Ray Carter | February 3, 2020

Stitt gives strong support to tax-credit scholarship program

Ray Carter

When her son, Sincere, attended public school in Tulsa, Alegra Williams recalls he was receiving Cs and Ds, “more Ds than Cs.”

“I thought he had a learning disability,” she said.

Williams had her son tested, and school officials soon placed him on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for children with learning challenges. Then, thanks to Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program, the next year she was able to send Sincere to Crossover Preparatory Academy, a private school in north Tulsa that serves students in grades six through nine. The schools’ student body is all-male, primarily black and low-income.

At Crossover, Sincere’s grades improved markedly. He was given numerous honors. Testing showed him making rapid academic progress.

One day, Williams asked Crossover officials, “Did you guys get his IEP? Because my son is doing great.”

Crossover officials responded, “What IEP?” A principal turned to her and said, “There’s no way Sincere needs an IEP. He’s fine.”

“If I would have kept him in the same school, then he would still be on an IEP,” Williams said. “I took him to Crossover Preparatory and they proved to me—they worked with my son—that my son does not need an IEP.”

Today, both her sons—Chaves and Sincere, who are in the sixth and eighth grades, respectively—attend Crossover.

“It’s the best school my kids could have gone to,” Williams said.

With Williams and her sons in attendance, along with many other students from Crossover, the boys’ hard work and achievements and those of Crossover Preparatory Academy were highlighted by Gov. Kevin Stitt at his State of the State address Monday. Stitt urged lawmakers to raise the cap on the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act that allowed the boys to attend private school.

“Chaves and Sincere were able to get the help they needed because of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act,” Stitt told lawmakers. “Increasing the tax credit cap will provide additional incentives for donors, resulting in more public-school grants and private-school scholarships.”

The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act provides a tax credit for donations to private scholarship-granting organizations. Scholarships funded by the program go primarily to low-income children or those with special needs.

Senate Bill 407, by Sen. Dave Rader and Rep. Jon Echols, would raise the cap on the tax-credit program from $5 million to $30 million to encourage more private donations to education and also incentivize donations to traditional public school programs. Polling has shown 60 percent of Oklahomans support raising the cap.

Raising the cap on the tax-credit scholarship program is one of eight major goals listed in Stitt’s proposed 2021 state budget. During a briefing, Mike Mazzei, Stitt’s secretary of budget, said raising the cap will help “more low-income families” to get their children “a very high-quality education.”

“That’s part of the educational commitment to really help individual students in local communities get a much more favorable education that will lift them out of a potential cycle of poverty,” Mazzei said.

Mazzei said officials know the tax-credit scholarship program has “a great return on investment” and said raising the cap will increase donations to educational needs in Oklahoma.

“There’s hundreds of people and businesses that are willing to give more scholarship money to help more kids out there that could really use a leg up,” Mazzei said.

In the boys’ first semester at Crossover, Stitt noted that Chaves “jumped three reading grade levels, and Sincere jumped two-and-a-half reading levels.” He said the tax-credit program could help similar youth excel academically.

“Let’s work together to make sure all students at all schools have access to an innovative, enriching curriculum, regardless of ZIP code,” Stitt urged lawmakers.

Williams said she was surprised when she was invited to attend the State of the State speech and did not know in advance that she and her sons would meet privately with the governor beforehand or that Stitt would be praising her sons by name in his speech.

“That was the best feeling in the world,” Williams said. “This is a day that my kids will never, ever—and I will never ever—forget. I’m going to go home and I’m going to pull out the bragging rights. The governor announced my kids’ names. He applauded them.”

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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