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Education

Ray Carter | December 5, 2023

Program makes Oklahoma national education leader

Ray Carter

Due to technical glitches, the effective launch of Oklahoma’s new school-choice program was shifted from Dec. 1 to Dec. 6. But when Oklahoma parents submit their applications on Wednesday, they will find themselves on ground the state has rarely trod.

For decades, Oklahoma has been a laggard when it comes to education outcomes. But it is now among the nation’s leaders in providing all children access to a quality education through a new school-choice program expected to change the state’s longstanding trajectory of low academic results.

Marc LeBlond, director of policy for EdChoice, and Ed Tarnowski, a state policy associate at EdChoice, recently noted that Oklahoma is one of only a small share of states where all families can now use a school-choice program to send their children to a private school.

“As it stands, nine states now have universal programs: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia,” LeBlond and Tarnowski wrote.

They noted a 10th state, Indiana, comes close since about 98 percent of students in that state qualify for a school-choice program.

House Bill 1934, passed by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt at a May 25 ceremony, created the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act. The new law provides refundable tax credits of $5,000 to $7,500 per child to cover the cost of private school tuition starting in January 2024.

Families earning up to $75,000 can receive a $7,500 per-child refundable tax credit per school year with the credit provided in two semester installments.

Those earning $75,001 to $150,000 get a credit of $7,000 per child.

Those earning $150,001 to $225,000 qualify for a $6,500 credit, those earning $225,001 to $250,000 can receive a $6,000 credit, and those earning $250,001 and up qualify for a credit of $5,000 per child.

Families who choose to homeschool qualify for a tax credit equal to $1,000 per child under the program.

In 2024, the program is capped at $150 million in tax credits. In 2025, the cap will increase to $200 million and in 2026 the cap rises to $250 million.

Should the number of families qualifying for the credit exceed the $150 million provided, the program prioritizes families earning no more than $150,000. To receive priority consideration, families must apply on or before Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission will begin accepting applications from families seeking the first round of credits, which will apply to the spring 2024 semester, starting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Oklahoma families are among a still relatively select—but rapidly growing—group of parents and children who enjoy this opportunity across the nation.

“Nearly 1 in 5 students live in a state with universal (or near-universal) choice,” LeBlond and Tarnowski noted. “After the most recent expansions, approximately 20 million students—or 36%—nationwide are eligible for a private choice program.”

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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