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A fast-tracked legislative proposal to give families tax credits to offset private school tuition or home-school expenses was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

A companion bill would raise teacher salaries by $2,500 and send an additional $300 million to public schools. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, says the plan would benefit students in rural and urban areas alike.

National school-choice groups like the American Federation for Children, founded by Betsy DeVos, and the Koch brothers’ Yes. Every Kid praised the tax credit legislation.

The tax credits could cost the state $300 million in lost revenue if every student currently attending private school or being home-schooled applies. There’s no income cap, so even the wealthiest families could apply.

Critics say it creates a two-tier school system, with the private side lacking accountability and oversight of public tax dollars. Millions of public dollars have been misused in school choice programs in recent years — a point made by Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, in her argument against the bill.

“We are still reeling from the lack of transparency and oversight… from the Epic and ClassWallet scandals,” Provenzano said.

If passed into law, the proposal would:

• Give a tax credit of up to $5,000 a year per child for private school tuition and $2,500 for homeschooled students;

• Be refundable, and taxpayers could even ask to advance the funds from the Oklahoma Tax Commission;

• Ask families to keep receipts for eligible purchases, which could include tuition and fees at a private or online school, tutoring, textbooks and curriculum, college admission exam fees, and concurrent college courses;

• Allow parents to receive both the tax credit and the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for their student.

If funds are misspent, or the student returns to public school, the state's recourse would be to attempt to recoup the funds through their future tax liability.

The proposal does have a provision to protect school funding at current levels by suspending the tax credits if the state ever reduces its education appropriation.

House Bill 1935, the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, passed 75 to 25. Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposition. The bill now moves to the Senate, where a private school voucher plan narrowly failed to pass last year.

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Recommended Reading

  • A Republican state lawmaker wants to block the state superintendent from creating new accreditation rules without the Legislature's approval. [Tulsa World]
  • A group of conservative mothers in Georgia won a key court victory against a school district that limited their ability to speak at public meetings. [ProPublica]
  • I sat down with State Impact to recap the state's handling of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

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