10 questions every Oklahoman should be asking lawmakers about private school vouchers, tax credits

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• See the companion post:
Vouchers: Another Wrong Turn for Oklahoma Schools

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Leadership in the Oklahoma Legislature has competing bills this session that represent the most fundamental change to educational funding our state has seen in generations. The dueling proposals for private school vouchers — in the form of refundable tax credits — would divert hundreds of millions of dollars from Oklahoma public schools into the pockets of well-off Oklahomans who already have the means to send their children to private school. Further, it’s expected that it will reduce state aid for all schools due to declining student enrollment in public schools. 

At least that’s the best guess, because little information has been shared about the long-term impacts from these proposals. Fiscal impact analyses shared to date look only at how much it will cost during the first year, without mention of multi-year financial projections the impact on the health of our public schools and our communities. Also, there have been no interim studies or other comprehensive examinations of these proposals. 

As lawmakers are currently at an impasse about these proposals, this gives space for parents and Oklahomans who care about public education to ask candid questions of their lawmakers. Below are 10 questions we think lawmakers should be asked about these proposals. (And as with any math problem, lawmakers should be asked to show their work.) 

  1. What will this program be expected to cost three to five years from now? 
  2. How many students — and how much money in lost state aid — will my public school lose if the state subsidizes private schools and homeschooling for wealthy families? 
  3. Vouchers, in the form of tax credits, will likely cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. How will losing this revenue affect other key state services, such as education and law enforcement?
  4. Are there enough high-quality private schools in Oklahoma – especially in rural areas – to meet an increased demand for private K-12 schools? 
  5. How will the state ensure the quality of the private schools receiving tax dollars? How do we ensure another EPIC fiasco doesn’t happen? 
  6. How does this proposal help retain or increase high-quality teachers for my public schools in my community?
  7. How would a decrease in public school enrollment impact the ability for my child’s school to offer speciality classes or extracurricular activities?
  8. Private school tuition is expensive, typically thousands of dollars beyond the voucher amounts. How do these voucher programs make private school actually accessible for low-income families? 
    1. Have legislative staff performed a systematic review of the cost of K-12 private school tuition in Oklahoma?
    2. What controls will the program have to ensure private schools don’t just increase tuition by the same amount as the tax credit? 
  9. My child’s rural public school district is really small. Would losing even just a handful of students to private schools or homeschooling cause my school district to consolidate or close? 
  10. Private schools in Oklahoma are predominantly affiliated with churches. Should our tax dollars be used to support religious institutions, including some that might be very different from your own?

Oklahomans deserve accountability from their lawmakers — most particularly when lawmakers are proposing to redirect taxpayer dollars away from public schools and given to private institutions and individuals. By law, public schools are required to educate every child regardless of circumstances. Private schools are not held to the same standards, and they lack the accountability and oversight that our public schools are required to meet. 

Nine in 10 Oklahoma children attend public schools. Public schools are the heartbeat of cities around the state, especially in rural areas. Our local public schools educate our children, while also serving as community hubs and the sources of needed aid, most notably through food assistance when public school lunches may be the only regular meal some children get. 

Changes to funding our educational system — especially sweeping changes that could cascade negative fiscal impacts to other state agencies and programs — should be based on reliable data and should include input from Oklahoma parents and caregivers. 

Oklahoma parents and caregivers take their children’s education seriously. Our lawmakers should do the same.


Oklahoma Policy Insititute (OK Policy) advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans through non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy.

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