Oklahoma Considering Bill Establishing Statewide ESA Program

Published March 7, 2016

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a bill that would establish a statewide educational savings account program that allows a portion of the money otherwise directed to government schools to follow children for education in private or charter schools or for purchasing homeschooling educational materials.

House Bill 2949 was proposed by state Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) in February and approved by the state House Committee on Common Education.

Public Education vs. Educated Public

Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, says taxpayer money spent on education belongs to taxpayers and their children, not government schools.

“To say that [education savings accounts] will take money away from the [government-operated] schools implies that the money belongs to schools in the first place,” Dutcher said. “It does not. The end goal of public education is an educated public. It doesn’t matter whether that education takes place in a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school, a virtual school, or wherever. Traditional public schools have no automatic claim on the money. Policymakers should fund the students, not a bureaucratic system.”

Dutcher says education savings accounts (ESAs) improve the fiscal situation of government schools.

“ESAs will cause per-pupil funding in traditional public school [systems] to increase,” Dutcher said. “When a child leaves with an ESA, he only takes a portion of his per-pupil funding with him. The school district gets to keep the rest of the money, to educate a child who is no longer there. Thus, ESAs relieve overcrowding and increase per-pupil funding.”

Empowering Parents

Renee Porter, executive director of Choice Matters, a nonprofit organization established to inform Oklahoma parents of the educational choices available in the state, says ESAs give children access to educational experiences tailored to their individual needs.

“ESAs are about empowering parents and improving the range of educational options for children,” Porter said. “All children are different and learn differently. Some children have disabilities that require special attention. Other children are so advanced that their time in the classroom isn’t really benefitting them. It’s unrealistic, and quite frankly unfair, to expect every public school to provide for the exact needs of every student. That’s why it’s important to give parents options like charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools.” 

Empowering Children

Porter says helping all children reach their potential by allowing greater access to high-quality education helps everyone.

“I don’t believe in telling low-income families there is nothing we can do to help them,” Porter said. “A lot of the children who stand to gain the most from ESAs are in desperate financial circumstances. ESAs could change the entire trajectory of their lives in a positive fashion.”

Leo Pusateri ([email protected]) writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.