- The Oklahoma House and Senate each have passed school choice legislation establishing a tax credit to fund students outside of the public school system, however one bill has an eligibility cap based on household income.
- Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt called for the two chambers to compromise on the legislation in an effort to enact school choice in the state.
- “We were really close,” Stitt told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “A bill came out of the House and passed. A bill came out of the Senate passed but they are a little bit different. So now they’re kind of driven to the corners and I’m trying to bring them back together and to try to fix this and to get something really neat across the finish line.”
Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt touted school choice legislation on Monday as the state legislature continues to debate its individual education plans.
In the 2023 legislative session, the Oklahoma House and Senate passed differentiating school choice legislations to establish a tax credit to fund students outside the public school system, though the higher chamber’s bill puts a household income cap of $250,000 on the initiative, according to KFOR News. While the chambers continue to debate, Stitt, though in favor of no eligibility cap, called for a compromise to get the school choice legislation “across the finish line,” he told the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: North Dakota Legislature Approves Bill That Would Create The State’s First School Choice Program)
“We were really close,” Stitt told the DCNF. “A bill came out of the House and passed. A bill came out of the Senate and passed but they are a little bit different. So now they’re kind of driven to the corners and I’m trying to bring them back together to try to fix this and to get something really neat across the finish line.”
Rather than a voucher program, as seen in Arizona or Florida, where funds go into a separate account directly from the state, the mechanism behind the state House’s “Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act” is a tax credit of $5,000 per child which is refundable and involves a third party, which is most likely the school. The House’s legislation has no household income tax making anyone eligible for the credit and is tied to a $2,500 raise for public school teachers as well as an additional $500 million in funding for public schools.
The state Senate bill offers a tax credit of $7,000 for private school students and a $1,000 tax credit for homeschool families who have a household income of $250,000 or less.
“I prefer no cap because we want to make sure that kids can go wherever they want,” Stitt told the DCNF. “They pay property taxes and we are going to fund the student. We don’t want to penalize them because they have rich or poor parents. What we’ll probably do is just say we’re gonna prioritize under $250,000, what the senate has, or we’ll prioritize people below some level, and then after that we’ll say everybody can qualify for [the tax credit.]”
State Democrats have voiced their opposition to the legislation, arguing that it takes funding away from public schools, according to an Oklahoma Senate press release.
“The Republicans continue to expand vouchers at an alarming rate, which promotes competition by excluding students with higher needs and leaves behind our most vulnerable,” Democratic state Sen. Carri Hicks said in a press release. “Approximately 90% of Oklahoma families choose their local public schools. Public funding belongs in public schools.”
Lawmakers throughout the country are pushing for school choice legislation; Arkansas will have a universal school choice program by the 2025-2026 school year under a piece of legislation Gov. Sarah Sanders signed into law in March. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law in the same month making the state’s school choice program universal.
“School choice should not be just for the rich or for those who can afford it,” Stitt told the DCNF. “It should be for every single person. Just because you live in a certain zip code, if your kid is not thriving there, why is the government holding you saying no you gotta go to those certain schools? Maybe [we need] even more funding to solve that problem. I want to lock that in and give parents and schools more options.”
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