Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tax-credit scholarship program saves Florida millions of dollars each year

There were two excellent letters to the editor in The Oklahoman on Sunday defending Oklahoma's tax-credit scholarship program. One was from Charlie Daniels of Bartlesville, and the other was from Patrick Gibbons of St. Petersburg, Florida. Gibbons, a 2006 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, is the public affairs manager of Step Up For Students, a scholarship-granting organization in Florida. He writes:
Regarding “Private school scholarship tax credit gets scrutiny” (News, Dec. 4): Katherine Bishop's criticism that Oklahoma can't afford the $2.5 million Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship doesn't square with findings from the nation's largest scholarship program. Florida offers a more generous scholarship with a 100 percent tax credit for donors and a scholarship worth up to $5,886. Step Up For Students (my employer) raised more than $550 million this year alone to fund nearly 96,000 scholarships for low-income students. Even with the higher scholarships and tax credit percentage, eight reports in the past 15 years (including reports from the state legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability and Florida's Revenue Estimating Conference) have all concluded that Florida's program saves the state millions of dollars each year. The reason is simple: The revenue lost through tax credits is made up by eliminating the expenditure to fund the student's (now empty) seat at a more expensive public school. 
If Florida's experience is any indication, Oklahoma could actually afford an expanded program with larger scholarships and more generous tax credits for donors. Public schools and taxpayers would benefit from the savings, while low-income parents throughout the state would benefit from more educational opportunities for their children.

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