Newberry’s scholarship measure clears Senate Committee

by Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 21-Feb-2011

Senate Bill 969, creating a tax credit scholarship program, passed the Oklahoma State Senate Education Committee on Monday (February 21), and is headed to the Senate Finance Committee floor for examination of fiscal issues.

If enacted, Senate Bill 969 by Senator Dan Newberry of Tulsa would allow tax credits of up to $1,000 a year for individuals and $2,000 a year for couples for contributions to eligible scholarship-granting organizations. Credits would also be available to businesses, with total value of the program limited to $10 million.

Families making up to 300 percent of the “free and reduced lunch” income standard would be eligible for tax credits scholarships. Special-needs children could access higher levels of funding. Only accredited schools and those conducting criminal background checks.

Scholarships could go to families making up to 300 percent of the income standard used for the free or reduced school lunch program. Higher grants for special-needs children would be allowed. Scholarships could only be used at accredited schools with accountability, and criminal background checks of teachers and staff.

The measure cleared the Senate panel 11-4, with Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre of Tulsa, a Democrat, joining in support. After the committee deliberations concluded, Newberry and Easton-McIntyre embraced to celebrate the measure’s journey onto the floor.

In an interview early this year for Perspective magazine, Sen. Newberry said:

Ronald Reagan said the scariest words in the American language are ‘we are from the government and we are here to help.’ Parents need to be able to choose which education facility will best meet the needs of their child, and we as a state should empower them to do so. Some may say that they already have that ability by deciding which school district they live in. However, for many parents it is not a choice, but economics that determine which district they live in.”

Newberry summarized his view of the matter in this way: “A government that limits a parent’s options is really determining what is best for that family. This ‘help’ really strikes at the essence of one’s civil liberties.”

Newberry commented, “There is no doubt that this will be a tough economic year for our state. We must be responsible in how we address the funding for a school choice program. We must equally be responsible to the children that need an education alternative.

“These are children who have no choice where they live, yet have to bear the socioeconomic conditions of that neighborhood. Creating true school choice eliminates the barrier that holds some of the children back and allows them to reach for the stars. Keeping that balance between the two should be our objective.”

Newberry has worked on he issue for years, and notes there is bipartisan support, especially in the state’s largest urban areas. He reflects:

“This bill has been through several legislative years and has grown its support in both rural and urban areas, as well as across party lines. Our members understand the importance education plays for the future prosperity of our citizens.

“This coalition is committed to accomplishing education reform that works and understands the true rewards this program will offer to families who have lost hope in so many ways. I am convinced that we will be successful in bringing this reform, considering all levels of our government understand its necessity.”

Moving to pass the bill was Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond. His motion was seconded by Sen. Gary Stanislawski of Tulsa.

In addition to Eason-McIntyre, the bill was supported by all Republicans on the panel, including Jolley, Stanislawski, Chairman John Ford of Bartlesville, and Senators Cliff Branan of Oklahoma City, Jim Halligan of Stillwater, David Holt of Oklahoma City, Jonathan Nichols of Norman, Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City, Josh Brecheen of Durant and Kim David of Wagoner.

Four Democrats opposed the bill, including Sens. Susan Paddack of Ada, John Sparks of Norman, Earl Garrison of Muskogee and Richard Lerblance of Hartshorne.