| November 14, 2013

For One Oklahoma Family, School-Choice Scholarship Came as a 'Gift from God'

For years, Judith and Jacob Suarez prayed to be able to send their four children to Catholic schools.

As active parishioners at Saint Eugene Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, they often encountered families whose kids attended private schools—and they couldn’t help but notice the resources available to those students.

Meanwhile, their own children—Kevin, 14, Jacob, 13, Jocelyn, 11, and Judith, 9—attended public schools in the Mid-Del school district. They reported mild bullying, and Jocelyn, in particular, fell behind academically.

As dearly as they desired an alternative, the couple simply could not afford the cost of Catholic school tuition.

Both from Mexico, Mr. and Mrs. Suarez entered the United States legally in the mid-1990s. Mrs. Suarez still barely speaks English.

He works for Marianne’s Rentals, a company that rents tents, tables, chairs, tablecloths, and other party equipment. She cleans houses, working as often as jobs are available. Sometimes, that’s twice a week. Sometimes, that’s not at all.

“I would see the other kids at Saint Eugene’s, and their opportunities were very different from my children’s,” Mrs. Suarez said in Spanish. “I would pray to God, ‘When will my children have a chance to go to Catholic school?’”

In 2011, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act. The Act effectively encourages private donors to contribute to scholarship funds for students from low-income families by granting 50 percent tax credits for donations up to $2,000 for individuals, $4,000 for married couples filing jointly, and $100,000 for corporations.

Shortly thereafter, the Catholic Foundation of Oklahoma created the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship fund. Donors to the fund qualify for the tax credits.

Although she didn’t know it yet, Mrs. Suarez’ prayers had been answered.

As the oldest Suarez son prepared to enter high school, the parish priest asked Mr. and Mrs. Suarez whether they would be interested to send him to Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School. He offered direct financial assistance from the parish—and, crucially, suggested that scholarships might be able to fill in any remaining gaps.

Encouraged, the Suarez family also met with Mary Dresel, the principal of Saint Philip Neri Catholic Elementary School, to inquire about potential financial aid for their three youngest children, as well. Dresel connected the family to the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarships.

Today, all four Suarez children attend Catholic schools. The Suarez family pays $279 a month; scholarships cover the rest.

“If we had to pay anything more or extra, we wouldn’t be able to buy any food or pay for our house,” Mrs. Suarez said.

The difference in their children can’t be quantified, though.

“They wake up happier because the place they’re going to, they like,” Mrs. Suarez said. “They say that there is less bullying and they have learned a lot more. It has made a difference also in me. I’m more comfortable because the principals are very nice and the teachers are, too.”

Principal Dresel said the affection goes both ways.

“They’re very hard-working—just really, really good people—and the children are wonderful,” she said. “What they desire for their children is just so beautiful. This is what they wanted.”

For more information about Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program, visit

For more information about scholarship-granting organizations in Oklahoma, visit the Catholic Foundation of Oklahoma ( or the Diocese of Tulsa (

Tina Korbe Dzurisin is a research associate at OCPA. Formerly, she was a staff writer at The Heritage Foundation and an associate editor at

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