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Bill is a way to help Oklahoma students

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Second-grader Jayden, 7, gets help from art and music teacher Sarah Caputo next to Myrakle, 7, left, during art class at Positive Tomorrows school for homeless children in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Second-grader Jayden, 7, gets help from art and music teacher Sarah Caputo next to Myrakle, 7, left, during art class at Positive Tomorrows school for homeless children in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

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.

Senate Bill 407 by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, would raise the cap to $30 million and split the credits evenly between public school grants and scholarships. SB 407 also would expand the program to all districts; currently the law applies to districts with fewer than 4,500 students.

Echols has noted that donations to the program are administered by nonprofits such as Catalyst Ed Fund. Catalyst’s investments, Echols wrote in The Oklahoman in February, “include innovative training programs for teachers, college readiness prep for students and support for unique technology initiatives like Chickasha High School’s robotics team.”

Scholarships help kids who are struggling in their assigned public school to succeed elsewhere. Echols cited Cristo Rey OKC Catholic High School, which opened this year and serves low-income students who rely on the scholarships. “Without these scholarships, Cristo Rey would be unable to offer the same kind of affordable education to a traditionally underserved, minority-dominated community,” he wrote.

Some opponents have criticized this tax credit as benefiting wealthy corporations and taxpayers while serving a small number of students. Others say it adversely impacts public school funding. However, a study by two business professors at Oklahoma City University found that state government saved $1.39 for every dollar in tax credits issued during the 2017-18 school year.

“The success of the program in offering a meaningful education choice to scholarship recipients combined with the fiscal performance of the programs suggests room for program growth in Oklahoma,” the professors wrote.

The $5 million cap has been reached each of the past two years. We hope lawmakers will agree to raise it this year and thus provide more children, many of them at-risk, a chance to benefit from the program’s good work.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›

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