Friday, January 14, 2011

ALEC highlights Oklahoma's success

"Oklahoma's children with special needs now have the chance for a better education -- an education chosen by their parents, not one mandated by government bureaucrats," Leslie Hiner writes ("Oklahoma Schools Other States") in Inside ALEC, a publication of the American Legislative Exchange Council. After quoting a famous line from our state song, Hiner continues:
To be sure, Oklahoma is doing better than okay. House Bill 3393, which will provide school-choice scholarships to students with special needs, passed both the state's legislative chambers after receiving bipartisan approval in the House and more narrow support in the Senate. On June 8, Gov. Brad Henry (D) signed the program into law, making it the country’s first private school choice program enacted in 2010.

The House measure -- named the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act after Gov. Henry’s infant daughter who died of Werdnig-Hoffman Disease -- redirects dollars spent on a participating child at his current public school to a public or private school of his family’s choice. Five percent of the funding amount will be retained by the child’s school district for administrative purposes.

Specifically, the scholarship amount is equal to the state and local dollars that would have been spent to educate the child in his public school or the amount of private school tuition, whichever is less. After a child receives a scholarship, he would continue to receive it each year through high school graduation. The program is a win-win for students, parents, taxpayers, and schools.

After all, scholarships allow participating students to enroll in private schools that better meet their unique needs. For those families that are happy with their children's progress in public schools, chances are they will keep their children in their current school. As with similar programs across the country, this is a choice -- not an order.

The program's fiscal effects reveal further benefits: Public schools will lose the liability of being sued by parents who want to remove their child with special needs from public school. In addition, there are no residual financial obligations by the public school if one or more of its students depart using a scholarship. If families are planning to remove their child, they must give the school 60-days notice.

Best of all, Oklahoma’s proposal is fiscally neutral, and may even provide cost savings to taxpayers. Remember, scholarships are worth either the state and local dollars currently spent on a child with special needs or the cost of private school tuition, whichever is less. In good economic times or bad, school choice eases the burden on state taxpayers.

Opponents of such programs claim private schools don’t ensure children are being protected and achieving academic success. Not true. First, the ultimate accountability agent is a student’s parent(s). Second, private schools participating under this program must be accredited, approved by the state board of education, fiscally sound, and must provide accountability information to parents regarding the child’s academic progress.

And as for the program's effects on public education, no credible study has ever found such programs harm public schools, according to The Foundation for Educational Choice.

"Oklahoma -- where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain," and where school choice history in 2010 was made.

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