OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers failed to advance legislation this week that would have helped children in low-income families and children with special needs receive scholarship assistance.
House Bill 3537 and Senate Bill 1384, which proposed to increase the cap by $10 million on tax credit scholarships authorized by the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act, both stalled in committee.
Since 2011, hundreds of students have utilized tax credit scholarships to find a school that is right for them. Whether it’s joining a school that can help nurture a child with special needs, enrolling in a school that emphasizes a faith-based curriculum, or escaping an environment made dangerous by bullying, tax credit scholarships have given families with limited means the ability to provide the best education available for their children.
The popularity and success of this program has been so great that it reached its annual cap of $3.5 million and most recently used the capacity of the public school’s Education Improvement Granting Organizations (EIGO). Failure to expand the cap means that families in-need will be turned down for tax credit scholarships, some STEM-related opportunities are at-risk, and some students and public school teachers may have their current awards in danger of being revoked.
Robert Ruiz, president of ChoiceMatters, an Oklahoma-based organization that advocates for greater educational choice and opportunity, said the Legislature’s failure to act was disappointing and ultimately harmful to children who are already at-risk.
“Wealthy families have a tremendous amount of educational options available for their children,” said Ruiz. “If their child is being bullied or has a special need that their local public school cannot attend to, they can send their child to a private school. If their local public school is failing, they can move to a different neighborhood.
“Low-income families don’t have those same options,” said Ruiz. “Tax credit scholarships are a way of leveling the playing field to give all our kids a chance to succeed. It is a shame that legislators won’t act to help children and families of modest means get a good education.”
Ruiz said that this issue and the thousands of families it affects is not going away.
“We will be here next week, next month and next year to ask our lawmakers to do the right thing,” said Ruiz. “This is too important to children and families for us to simply walk away from this fight.”