ROI: Help Hollywood or help kids

March 12, 2018

Curtis Shelton

The Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program and the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act each share similar financial parameters, which makes it easy to compare these tax incentive programs. In fiscal year 2016, both programs had a cap of $5 million. The film rebate is paid out to filmmakers; its stated goals are to attract film production and jobs as well as to enhance the state's image. The Equal Opportunity Scholarship gives donors a tax credit when they donate to scholarship funds that support low- and middle-income Oklahoma families if they choose to send their children to a participating private school. Using data from third-party evaluations allow us to compare and contrast the programs.

The table below shows the basic finances of each program in 2016. As you can see, both programs provided a similar amount of tax credits to qualifying participants in each program. However, the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program was found to have a significantly larger per dollar return than the Film Enhancement Rebate Program.

Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship ActOklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program
Tax Credits Awarded$3,426,674$3,235,463
Per Dollar Return$1.24$0.13

*The cap for the film rebate was reduced to $4 million in 2017

It should be noted that creating a financial return to the state is not the primary goal of either program. The film rebate was created to expand the film industry in Oklahoma. The scholarship credit was designed to give families more options for their children’s education.

In 2014, when the first scholarships were awarded, the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program provided 396 scholarships. That grew to 1,459 scholarships in 2016. Some of the schools attended by students include Positive Tomorrows and Mission Academy, which serve some of the most vulnerable student populations in the state. The independent evaluation for the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program states, “At the margin, these scholarship dollars often make the difference in allowing students to move to private schools offering educational environments more suited to the student’s needs.”

During that same time period, the number of feature films produced in Oklahoma grew from four to eight. However, the film rebate has been around much longer and has seen the number of films vary between two and 15 each year the credit has been available since 2006. Here you can see which movies have received rebates since 2010 (like "Pax Masculina," a short film depicting the “seduction and murder of policemen and government officials.”) The evaluation of the Film Enhancement Rebate Program comes to this conclusion: “Since the credit does not provide sustainable economic development and provides little return on investment to the State, the project team recommends that the State allow the film enhancement rebate to sunset....” The report suggests redirecting the money to other incentives.

House Bill 3537 and Senate Bill 1384 would have increased the cap of the Opportunity Scholarship Credit but were voted down in legislative committees. Perhaps the Legislature could take the advice of the Incentive Evaluation Commission and redirect the money used for the film rebate to increase the number of scholarships provided to students in need of an alternative education.

Sources: Fiscal Impact Analysis of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit

State of Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission Film Enhancement Rebate Program Final Report