Let me count the ways: Public money flowing to private schools

OKLAHOMA CITY – Over many years of reporting and commentary, I have noted and detailed the ways in which public dollars flow to private schools all the time. With the fate of Oklahoma’s historic Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program hanging in the balance, now is a good time to adapt and update some of my past reporting on just how widespread the practice is.

Here are some examples to start that process:
1.    News stories about Oklahoma’s pre-kindergarten (four-year-old) education programs casually incorporate by reference “free” (tax-financed) pre-K services, including at church-affiliated or other private providers receiving public support.

2.    The ubiquitous federal Title I program provides remedial services to elementary children in high-poverty areas where schools are failing (or are at risk) to meet core achievements. Public school officials are directed to consult with private schools on delivery of services.

3.    Private schools utilize Title I services. Funding is driven by the “proportion of private school children from low-income families residing in participating public school attendance areas.” The law requires equitable, not lesser, services for private school students. The second Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act established provisions for “supplemental services” to children, provided by a public or a private entity. Students enrolled at failing public schools can receive extra help – tutoring, computer-assisted education, and similar things – outside the normal school day. Parents can pick from a state list, and districts pay providers directly.

4.    In many districts, tax funds are used to pay private vendors who provide online courses, often for students failing in traditional classrooms. Privately run online work has become common for children who need alternative instructional approaches.

5.    As school populations fluctuate, sites no longer needed are leased (and occasionally sold) to private businesses or institutions.

6.    Pell Grants are the best-known federal program supporting students based on economic status, with outright grants through public or private schools. College students can get $4,000 or more a year and never have to pay it back. Some use Pell Grants at a public institution and later at private schools, and vice versa. This has empowered millions of lower-income Americans.

7.    Stafford Loans allow lower- or middle-income students to access below-market interest rates, with no repayment until completion. The program works directly with private alternatives.

8.    The Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant (OTEG) program provides grants of up to $2,000 a year to residents who choose to attend private not-for-profit colleges, often church-affiliated.

9.    The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) assists students who complete core requirements. Also known as “Oklahoma’s Promise,” OHLAP is available for students in public or private (including religiously-affiliated) universities and at career tech centers working with public two-year institutions.
Other examples of tax dollars financing private delivery of desirable services across all age levels include but are not limited to Head Start, child care assistance, and public-school food, custodial, maintenance, transportation, and security services.

Bottom line: Every day millions of public education dollars flow to private vendors or entities.

(Pat McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK.com, and publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper. This post is adapted from a recent essay for ‘Choice Remarks’ at the School Choice Blogspot: