Ray Carter | November 30, 2023

With tax credit, parents excited by school-choice prospects

Ray Carter

This year, lawmakers approved the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, making refundable tax credits available to all Oklahoma parents to help pay for private-school tuition.

On Friday, Dec. 1, the Oklahoma Tax Commission will begin accepting applications from families seeking the first round of credits, which will apply to the spring 2024 semester.

For many families the program will make private school affordable for the first time and for others it will reduce the sometimes-enormous financial strain they have taken on to pay for their children to attend a private school that best serves them.

“Definitely, it is a game changer for our families that have made sacrifices for so many years,” said Dora Miller, the head of school for Western Oklahoma Christian School, which operates in Clinton, Weatherford, and Elk City.

Jordan Blatnick, a mother of three whose children attend Western Oklahoma Christian School, is among those families.

“We work full time. I have a side business just to be able to afford tuition for our kids to go to school,” Blatnick said. “I mean, we go to one of the cheapest private schools in Oklahoma and even with both of us working full time and we have a side business, it’s still a struggle to make ends meet, especially with the way the economy is going. So, for me, this tax credit is going to help immensely.”

Blatnick and her husband both work 40 hours a week, and she said their side business can involve another 40 hours of weekly labor.

“As soon as my kids’ heads hit the pillow at night, I’m up working all hours of the night to make sure that my kids can have the life that I wanted, the life that I wish more kids had the opportunity to have, because they’re worth it,” Blatnick said.

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 Feb. 1, 2024.

Critics argued the law mostly benefits Oklahoma’s wealthiest families. But that’s not the case for the children served by Western Oklahoma Christian School.

“Probably, 85 to 95 percent of our families are going to fall into that first tier,” Miller said.

The private schools registered for the program are located across Oklahoma, including in Altus, 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.

Blatnick said she has been a “passionate” supporter of private schools since she was a teenager and had the chance to attend a private school for most of her freshman year before having to return to public school. She said that experience “made an impact for me for my life.”

“Looking back, even as a sophomore in high school, I knew that I wanted my kids to be able to go through the same school that I had gone through,” Blatnick said.

She said the small-school experience provided by her children’s private school is invaluable, noting many students develop lifelong relationships. And it also provides academic benefits that were readily apparent when she attended private school as a teen.

“I struggled a lot, because I wasn’t able to catch up to the level that these kids had already been at,” Blatnick recalled.

Stitt recently touted the school-choice tax-credit program on Twitter and encouraged parents to apply.

The governor also recorded a video posted on the Oklahoma Tax Commission website for the program, calling it an “awesome opportunity for parents and students across Oklahoma.”

“We know that not all kids learn the same way, and while most kids will go to their zip-code school, some kids need a different style of learning to succeed,” Stitt said. “School choice should not be just for the rich. It should be for everybody. And that’s why families are now eligible for a refundable tax credit between $5,000 and $7,500 to put towards tuition for the education you want for your kids.”

Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, an Oklahoma City Republican and longtime champion of school choice, also said the law will benefit families across the state.

“I have always been a strong advocate for school choice, and I believe in giving parents more options in their kids’ education,” Treat said. “School choice is about empowering parents, giving underserved students an education tailored to their needs and providing opportunities to low-income families who need help. This will also incentivize schools to better meet the needs of students when they know parents can go elsewhere. More options and more opportunities will produce better education outcomes.”

The Senate leader suggested the law could be improved by providing for a second enrollment period that better aligns with the school year, rather than the current calendar-year model used for the program.

“While I know there will be more questions and there may need to be legislative fixes in the future, school choice will be a wonderful thing for Oklahomans,” Treat said.

The Blatnicks are not the only parents excited by the greater freedom to choose a school they believe best suits their children. Miller said that feeling is widespread.

“Our parents are super excited about this because it gives most of our families an opportunity to be able to afford our school,” Miller said. “And we have tried to keep our tuition affordable for many years.”

Blatnick encouraged parents who are looking for educational opportunities for their children to consider the program.

“If you’re given an opportunity like this, take it,” Blatnick said. “Your kids are worth the world.”

NOTE: This story has been updated since initial publication to include comments from Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat.

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.

Loading Next