| August 2, 2010

School Choice on the Move in Oklahoma

At the end of this year’s legislative session, Oklahoma took a giant step in improving the educational opportunities of special-needs children. The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act passed both houses of the Legislature, and Gov. Brad Henry, despite tremendous pressure from the education establishment, signed the bill into law.

Before passage of this bill, the parents of children with special needs had very few options in determining their child’s education unless they were wealthy enough to pay for private opportunities. This bill now gives parents a choice. If they are satisfied with the quality of the special education their child is receiving from the public school in their district, they can remain where they are. But if they believe a better education that fits their child’s needs is available elsewhere, they can receive the same amount of money that the school district would have spent on their child (or the amount of the school’s tuition, whichever is less) in the form of a scholarship for their child to attend a qualified private school of their choice.

In Florida and four other states with similar programs, the children’s test scores and their parents’ satisfaction have skyrocketed. These programs succeed because when parents have a choice, competition produces higher quality in education, as it does in all areas of our free-enterprise system.

In the 2011 session of the Legislature, a tax credit scholarship bill—similar to one introduced this year by state Sen. Dan Newberry and state Reps. Jabar Shumate and Lee Denney—would further expand parental choice and educational competition by allowing individuals and companies to receive tax credits when they donate to education scholarships for lower-income kids from.

In a trip to Pennsylvania last year, several members of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition were able to see a similar law in action. We saw firsthand that these scholarships are funding low-cost, high-quality schools where kids who were once condemned to attend an underperforming school now have an opportunity for a better life.

We saw scholarship schools educating kids from disadvantaged homes for about half the cost of the public schools. These children were achieving high test scores and 100 percent college placement. And as competition compelled reforms, the public schools also improved. We have seen Catholic and other Christian schools deliver similar results at similar costs in Oklahoma and nationwide, but in states without tax credit scholarships they are limited to serving only those who can afford to pay.

The Oklahoma School Choice Coalition will be expanding its activities over the next year, educating the public about the benefits of school choice and involving more individuals and groups in our coalition.

Today Oklahoma can be proud that it is a leader in special-needs educational reform. We see a future in which Oklahoma is a leader in all areas of educational reform and provides through school choice a quality education for all children.

Bill Price is a former U.S. Attorney perhaps best known for his prosecution of the county commissioner corruption scandal, one of the largest political corruption cases in U.S. history. He is now an attorney in private practice, an OCPA trustee, and the chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition. The Foundation for Educational Choice, one of the nation’s leading school-choice organizations, recently dubbed him an “emerging leader of the school choice movement.”

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