Expand parental choice in education

January 29, 2018

Brandon Dutcher

This article was published in OCPA's Perspective magazine View Issue

Oklahoma has two private-school choice programs which are benefiting students. In 2018, policymakers should expand them and enact new ones.


Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities, is helping hearing-impaired children, autistic students, rural students who want a faith-based education, and many more. In 2017, lawmakers expanded program eligibility to include foster children and children adopted out of state custody.

“It is not about saying that public education is bad—I’ve never said that and I never will,” said state Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie), who spearheaded the 2017 expansion. “It is about saying that some children who have suffered a brain change, it requires them to have a different environment in order to thrive and learn.”

Tax Credits

Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program gives individuals and businesses a tax credit for contributions made to philanthropic organizations which award private-school scholarships. The program is helping bullied children, homeless students, teenage students battling addiction, children of Fort Sill enlisted families, and more—all while saving the state money.

As The Journal Record reported on October 6, 2017, “The state budget saves $1.24 for every dollar of tax credit issued to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, according to an Oklahoma City University study released Friday.” The study was conducted by economists Jacob Dearmon and Russell Evans of OCU’s Meinders School of Business.

“Out of a total of 28 empirical studies (before the new one in Oklahoma) that have looked at this question, 25 studies find school choice saves taxpayer money,” said Dr. Greg Forster, a political scientist who studies school choice. “The other three find choice programs to be revenue-neutral. No empirical study has ever found that school choice is a net drain on taxpayers.” Thus, it’s no surprise that lawmakers overwhelmingly (38 to 4 in the Senate, 64 to 23 in the House) saw fit to expand the program in 2017 by making more tax-credit cap space available.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

Six states have created an Education Savings Account (ESA) program in which the state deposits a portion of a child’s per-pupil funding into a bank account controlled by the parents. Parents use the funds to pay for private school tuition, online learning programs, private tutoring, educational therapies, or a customized mix of options. They can even save some for college.

Again, none of this is to disparage the public education system. “I am very pro public schools,” writes Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid (and an ESA supporter). “God gives parents the responsibility to be the primary educators and formers of their children’s faith. Parents should be able to consider the best option for their children’s whole education and formation.”

Parents, not government officials, have the moral right to raise their children according to their consciences. State lawmakers should work to secure that right in 2018.