On Wednesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed the "Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act," a first-of-its-kind tax credit-based school choice program.
Conventional school choice initiatives, such as the programs implemented in Arizona and Floria, entail a voucher program. Parents who wish to homeschool or move their children to a private school receive a voucher from the state for the amount that would have been provided to the public school.
Unlike the typical school voucher program, Oklahoma's new bill would provide a $5,000-per-student tax credit to parents who send their child to a private school and a $2,500-per-student tax credit to parents who opt to homeschool their child. The tax credit could be used on education materials, tutoring, and college admissions test fees.
"What we did was we give a $5,000 tax credit, but it's refundable," Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
"In other words, you can get $5,000 to move and go to a school of your choice," Stitt continued. "That's the great thing about it is now we're funding students, not necessarily the system or the zip code where you happen to live. It's gonna allow you to be more flexible with where the kids go and have the dollars follow the kid whether it's to a private school, another public school, it doesn't really matter. That's the exciting thing about it and there's no income limits to it."
Families who cannot afford the $5,000 up front can still participate in the program. Stitt explained that those families would be provided the credit from the Oklahoma Tax Commission in advance.
In addition to the tax credit program, the bill would increase public school funding by an additional $500 million and provide a $2,500 pay raise to public school teachers. The legislation will be brought to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass.
A critic of the school choice bill, state Representative Mickey Dollens (D), argued that the tax credit measure would be a "coupon for the rich."
State Representative Trish Ranson (D) opposed the legislation for different reasons, claiming that the credit would benefit those with limited tax liability.
"We're talking about a tax credit that taxpayers can apply for on their taxes," Ranson said. "If they do not owe the amount of money in taxes that meets the credit that they are eligible for, then they don't have to pay taxes and they get a check. That check is not their money. It's not a refund. It's not taxes that they paid. It's mine. It's yours. It's everyone in the state of Oklahoma's taxes that have been paid."
According to Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Charles McCall (R), who authored the legislation, the bill ensures that the state would not be involved in the transaction.
"We're utilizing a tax credit measure to keep the transaction strictly between the students, parent and/or guardian, and the school, where the state is completely disconnected from money, from influence over the school and the parent in any way," McCall explained.
"We believe that approach best preserves the integrity of private education and the ultimate parent's choice of how they want to educate the child if they choose something other than public education," he added.
In addition to advancing school choice, the legislation will help to combat controversial curriculum, including critical race theory and gender identity, McCall told the DCNF.
"This empowers parents to get their child into a different environment if that is happening in a school district or within a classroom," McCall stated. "That's very much one of the underlying issues. We need to make sure parents have all choices and options at their disposal."
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