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Charlie Daniels | Dec. 9, 2021

No two kids are exactly alike. Not even identical twins. 

No two schools are alike either, not even “good suburban grade schools.”

Oklahoma has over 900,000 kids and over 1,900 schools, and no one school – not even the best one – is perfect for every kid. But somewhere among those schools, whether public, charter, private, virtual or blended, is the right school.

That’s why we have school choice: so that parents can choose the school where their kids can best realize their God-given potential. And if that school is a private school, then that’s where the kids should go.

Historically, the choice of a private school has always been available most places in Oklahoma – if you had money. But what if you didn’t? What then?

Howard Fuller, the civil rights activist turned school choice crusader, once asked “Do we want a society in which only the affluent can choose the best education for their kids?” In 2011, the Oklahoma Legislature answered that question with an emphatic “NO” and it passed the tax credit scholarship law to level the playing field a little.

In a nutshell, that law encourages taxpayers to donate for scholarships to private schools by giving them tax credits against their state income tax.

How? The law created a vehicle called a “Scholarship Granting Organization,” or SGO. There are two SGOs helping local schools. One is Veritas, for St. John’s Catholic School. The other is the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, helping Paths to Independence and Wesleyan Christian School.

Donations to either SGO qualify the donors for tax credits of 50%, for a one-time donation, or 75% for donations two years in a row. Individuals can get a credit up to $1,000, couples can get $2,000 and businesses can get up to $100,000. The SGOs use the donations to provide scholarships to the schools.

This is a genius way to raise private money without dipping into state funds, and today not a single dollar comes from state coffers. In fact, a study by two Ph.D economists shows that for every $1 in tax credits, the state actually saves $1.50.

A recent article in the Examiner-Enterprise on the Building Bridges program focused on poverty in the area. As Howard Fuller realized, education is a prime means of escaping poverty, and the scholarships raised by these donations are particularly aimed at lower income families, though help extends to middle class families as well.

The program benefits taxpayers who want to pay lower taxes, parents who want to choose where they educate their kids, schools that want to grant scholarships, and the state, which saves money in the process. This stretches “win-win” by two more wins.

There’s another benefit that’s sometimes overlooked: most of the money stays here. Taxes go to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, in Oklahoma City, where they are spread all over the state. But money donated for scholarships at a local school stays local, helping a local student, local teachers and local merchants. “Shop at home for a Green Country Christmas”? Got it! Or “Eat, Drink, Shop Local”? Ditto.

And last spring, the legislature expanded the tax credit program to allow more donations for scholarships and for public schools, too. This will bring forth a blossoming of parent choice, with greater availability of public schools (through new open transfer laws), charters, virtual charters, private schools, and blended combinations of them. It’s a great time to educate a child.

Donations to either SGO qualify the donors for tax credits of 50%, for a one-time donation, or 75% for donations two years in a row. Individuals can get a credit up to $1,000, couples can get $2,000 and businesses can get up to $100,000.

Charlie Daniels served on the Bartlesville School Board for eight years, and is now vice president of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

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