OSF Helping Students Find the Place Where They Learn Best

September 2, 2014

Charlie Daniels

The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) recently held its annual Parental Choice Symposium in New Orleans—and in Tampa. I was invited to the symposium in my capacity as a board member of the newly formed Opportunity Scholarship Fund (OSF), which uses contributions creditable against state income tax to provide scholarships to private schools for low-income kids.

The symposium convened at Loyola University in New Orleans. Among the speakers were representatives from Democrats for Education Reform and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, as well as Howard Fuller, the former radical community organizer and now professor at Marquette. Prof. Fuller asked whether we want a society in which only people with money can choose the schools for their children.

Prof. Fuller has been in the school choice trenches for a long time, and in 1998 debated another former community organizer named Barack Obama, who dismissed vouchers as “a distraction.” Prof. Fuller cautioned zealous school choice proponents that there are a lot of good teachers, trying hard, in public education, and that we would be well advised to criticize the system but not those on the front line.

Prof. Fuller also reminded fiscal conservatives that ROI doesn’t get to anyone’s soul. You persuade people by touching their hearts. And, he pointed out, test scores aren’t the only things that matter to parents. School choice improves lives, builds character, and furthers freedom.

Indeed, Prof. Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas added that when he surveyed parents who chose private schools for their children, better state test scores were not a factor. Instead, parents valued better student engagement and improved grades.

When the symposium moved to the serene Bethany Center in Tampa, Florida’s big scholarship granting organization, Step Up For Students, took center stage. Step Up’s scholarships benefit nearly 60,000 students, who can use those scholarships to attend their choice of 1,400 nonpublic schools in the state. Of those schools, 71 percent are faith-based. Step Up is now the only scholarship-granting organization in Florida (in contrast to Arizona and Georgia, which each have scores of such organizations).

The symposium ended with a tour of St. Joseph’s Catholic School, located in a low-income area of Tampa, where half of the students are Step Up scholarship recipients. St. Joseph’s buildings are old, but it boasts improving scores, happy parents (two of whom gave us enthusiastic testimony about their appreciation of school choice), and a new spirit, thanks to the collaboration between Step Up and ACE-trained staff.

A theme running through the symposium was that every child is different, and that not every school is right for every child. In other words, one size does not fit all. While public schools are a good fit for many children, some children will reach their God-given potential better in other schools. As a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference wrote, “this is not about public schools versus private schools. … This is about finding the place where every single student learns the best.”

Here in Oklahoma, the Opportunity Scholarship Fund exists to help every student find that place. With my board colleagues Michael Carnuccio, Jabar Shumate, and Mark Stephen, and executive director Mike Lapolla, OSF will help advance school choice in Oklahoma.

So if you’re the principal of a private school that wants to extend financial help to low-income kids, sign up with us. Or are you a taxpayer who would like to get a credit against your state income tax? Drop us a contribution and feel free to designate which school on our list you’d like to benefit. And if you know low-income parents who would like their kids to go to a private school, put them in touch with one of the schools that have signed up with us.

To get more information, visit our website at or reach out to Mike Lapolla at

Charlie Daniels, a retired attorney in Bartlesville, is vice chairman of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund.