Foster children to benefit from Oklahoma school choice law

More children will have access to state-funded school choice programs thanks to two bills passed by the Oklahoma Legislature this year. The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, released the following statement today.

Statement from Tommy Schultz, National Communications Director of the American Federation for Children:

“The momentum for school choice continues to grow in Oklahoma. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Fallin, House Floor Leader Jon Echols, and Senator A.J. Griffin, some of Oklahoma’s neediest children will have access to a broader array of educational options, and more families will be financially able to serve as foster or adoptive parents while providing the best life possible for previously abused and neglected children.

“Representative Echols and Senator Griffin have been true champions for children in Oklahoma. Their work this year will help many previously abused children begin a new life with a new family while enjoying the best educational options available. This law involves a truly life-changing, generational promise that will benefit all Oklahomans for decades to come. The lawmakers who championed this bill have clearly demonstrated the kind of forward-thinking, visionary leadership voters want from their political leaders.”

Senate Bill 301 expands the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program, which provides recipients a share of a child’s per-pupil allotment to pay for educational services, including private school tuition.

Initially, only children with special needs who were on an “individual education plan” (IEP) in public school could apply for scholarships through the program. SB 301 expanded the program to also include children in foster care or children adopted out of state custody.

Also, to be eligible for a Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship, a child was previously required to have spent the prior year in the public school system. Given the often harsh and disruptive backgrounds of many children taken into state custody, SB 301 exempts foster and adoptive children from that requirement. The bill also exempts those children from having to obtain an individual education plan (IEP) from a public school in order to qualify for the scholarship.

Based on a child’s individual needs, the scholarships can range from $4,000 to $10,000 apiece.

SB 301 passed unanimously in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 12.

Both SB 301 was authored by Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie.

Another measure, Senate Bill 445, increases the cap on credits provided through the “Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act.” Under that law, those who donate money to scholarship-granting organizations receive a tax credit equal to a portion of their donation.

“Thanks to the scholarship act, there’s greater incentive for people to donate private funds to help low-income Oklahoma students attend quality schools. SB 445 boosts the incentive for private donations, and could lead to even greater giving to needy children,” said Schultz “By shepherding this bill into law, Senator Joe Newhouse and Representative Kevin Calvey have given untold numbers of children a brighter future.”