House Bill 1027: Opportunity Scholarship Act

Oklahoma
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Last Updated: March 12, 2013
House Bill 1027: Opportunity Scholarship Act
Sponsors:
Representative Reynolds
Summary:

House Bill 1027 would create the Opportunity Scholarship Act. The basic idea behind this bill is that it would create a "voucher" type program for parents to send their children to private schools or to homeschool them. Since state education money would be sent directly to the parent, there is some concern that homeschool programs who accept this money would be regulated and restricted as to what they could use the money for. House Bill 1027 would, at a minimum, require a parent to provide verification of their homeschool program two or three times each year in order to receive the money.

Under House Bill 1027, an eligible homeschool parent could receive 40% of the state aid formula that is provided for public school students. To be eligible a homeschool family would have to be within 250% of federal poverty guidelines and enroll their kindergarten student in the local public school. Once enrolled they could apply for the opportunity scholarship and withdraw their child to be taught at home.

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose.
Action Requested:
None at this time
Status:

01/14/2013     (House)     Introduced
02/04/2013     (House)     First Reading
02/04/2013     (House)     Authored by Representative Reynolds
03/04/2013     (House)     Bill read in Committee, Failed to receive motion for vote. Bill is (effectively) dead.
5/31/2013     (House)     Bill is dead as of close of Legislature on May 31.

Background:

To be eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship (OSA) under House Bill 1027 you must 1) reside in Oklahoma, 2) total family income not exceed 250% of federal poverty level (less than this amount for family of 4=$57,625; 6=$77,425; 8=$97,225) and either a) entering kindergarten and enrolled in public school; or b) was enrolled in public school prior year and school received a "C", "D" or "F" grade; or received an OSA scholarship the prior year (won't be effective until 2014) , 3) apply for admission in an eligible private school or has submitted evidence that the student will be homeschooled, and 4) has applied for a scholarship before Sept. 1.

Problems/concerns with this bill:

1) The bill uses "home schooling" or "home schooled" multiple times. While this term is occasionally used under Oklahoma law the better legal term would be "other means of education."

2) While students who are currently enrolled in the public school could be eligible to decide to homeschool their children, there could a problem with the second option. This option would allow any parent of child entering kindergarten to potentially be eligible for the OSA. However, they would have to enroll their child in the public school and then pull them out. This would seem to lead to a situation of uncertainty within the public school system. The local public school could see a sudden increase of parents enrolling their children in the public school and then just before school starts see all these children be pulled out. This would seem to put classroom/teacher/transportation planning into turmoil.

3) To be eligible to use the OSA money for homeschooling "evidence" would have to be submitted to the State Department of Education. There is no explanation of what that evidence would need to be. Under this bill the DOE would have to develop acceptable proof. Given the diversity of homeschooling, the evidence should be broad. Perhaps just a signed statement that the parent intended to homeschool would be sufficient?

4) Under the bill a parent eligible for the OSA award would get 40% of a complex funding formula. Based on the average per pupil expenditure of 2009 (about $7,800) this amount could be about $3,120. The problem is that this money is paid directly to the parent. While the bill makes sure that this will money will not be counted as income, it is uncertain on how the courts will treat this money when a parent uses the money for religious materials. Current Oklahoma Constitution Article II, Section 5 states: "No public money shall ever be...used directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system or religion or for the use, benefit or support of any...religious teacher...." Since this is just a voucher program, it would seem questionable whether this bill could pass muster. It certainly would likely face opposition and court challenge. Since money is paid directly to families, a negative ruling could cause them to have to repay that money.

5) Finally, in order to initiate payments homeschool parents would have to provide verification of their homeschool program before the first payment. Each additional payment would require verification that the student is still being homeschooled. As stated above, there is nothing to indicate what that verification would entail. As written the OK DOE would have to develop policies and procedures that homeschool parents would be required to meet. These could change from year to year.

As this bill is written HSLDA is opposed to this bill. It is a voucher and could lead to unknown regulations/procedures for those who accept this money.

 Other Resources

Bill Text

Bill History