By Jay Chilton, CIJ
OKLAHOMA CITY – When supporters of State Question 779 gathered at the state Capitol on June 24 to promote passage of the ballot initiative, commonly known as the Boren penny tax, one parent lamented her financial inability to send her children and grandchildren to private school.
Oklahoma City resident Anna King addressed the reporters gathered for the press conference saying that the reason she supports SQ 779 is, “for these babies standing behind us, and these teachers standing behind us,” as she gestured toward the gathered supporters.
King continued to say that the babies and teachers she referred to are, “our future,” and are, “leaving us.”
However, in her prefacing comments, King said that she and her husband had done the best they could for her son who will be a freshman at Douglass High School and her grandchildren who will be attending kindergarten and pre-k in OKCPS. She said that she was not wealthy and had provided for her children through public education.
“I’m not one of the wealthiest people in Oklahoma,” she said. “I’m a parent. My husband and I have done the best that we can through public education.
“We don’t have money to put our kids in private education.”
Her statement seemed incongruous with her stated devotion to, “public education,” by which, she appeared to refer to conventional, state-operated, neighborhood schools.
But it also implied a common belief that privately-operated schools are often superior to traditional state-operated schools and would be preferable if she could only afford the tuition. Her statement also implied that, “private education,” was financially unattainable for all but, “the wealthiest people in Oklahoma.”
While statistics show that it is true, many privately-operated schools are often superior in many respects to state-operated schools, many of the schools offering the private education she would prefer for her children can be more affordable than commonly believed.
According to John Lepine, policy research fellow for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the average privately-operated elementary school tuition in Oklahoma is $4,683. Average high school tuition is near $7,000. Some schools charge more, others charge much less. However, Oklahoma’s much maligned per-pupil spending is $9,724.
Education Savings Accounts have been introduced into the legislature for several years in an effort to make the advantages of privately-operated schools available to all Oklahoma’s children. ESAs would create state-funded scholarships for children in common education. Students could attend the school preferred by a parent and use only a portion of their allocated state public education funding to defer a portion of the cost, or in many cases, pay the tuition in its entirety. The remainder of the allocated funding would remain in the state’s possession, in effect, raising the state’s per-pupil funding for state-operated schools.