Oklahoma is one of two dozen states (Kansas included) that has some type of program that includes allowing state income tax credits to individuals and/or businesses who contribute money toward school choice initiatives, like the Tax Credit for Low-Income Students Scholarship Program in Kansas.

But what Oklahoma did is of an entirely different character. Their new tax credit program continues to extend the wave of universal school choice we’ve seen in 2023. We’ve written before about the scope and breadth of a handful of states passing universal educational savings accounts programs this year alone.

Prior to Oklahoma’s new approach of tying state income tax credits to school choice expenses, there were two basic models across the nation. The more common of which allows individuals and/or businesses to donate to organizations, commonly known as scholarship granting organizations (SGO), who in turn grant scholarships for students to attend a private school. Those who donate can claim a credit against state income tax liability. This is the way the Kansas program operates. According to information provided by edChoice, 21 states employ such a program.

Ten states have adopted a model that bypasses the SGO approach and allows for individuals to directly claim tax credit for allowable expenses they have incurred. The size and scope of these credits vary from state to state, but are generally much smaller in scope and/or targeted to certain populations, different from the credits allowed under the SGO approach. Some allow credits for homeschoolers and some do not. Overall, the dollar value of the new Oklahoma program is significantly higher than most of the other states’ programs.  Although this method allows for some much-needed financial relief, it doesn’t really expand school choice, it merely subsidizes those who are already outside the traditional public school system.

Oklahoma has forged new territory in tax credit school choice options by being:

  • universal, meaning anyone in the state can qualify.
  • generous in value – up to $7,500 for many taxpayers.
  • available to homeschoolers – a state income tax credit up to $1,000.

By establishing this kind of approach, the Oklahoma program is a hybrid of sorts, somewhere between a tax credit scholarship program and an ESA, which are now available in thirteen states. Under the ESA approach, typically the state provides money directly to parents for private school and other education-related expenses.

You don’t have to dig very far in these educational choice debates to see concerns raised about strings being attached to the dollars. “With the shekels come the shackles” is a common refrain. While many private schools articulate these concerns, many in the homeschool community raise them with another level of passion. Their concerns are sincere. KPI and our fellow travelers talking about educational freedom take these concerns seriously and will do everything in our power to ensure that educational freedom means actual freedom from government regulations. To wit, the ESA proposal that passed the Kansas House this year had specific language, with further protections negotiated during the process itself, to protect families, schools, and other educational providers from government regulations.

There is nothing magical in school choice options that opens the door to government regulation of non-public education. Put rather bluntly, whether you support it or not, practically speaking, governments have the power to regulate private and home education today. The very thing that prevents this in Kansas is the diligence and commitment of unconventional educators and their advocates. That will continue regardless of whether Kansas enacts new school choice programs. Furthermore, and even more fundamental, homeschoolers can avoid the “shackles” by not taking the “shekels.”

Clearly, the demand for school choice across the nation is gaining momentum. An exodus of more than a million students nationwide from the public schools during the pandemic has propelled several states across the nation to pounce on that momentum and significantly expand school choice.