Proposals designed to create education savings accounts failed to advance in the Oklahoma Legislature this year, depriving thousands of Oklahoma families the right to choose the best educational option for their students.
ESAs are a critically needed refinement of the public education model. Instead of allocating taxpayer funding directly to school districts based on student counts and with little concern for school performance, ESAs enable funding to go directly to parents who are empowered to choose options — whether private schooling, individual public school courses, tutors or other options — that best match their children’s unique learning needs.
ESAs would strengthen Oklahoma’s commitment to the public financing of K-12 education by moving away from state-run schools as the sole provider of that education. ESAs give parents the power to customize the best possible education for their children by separating the financing of education from the delivery of services.
Had Oklahoma embraced ESAs this year, it would not have added a single penny to existing spending on K-12 education because the accounts are funded with money that would already have been spent on that child.
Roughly 88 percent of Oklahoma students could have utilized an ESA, including eligible kindergarteners, students with special needs currently or having ever participated in the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarship Program, students enrolled in a public school, new Oklahoma residents, or children of military families new to Oklahoma.
Children from low-income families would have received 90 percent of what the state would have been spent on them in the public school system, with those from families earning over the poverty line receiving lower per-pupil allocations.
Families would even be able to roll over unused funds from year-to-year and could save unused ESA funds for future education-related expenses such as college.
Although Oklahoma may have suffered an ESA setback, the fight is far from over. Many other states are considering ESAs, seeing them as one of the most promising ways forward for education choice. Here’s hoping the Sooner State soon follows.