Educators voice support for school-choice bill

Budget & Tax , Education

Ray Carter | March 9, 2021

Educators voice support for school-choice bill

Ray Carter

Legislation that would expand an existing tax-credit program and encourage more donations to public schools and scholarship-granting organizations is drawing opposition from establishment “education” groups, such as teachers’ unions and their allies.

But the bill is quietly receiving support from many Oklahomans who work on the front lines in schools who have seen the real-world challenges facing children and those who serve them.

In a recent Facebook post, Rep. Sherrie Conley, a longtime teacher who worked in a variety of schools around Oklahoma, announced her support for House Bill 2701.

While Conley said most families in her district are happy with their local schools, she said she is “concerned about the kids and families who live in and attend some of the toughest schools in the inner cities. I’ve been in a few of those schools.”

“It angers me, saddens me and makes me feel helpless to be unable to change the circumstances for each and every child and the parents who just want something better for their babies than what they have had,” wrote Conley, R-Newcastle. “Some, if not most of those parents are stuck where they are due to poverty, community and/or familial ties.”

HB 2701 creates the Education and Investment for Oklahoma Act. It modifies an existing tax-credit program and raises the amount of tax credits that can be issued under that program.

Under HB 2701, those who donate to public schools or to private scholarship-granting organizations qualify for tax credits. Schools and scholarship organizations would receive up to $2 in new funding for every $1 in tax credits issued under the bill.

As a result, a fiscal analysis shows the bill would increase the net amount of public-school funding by as much as $27.5 million annually.

While the scholarship tax credit does not provide a direct funding boost to public schools, prior third-party analysis has shown it indirectly increases funding because the cost of tax credits is less than the amount of money that would otherwise be spent educating a student in public school. Most students served by the program are eligible for the free-and-reduced lunch program.

An analysis conducted by Jacob Dearmon and Russell R. Evans at Oklahoma City University found the tax-credit scholarship program generated savings of $2.91 for every $1 in tax credits issued, and predicted that figure would rise to $3.16 in savings for every $1 in tax credits issued.

HB 2701 is authored by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, another public-school teacher now serving in the Oklahoma Legislature.

In her post, Conley recalled visiting with a great-grandmother who is now raising two of her great-grandchildren, ages four and five, whose father and grandfather are both incarcerated today. Conley wrote that the grand-grandmother “wants an opportunity to get her great grands out of the environment she believes contributed to her son and grandson’s fall,” but since the woman is financially unable to move, the great-grandmother’s “only hope” is the state’s tax-credit scholarship program or vouchers, along with “the generosity of church patrons and businesses” that participate in the tax-credit scholarship program.

“I agree we need to ‘fix’ what’s broken with our inner city education system,” Conley wrote, “but there are some circumstances that more money just won’t change.”

Those responding to Conley’s post include other educators who support the programs that will be augmented by HB 2701.

Diane Black Medrano wrote that she agreed “100% with this post” even though it may be “unpopular” to do so as a public-school teacher. But she added that “all of our kids deserve the best,” and not all of them “can pack up and move.”

Teacher Amanda Cox similarly wrote, “I know I love my kids. I want to do everything I can for them. I want them to be successful in life. If that means they go to a different school that has resources to better meet their needs, then I’m all for it. I wish my school had everything and I wish I could do more, but the reality is that we are underfunded in certain aspects and I can't fill the gaps from my personal paycheck.”

Jason L. Midkiff, the former superintendent at Purcell Public Schools, responded, “I wish more people would take advantage of the tax credit for public schools! Start getting some business and individuals to support innovative practices in public schools.”

Those opposed to HB 2701 include the Oklahoma Education Association, which has spent much of the past year opposing efforts to provide full-time in-person instruction to all students across Oklahoma, and various groups that typically align with the union.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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