Sunday, May 1, 2011

Opportunity scholarships to help low-income families and rural schools

"Choice matters in education," state Superintendent Janet Barresi writes in her weekly column. "Without it, Oklahoma is merely tinkering around the edges of true education reform."
When families find their children stuck in failing schools, shouldn’t they have a choice? Of course. Educational choice spurs competition, and competition spurs excellence.

This week we moved closer to offering parents educational choice with a key plank in our 3R Agenda to rethink, restructure and reform Oklahoma’s education system. On April 26, the Oklahoma House passed Senate Bill 969, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, by a vote of 64 to 33. The bill now goes to the State Senate for final passage before heading to the governor.

This landmark reform helps underprivileged children in low-income families out of desperate circumstances. And it will also benefit new programs in public schools.

I thought State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, expressed it well when she spoke in favor SB 969. She talked about the difficult situations she has seen in schools in her district.
"I represent children … who go to schools that are essentially factories," Hamilton said. "Those schools not only do not provide them with the kind of education they need to have a future, they destroy their souls while they are at it." ...

The bill would offer a 50 percent state income tax credit for businesses and individuals contributing to scholarship-granting organizations.

Those organizations would then provide tuition scholarships to children in low-income families or for parents of children in failing schools. The funds that come from the tax credits would also be used to finance grants for new programs in rural public schools.

One such program has been operating successfully in Pennsylvania for years, and there are 15 other states with similar offerings. It’s time for Oklahoma to join in this reform movement.

Senate Bill 969 is no silver bullet to solve all of the educational challenges we face in Oklahoma. But it is a good place to start, and it is a win-win reform — taxpayers win, families win, schools win. Most of all, children win. With this reform we can give low-income families better options and help rural schools at the same time.

Let’s empower parents so they can make the best decisions about their child's needs without being limited by income or a zip code.

No comments: