Robust demand fuels call for Oklahoma school-choice expansion

Ray Carter | December 12, 2023

Applications for the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit program indicate demand for school-choice options in Oklahoma is among the strongest in the nation.

In fact, demand is so robust that legislative efforts to raise or eliminate the current cap on the tax-credit program are now being endorsed by state leaders.

House Bill 1934, passed and signed into law this year, created the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act. The new program, which provides refundable tax credits of $5,000 to $7,500 per child to cover the cost of private school tuition starting in January 2024, began taking applications at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

By the close of business on Friday, Dec. 8—less than two-and-a-half days from launch—the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) reported that approximately 18,000 families had submitted applications for just over 29,600 children. Those figures exclude duplicate submissions that occurred due to technical challenges.

The large number of applications received for Oklahoma’s program far surpassed the figures generated during the initial launch of similar programs in other states.

In Iowa, families filed applications for nearly 10,000 students in the first three days of that state’s launch of its Education Savings Account (ESA) program, which began accepting applications on May 31. Rather than a refundable tax credit, the Iowa law provides nearly $7,600 per student through a debit-card-style ESA to help pay for private school.

In the first two weeks of Arizona’s statewide ESA program, which launched in August 2022, families filed nearly 6,500 applications.

The demand for Oklahoma’s school-choice program has not only exceeded the initial demand seen in other states, but surpassed lawmakers’ expectations.

In 2024, the program is currently 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 students 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 $150 million cap is expected to cover between 20,000 and 30,000 students based on the size of the credit received for each child. It is highly likely applications for the credit exceeded the first-year cap within the first three days.

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

The tax credit then gradually declines as income increases with the final tier providing a $5,000 credit for those earning $250,001 or more.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission did not have a breakdown on the share of applicants with income in the priority brackets, but private school officials have indicated that many students come from working-class families that will qualify for the $7,500 and $7,000 tax credits.

State officials welcomed news of the program’s popularity and indicated that lawmakers will work to revise the school-choice program in the pending 2024 session to allow more families to participate, particularly families who may want to shift to a private school for the first time in fall 2024. Lawmakers will reconvene in session in February.

“It is encouraging to see the number of parents taking advantage of this opportunity,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “The demand for Oklahoma’s parental choice tax credit outpaced any other state’s school choice programs with nearly 30,000 applicants. I am confident competition will make all Oklahoma schools better and will empower our students to be the best in the nation. The Tax Commission did a phenomenal job ushering in this program. I look forward to finding ways for more students to participate going forward.”

“It is not surprising that the Parental Choice Tax Credit program attracted huge demand from thousands of Oklahoma families wanting to access the funds,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “The House plan had no cap for the program, but that was changed by Senate amendment.

“I feel confident that the House would be in favor of accelerating the cap to year-three levels at $250 million,” McCall continued, “but those discussions will have to be had again in the upcoming session.”

“I am excited about the enthusiasm shown by the volume of parents who have applied for the program,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “This will help kids get the proper education for their needs, while giving parents who wouldn’t have had the means to send their kids to a different school otherwise a say in their children’s education. I appreciate all the work the Tax Commission has put into this and look forward to improving the program in the upcoming legislative session.”

Approximately 140 accredited schools have been registered to participate in the program. Those private schools are located across Oklahoma, including in Ardmore, Bartlesville, Blanchard, Bristow, Broken Arrow, Claremore, Clinton, Del City, Durant, Edmond, El Reno, Enid, Goldsby, Guthrie, Hillsdale, Lawton, McAlester, Miami, Midwest City, Moore, Muskogee, Nicoma Park, Norman, Okarche, Okmulgee, Owasso, Pawhuska, Ponca City, Pryor, Sapulpa, Shawnee, Sand Springs, Stillwater, Sulphur, Tahlequah, Warr Acres, Woodward, Yukon, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission continues to accept applications from families. Even if the cap has technically been reached already, families with incomes of $150,000 and below are encouraged to continue applying because they will be allotted credits ahead of families with incomes above that level.

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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