School choice marches on
September 9, 2021
Earlier this year, West Virginia passed landmark legislation dramatically increasing educational options for children in the Mountain State.
West Virginia created a near-universal school choice program. Starting in the fall of 2022, participating families can get up to $4,600 per child in an educational savings account (ESA) for any K-12-related educational costs. This includes private school tuition, online learning, and tutoring. Eligible children for the program include those who were enrolled in public school for the prior year or for at least 45 calendar days for the current school year.
In the 2021 legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers also made significant strides in expanding school choice. Senate Bill 1080 expands funding for Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Scholarship program. The program provides a tax credit for donations to private scholarship-granting organizations which administer the funds and give scholarships to primarily low-income children or those with special needs.
According to an estimate from Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice, more than 14,000 additional Oklahoma children will be eligible for the program thanks to this year’s expansion.
SB 1080 is a step in the right direction on the road to universal school choice, but much is left to be done to ensure that every child has the opportunity to choose the school that best meets his or her needs.
As the past two school years have shown us, it’s imperative that parents and students have the ability to take their education dollars elsewhere if they're dissatisfied with their government-assigned school. This would not only help those students, but also would incentivize public schools to achieve better outcomes. As education policy scholar Greg Forster noted, enacting universal school choice will help improve outcomes in Oklahoma public schools better than any new testing program or more tax dollars.
“In this landscape littered with failures,” Forster writes, “school choice stands out as the only reform with a consistent track record of success. That’s because choice supplies the one thing other reforms can’t: effective accountability. Parents use public funding to send their children to the school of their choice, including private schools, so schools have to satisfy parents or lose students.”
Expanding school choice can improve the quality and rigor of Oklahoma’s public schools while also providing a net benefit to the state and taxpayers. West Virginia has shown that aiming for universal school choice is not a fool’s errand—it is achievable.