Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Improving families’ lives for generations

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

A quality education opens the door to a better life, but especially for those whose current circumstances are mired in challenges few of us can comprehend. That’s why Oklahomans should praise lawmakers who voted to increase school-choice opportunities this year.

The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program provides tax credits for private donations to scholarship-granting organizations. It was limited to just $3.5 million in tax credits; now the program is expanding to up to $25 million in tax credits each year. This will be life-changing for thousands and thousands of more children.

The success stories are already innumerable.

Gina endured years of horrific abuse from her biological father and in a state foster home. When she entered sixth grade she was reading at a first-grade level.

Fortunately, Gina eventually found a loving adoptive mother. She also found academic success through the tax-credit scholarship program, which allowed her to attend a private religious school where she made huge academic strides and college became a possibility.

Gina’s story is not unique. Other scholarship beneficiaries include homeless children, those recovering from addiction, those otherwise trapped in failing schools, and more.

The tax-credit scholarship program has aided students attending Hope Harbor Academy near Claremore. On a measurement of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that uses a 1-10 ranking, Hope Harbor students have an average 6.8 ACEs score. Having four or more ACEs is associated with an increase in depression, suicide attempts, and a decrease in work performance, academic achievement, and health-related quality of life. Having six or more ACEs is associated with a 20-year decrease in life expectancy.

Put simply, school choice can be a literal matter of life and death.

Some supporters know this firsthand. Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, recalled three childhood friends during legislative debate. All four boys came from a similar background—low-income, minority families, geographically designated to attend a “dropout factory” public school. Two boys were dead by age 20; the third was in prison by 24. Only Martinez achieved adult success—which he attributed to his parents working multiple jobs to pay for private school.

Martinez said he thinks of those friends and wonders “what would have happened to their life if they would have had an opportunity like I did? Could they have gone to college? Could they have been meaningful members of society that had a chance to succeed? I think that they could have. And if this bill helps one kid, I’m in.”

Decades from now, when today’s children are adults, thousands will have achieved great things. And many will owe a large part of that success to lawmakers’ voting to increase school choice.

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