Patrick B. McGuigan | October 14, 2016

With a Boost from a School Choice Program, Life-Changing School Coming to Oklahoma

Patrick B. McGuigan

With a Boost from a School

Choice Program, Life-Changing

School Coming to Oklahoma

By Patrick McGuigan

One of the nation’s most effective college prep and work experience programs will come to Oklahoma in one year, thanks to existing state policy providing a steady model for financing.

Students from economically challenged backgrounds will be able to access the high-quality high school education model and job program beginning in fall 2017.

A total of 32 similar schools, in the Cristo Rey network, are currently in operation across the United States.

Renee Alvarado Porter has been named president of the planned Cristo Rey High School Oklahoma City, officials with the program said.

“Cristo Rey is a unique model where a rigorous college prep education is coupled with a corporate work study program,” Porter said. “Our students work one day a week in the offices of our corporate partners. A student’s earnings underwrite a majority of their college prep tuition.”

In a press release about the school, which will operate from leased space at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City, Porter said, “I believe that every child—regardless of zip code or income—has the right to a high quality education that readies them for success in college and in a career. I feel deeply humbled and blessed to help establish and lead a school that supports that mission.”

Oklahoma City Catholic Archbishop Paul Coakley predicted a major positive impact for students and the city.

“I have long been interested in making Catholic secondary education accessible to a wider segment of our community. Cristo Rey offers an affordable opportunity for an excellent Catholic high school education to those students whose families might never have considered such an option. Its unique model provides valuable training and work experience for young men and women as they prepare for higher education and for the workplace.”

Helping to bring the vision into reality is one of the state’s most prominent business and civic leaders, Gene Rainbolt, who founded BancFirst in Oklahoma City. He embraced the program after becoming familiar with one of the existing schools in Cleveland, Ohio, in recent years.

“In the course of my travels, I met a lovely, very bright and accomplished woman named [Susan Brooks] Murphy,” Rainbolt said. Murphy, a well-known business owner and philanthropist in Ohio, “is involved with Cristo Rey [at St. Martin de Porres School] in Cleveland. She told me the stories about that school’s many successes, including its students who work to help pay for their tuition at Cristo Rey.

“I learned the details about the marvelous education these students receive. I also learned that the students develop an ability to socialize with others of different backgrounds as a result of their work experiences.

“Based on my many years helping programs with young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and in education with children who face challenges, I’ve learned that many of them do not feel they belong in professional settings. The students who go to the Cristo Rey schools learn that they do belong. They gain experiences that will last them a lifetime.

“When the leaders here in Oklahoma City formed the Cristo Rey feasibility committee to study establishment of a Cristo Rey school, they contacted me. I told them that not only am I not a Catholic, but I’m not even a very good Methodist. They told me they wanted me involved anyway. So, I replied to ‘count me in.’

“I want to share something broader, and that is my mantra on education policy issues. Until Oklahoma gives every child the opportunity to be all that he or she can be, we have not succeeded as a society.

“I’m all about equality of opportunity. The opportunity gap in Oklahoma is enormous. I’m involved in these issues because I want to everything I can to close that gap,” Rainbolt said.

Porter said the Cristo Rey model can be implemented in Oklahoma thanks to the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship fund. “The majority of the contribution can be directed to Cristo Rey to provide scholarships to our low-income students. The tax credit scholarship is a terrific way to support the school and ensure more Oklahoma children get a high-quality education.”

Individuals or businesses can make financial gifts through the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Those resources can be used to support education at Cristo Rey and other schools.

Discussing the system in the interview, Porter continued, “Cristo Rey schools across the country are changing lives and providing opportunities for academic and personal success and fulfillment where that opportunity might not have existed before. I’m excited to do that in our community in Oklahoma City, and to provide another option for children who are serious about learning and bettering themselves. I think we can have a profound impact on these children and their families, and I’m thankful for everyone who worked so hard to make this possible.

“Cristo Rey graduates are completing four-year colleges at a rate above the national average and more than twice the rate of their low-income peers. Every child should have the option to attend a high quality education to allow them to succeed.”

While state law already allows the tuition scholarship program, Porter said quality education could be bolstered through creation of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which thus far have fallen short after long debate in the state Legislature. “Passage of an ESA would allow parents to direct a portion of their student’s state funding in a variety of ways to help their student succeed, including paying private school tuition like Cristo Rey,” Porter said.

Patrick McGuigan (M.A. in history, Oklahoma State University) is the editor of and appears weekly as a commentator on NEWS 9, the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City. He is a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. McGuigan is the editor of seven books on legal policy and the author or co-author of three books, including Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork.

Patrick B. McGuigan

Independent Journalist

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and editor of The City Sentinel, an independent newspaper. He is the author of three books and editor of seven, and has written extensively on education and other public policy issues.

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