TCS also benefits donors
For the Sooner Catholic
It’s no secret that our public education system in Oklahoma is broken as we are consistently ranked in the lowest tier among the 50 states. Catholic schools exist both to address that problem and to provide higher quality private education with critical formation in our Catholic faith. So, how can we sustain this important apostolate?
Roughly a decade ago, the Oklahoma Legislature created a solution – the Tax Credit Scholarship. With the TCS program, donors can give to a private scholarship fund and receive a state income tax credit as high as 75 percent. These private donations to the Tax Credit Scholarship are disbursed to participating private schools in the form of individual student scholarships.
The benefit of the program is two-fold. First, deserving children, oftentimes stuck in D- and F-rated public schools are given a chance to succeed in a private school of their parents’ choosing.
Second, the scholarship funds help make Catholic schools more affordable and stable, reducing the chance of closure.
There’s just one problem: the legislature has capped at $5 million the total annual amount the scholarship program can receive and still provide the full tax credit to donors. This is despite the amount of donations to the scholarship fund surpassing the cap every year. What does that mean? It means all of the private donations above the cap are blocked – denying scholarships to needy students and their families.
This year the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma is working diligently as a member of the Education Choice Coalition to advance an important measure, Senate Bill 407, that promises to increase that cap to $30 million. For comparison, similar programs in other states boast caps far larger with Florida’s cap topping the list at nearly $1 billion.
The potential opportunities of such an increase are obvious. Hundreds of additional children across the state – underprivileged, bullied or physically impaired – will have access to scholarships for quality education.
This opportunity will not be realized, however, without a fight. Special interests opposed to school choice have allied to block SB407, and critical votes needed to pass this important reform hang in the balance. The 2020 legislative began a few weeks ago, and pieces on the political chessboard are in play both for and against SB407.
Catholic social teaching demands we advocate for and defend human flourishing in all its various aspects. This necessarily includes pushing for new opportunities with which children in our state can avail themselves of quality education.
What is left unanswered is whether and how many parents, teachers, pastors and concerned laypeople in our Catholic pews recognize this critical juncture in which we find ourselves.
I call on fellow parishioners to join in asking our state’s leaders to do what is right on behalf of our children. Quality education for hundreds of deserving Oklahoma children depends on what we do in the coming weeks.
Brett Farley is the director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma.