Oklahoma Bill Champions K-12 ESAs

Published February 13, 2015

For the second year in a row, legislators in Oklahoma are seeking to implement education savings accounts within the state. If passed, the bill will allow resident parents or legal guardians of eligible Oklahoma children access to state-apportioned education dollars. The State Treasurer would deposit the monies into newly established ESAs for parents to pay for their children’s enrollment in virtual or private schools.

Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) introduced and sponsored Oklahoma House Bill 2003 on Jan. 20, 2015 long with 14 other legislators including Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond). Nelson introduced the bill in 2014, which is similar to HB 3398.

Although HB 3398 died in committee last year, Nelson says HB 2003 stands a better chance because of a new crop of freshman legislators elected last November. He said the newly elected legislators are more inclined to favor school choice, and work together for school reform. “It’s the same bill but it’s a different climate,” Nelson said, adding HB 2003 reflects several “technical adjustments” not included in the 2014 version. “Structurally, it’s the same bill,” he said.

Empowering Parents’ Educational Decisions

The Oklahoma Education Savings Account Act builds on two recent developments in funding of public education in the state. The first was a 2010 state program to provide vouchers to special-needs children. The second – instituted in 2011 – is a scholarship program for students from low-income households.

The bills states: “The purpose of the Oklahoma Education Savings Account Act is to provide additional educational options to parents for the education of students in this state, by creating education accounts for individual students empowering parents to make educational decisions for their children.”

Nelson said Arizona’s successful ESA program served as a basis for developing HB 2003. If enacted, the ESAs would begin for the 2015 to 2016 school year. He stressed HB 2003 wasn’t drafted to penalize the public school system in Oklahoma, but reflects the results of a January 2014 Friedman Foundation study, which concluded a majority of Oklahomans favored tax-credit scholarships.

Teacher unions in the state have attacked HB 2003 calling it yet another voucher program – a charge Nelson doesn’t entirely disagree with. “If passed, we’ll provide a wider array of options other than what people perceive as traditional vouchers,” he said. “What we’re talking about isn’t revolutionary. Oklahoma already offers similar programs for Medicaid, food stamps and higher education tuition assistance. The only place we don’t do this is for kids between the ages of five and 18.”

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.

Image by Tracy O.

Learn More

“Oklahoma House Bill 2003,” Rep. Jason Nelson, et. al., Jan. 22, 2015: http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=HB2003&Tab=0

“Oklahoma May Become Second State to Offer Education Savings Accounts,” Kathlyn Shirley, The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News, Jan. 30, 2014: http://news.heartland.org/print/144257

“Oklahoma K-12 and School Choice Survey,” Friedman Foundation and Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, January 2014: http://www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/Oklahoma-K-12-and-School-Choice-Survey.aspx