Ray Carter | January 26, 2023

Stitt touts $5,000 per student for school choice program

Ray Carter

In an interview on Fox News, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he wants Oklahoma parents to have at least $5,000 per child in state funding to use for private-school tuition as part of a proposed statewide school-choice program.

“We’ve kind of trapped kids in their ZIP-code school, and we said, ‘Hey, this is what’s best for you and you’ve got no other option,’” Stitt said. “And so really, it’s become only the rich or the ‘haves’ (who) are able to move their kids to a better school. But in Oklahoma, I believe that every single parent, regardless of your economic status or your ZIP code, deserves the best education possible. So why not let parents choose and let every kid decide?”

This is the second year Stitt has endorsed creation of an education savings account (ESA) program that would allow parents to use state tax funding to pay for private-school tuition.

At least two major school-choice bills have been filed in the Oklahoma Senate that would allow for tax funding to follow a child to any school. State Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, has filed Senate Bill 822 to create the Oklahoma Education Freedom Act while state Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, has filed Senate Bill 943 to create the Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids Program (OK PEAK).

Stitt championed school choice in his reelection campaign and easily prevailed over his Democratic opponent, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who made opposition to school choice a cornerstone of her campaign.

In addition to electoral results, polling has consistently shown strong support in Oklahoma for school choice programs like those championed by Stitt. According to a monthly tracking poll commissioned by EdChoice and conducted by the firm Morning Consult, 68 percent of Oklahoma parents support enactment of a voucher program that would allow them to use tax dollars to pay for private-school tuition, “including both religious and non-religious schools,” and 75 percent of Oklahoma parents support education savings accounts.

The effort to provide universal school choice in Oklahoma is also driven by the need to compete with other states that have already enacted such programs.

In Arizona, where a statewide, universal education savings account program took effect last fall, the average ESA amount is around $7,000. The state of Iowa has just passed a broad ESA program that provides $7,598 per child.

Stitt said he would like Oklahoma’s program to be competitive with those states’ programs, although the details are being ironed out.

“We’re still negotiating that,” Stitt said. “I would like it to be $8,000. It may start out at $5,000. But whatever we do, we want to start that conversation.”

Either figure would allow many working-class families in Oklahoma to have the option of sending their children to a private school. Private School Review reports that the average private school tuition in Oklahoma is $6,576 per year for the current 2022-23 school year.

That’s far less than the per-pupil revenue at Oklahoma’s public schools.

State records on student enrollment in public schools and total revenue show that Oklahoma public schools had $12,315 per student in the most recent school year, and funding has increased since then. There were 171 public school districts with per-pupil funding greater than $14,000 apiece.

Under the proposed school-choice programs, public schools would retain local property tax funding even when a student leaves a district for a private school.

Stitt said statewide school choice is an idea whose time has come.

“Oklahoma doesn’t want to be left behind,” Stitt said. “I campaigned on this. Oklahomans are behind me on it.”

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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