Oklahoma figures prominently in national analyses touting “The Year of School Choice”
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Published: 02-Sep-2011

As the result of historic legislation enacted with bipartisan support in 2010 and 2011, recent national analysts point to Oklahoma as a national leader in the surge to school choice. The Wall Street Journal included the Sooner State in a commentary on “The Year of School Choice,” and Heritage Foundation analysts say Oklahoma is on the cutting edge of reform.

Meanwhile, the issue retains strength in the Sooner State. American for Prosperity’s Oklahoma director, Stuart Jolly, will take a leading part during National School Choice Week observances in January 2012, CapitolBeatOK has learned. 

To support its designation of 2011 as “The Year of School Choice,” The Wall Street Journal online analysis pointed to expanded school choice options in Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Utah, Maine, Tennessee, Indiana – and Oklahoma. 

While the Journal said the gains “are due in large part” to Republican legislative strength, the analysis said school choice has gained as well thanks to “growing recognition by many Democrats that the unions are a reactionary force that is denying opportunity to millions. The ultimate goal should be to let the money follow the children to whatever school their parents want them to attend.”

In most states where choice has advanced, Democrats have played an important role working in coalition for reformist Republicans, including in Oklahoma. Urban Democrats such as state Reps. Jabar Shumate of Tulsa and Rebecca Hamilton of Oklahoma City have supported recent legislation advanced by Republicans such as Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, and Sens. Dan Newberry of Tulsa and Patrick Anderson of Enid. 

Other Democrats, such as Oklahoma City’s Rep. Anastasia Pittman, have supported some school choice measures. 

A Heritage Foundation blog on August 29 pointed to the 18 states offering some form or forms of school choice to support its proposition that there is “More School Choice Than Ever.” 

Rachel Sheffield observed, “Another form of school choice that is gaining momentum every year is virtual schooling. Twenty-seven states operate state-led online schools, and 48 states plus D.C. provide some type of opportunity for online education. An estimated 1.5 million students are benefiting from these programs, which allow students flexibility in when and where they study and provide them the opportunity to learn at their own pace. For students in areas with limited resources, online learning can mean access to courses and teachers that might not otherwise be available.

“Charter schools are continuing to be a popular option for students as well. Forty states and Washington, D.C. have charter school laws, and charter schools now make up 5.4 percent of all public schools. Furthermore, the demand for charters is growing. Over 65 percent of schools report waiting lists (compared to 58 percent in 2008).

“Public school choice is also available in most states, either allowing students to transfer within districts, between districts or both. Currently, 46 states offer at least one of these options for public school choice.

“Additionally, homeschooling – legal in every state – is continuing to flourish. The latest numbers (from 2007) indicate that nearly 3 percent of all school-age children are taught at home. Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing education trends for K-12 students in the United States.”

Sheffield and Lindsey M. Burke featured Oklahoma successes in a Heritage Backgrounder dated August 17.
Their analysis praised the provision, in the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, of “up to 50 percent of the amount donated by individuals and businesses that contribute to scholarship-granting organizations. Students are eligible to receive scholarships of up to $5,000, or 80 percent, of the average per-pupil cost of the school district where they live.”

The application form for the Opportunity Scholarship is now available at the Oklahoma Department of Education website (http://www.tax.ok.gov/btforms.html). The scholarship-granting organization form is the second from the top (#80002, “Application as a Scholarship-Granting Organization, SGO). 

The first Oklahoma law allowing private school choice was enacted in 2010: “The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program provides scholarships in the amount of per-pupil state public education funding or the amount of tuition at the child’s chosen private school, whichever is less. In order to be eligible, students must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), as well as have attended an Oklahoma public school the previous year.”

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