Parental choice bill goes to Oklahoma Senate

(The Center Square) – A bill that would provide a tax credit for parents who choose alternatives to public school for their child’s education is moving to the Oklahoma Senate.

House Bill 1935 would create the Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, providing an income tax credit of up to $5,000 per student per year attending private school and $2,500 per year for students educated by other means, like home-schooling.

Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, said the anticipated cost is $300 million.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said he was pleased the House of Representatives approved the bill Wednesday.

“After many conversations with parents, students, teachers, and legislators, I am emboldened by the prospect of delivering real education reform through the Parental Choice Act,” he said. “By providing families with the option of a 100% refundable tax credit of up to $5,000 per child, we are building a foundation for funding students, not systems, in the state of Oklahoma.”

The bill passed by a 75-25 vote after close to two hours of questions and debate. Reservations against the bill included a lack of provisions for students with disabilities. Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, asked if the bill would disproportionately affect minority students.

“Our philosophy is that it’s the taxpayers’ money, and they have control in how much the government takes by using this tax credit,” replied Baker.

Several opposed to the bill called it a “voucher scheme.”

“We are told that it’s not a voucher because it’s not money that is coming out of the Department of Ed’s appropriation. However, it’s $300 million that will not be appropriated to public ed,” said Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater. “We can do so much better. We have money that we can put forward to public education. We have money that can go to our core services. We can reinvest in our state where every single citizen of the state wins. Instead, we reward the people who have already made the choice for private school. It’s not an incentive. It’s only funded for the current population.”

Baker said the Tax Commission projected the cost to cover the current private and home-schooled population is $274 million, which means the $300 million provided in the bill would leave room for additional funding if more parents decided to take advantage of the tax credit.

Proponents also pushed back against the idea of it being a voucher scheme.

“This is not a voucher because at the end of the day, it’s a tax credit,” said Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton, who voted in favor of the bill. “The money is not being withdrawn from the public education money bucket.”

The bill states those applying for the tax credit must retain all receipts of qualified expenses as proof of amounts paid.

“What we’re doing now is saying the quiet part out loud,” said Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who voted for the bill. “Some of us just don’t trust the parents. It was even argued today that we need more wellness checks for parents who home-school.” He later added, “Parents, I don’t think you abuse your kids and I don’t think your kids belong to the state of Oklahoma. I think your kids belong to you.”

This article First appeared in the center square

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