For Immediate Release: May 30, 2017
Educational Opportunities and Scholarships Expanded for Foster Care and Low Income Children
Parent Advocates Celebrate Policy Victories for School Choice
With the 2017 legislative session having come to a close, groups working to increase educational options for Oklahoma students are celebrating significant policy victories. Robert Ruiz, President of ChoiceMatters for Kids, says that despite a difficult budget year marked by partisan gridlock, legislators managed to work together on two key bills that will increase resources for the education of low income children and children in state custody.
Ruiz said that over 1000 parents worked with ChoiceMatters for Kids to send over 15,000 emails, letters or phone calls to the State Capitol on behalf of those bills and other school choice policies.
Senate Bill 301 expands the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarship program. Currently, LNH scholarships are available to children with special needs, helping their families to cover the cost of private school tuition. SB 301 expands that eligibility to children in foster care and children adopted out of the foster system. It is the largest expansion of the program since its creation in 2010.
“LNH scholarships have already been used by thousands of parents to find schools that are the right fit for their children with special needs,” said Ruiz. “Legislation passed this year will extend that opportunity to foster families and children who may have been the victims of abuse or neglect. These are children who may have needs that their local public school can’t address. Lawmakers absolutely did the right thing by increasing the educational resources available to them.”
Ruiz said the bill also removes barriers to adoption or foster care for guardians interested in private school.
“I have heard directly from adults who want to foster or adopt but are worried about their local school’s ability to care for a vulnerable child in a new home,” said Ruiz. “This bill gives them the means to find the right school for a child who might be facing difficult circumstances.”
SB 301, authored by Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, passed unanimously in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 12.
A second measure, Senate Bill 445, increases the cap on tax credits provided through the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act. The bill supports incentives for Oklahomans to donate to scholarship funds that support children in low income households.
“If you want to help lift children out of poverty, one of the best ways to do it is to support a top-tier education for them,” said Ruiz. “We should absolutely be encouraging taxpayers to support their fellow Oklahomans in this way, and SB 445 does that.”
SB 445 was signed by Gov. Fallin on May 16, and authored by Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Tulsa, Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, and Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City.
Ruiz said the two bills passed this year show that momentum continues to build for supporters of school choice, which includes everything from pro-charter school policies to universal Education Savings Accounts that give parents control over a portion of their children’s education tax dollars.
“Oklahomans understand that, ultimately, this is about recognizing the right of parents to have control over their child’s education and giving them as many tools and options as possible to find the best fit,” said Ruiz. “We don’t believe any child should be trapped in a failing school or a school that isn’t right for them. Parents are reaching out to deliver that message to legislators every day, and they are listening with a sympathetic ear – because they are parents, too.”
About ChoiceMatters for Kids
ChoiceMatters for Kids advocates for policies that help ensure parents have a rich education choice environment of high quality school options that connects their child to the school that best meets their needs.
The work to improve education in Oklahoma will not be complete until every child is attending a school that prepares them to be successful in life. No child should be trapped in a failing school.