Fed Funds to Private Schools?
A proposal by the governor that federal education aid funds be used to establish private school scholarships has been opposed by the state’s superintendent of public instruction.
State Supt. Joy Hofmeister voiced opposition to the suggestion by Gov. Keith Stitt along with other public school advocates.
“We do not support that idea,” Supt. Hofmeister said in a statement Monday. “We have been in early conversations with the governor’s office about suggestions for the use of his discretionary CARES Act education funds and will formalize a proposal to Gov. Stitt in the coming days.
“Our proposal will focus on meeting the immediate needs of public school students whose education has been most significantly impacted by COVID-19.”
Almost simultaneously, the Oklahoma Board of Equalization announced a state revenue failure during its Monday meeting.
The state government is expecting a shortfall of $416 million in this fiscal year and a revenue decrease of $1.37 billion in the next fiscal year.
The governor received nearly $40 million in an emergency block grant from the federal Department of Education to support student and school needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funds come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.
On Monday, officials said Monday that 2,680 Oklahomans have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
That’s up 81 from the previous day.
Three more deaths from the disease were reported in Oklahoma, bringing the death total to 143.
The CARES Act provided an additional $160 million to the state Department of Education to help public school districts.
The governor said Friday he is considering using the $40 million grant to support the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Program, a tax credit that raises money for scholarships to private schools.
“We’re looking at equal opportunity scholarship funds to be able to backfill some of those,” Gov. Stitt said.
“So, just got a lot of things on the table and we’ll be in concert with the education community to figure out how to get those best on-target to help the kids in the state.”
The program gives tax credits to individuals and companies who donate money for private-school scholarships.
The state can grant a total of $5 million in tax credits for the program.
The governor also proposed using federal aid to expand Advanced Placement programs into rural schools.
A spokesman for the governor said officials are still early in the conversation and “many projects are being considered.”
The federal education department allowed governors to give funds to private schools from the emergency block grants. Despite that, some have opposed Gov. Stitt’s idea of financing the private-school voucher program with federal relief funds.
Technology and Internet connections are more pressing needs for students and teachers working from home during the pandemic, said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
“Putting money into voucher schemes that benefit very few when we have real emergencies that affect 90-plus percent of our student population … is absolutely a frustration and causes concern,” she said.
“When we are educating 90 percent or more of Oklahoma’s children, the funding needs are so great.”
About 96 percent of Oklahoma students attend public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Students who receive scholarships from the tax-credit program deserve support, said Robert Ruiz, a school choice advocate and executive director of ChoiceMatters in Oklahoma City.
Low-income families who rely on scholarships are facing greater economic hardship during this crisis, he said.
“There are kids who are going to school in all kinds of situations,” Mr. Ruiz added.
“Just because they decided to do something different doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy of help.”
Some are unsure how the governor could use state funds to support a tax-credit program.
“I was surprised due to the fact that those scholarships aren’t actually state-appropriated dollars,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“I have a difficult time connecting the dots to how federal dollars could be used to incentivize tax credits for local individuals and corporations.”