Session Begins

Flags fly over the state Capitol in Oklahoma City in 2016. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World file

Correction: This editorial originally misstated the current legal cap on tax credits for donations to public school improvement programs. The editorial has been corrected.


A stealth voucher bill that will divert millions in state tax revenue to private schools is getting closer to becoming state law.

Senate Bill 407 — originally proposed by Sen. Dave Rader of Tulsa and substantially revised last week in a state House committee — would raise the cap on a system that allows tax credits of up to 75% for contributions to qualified private school scholarship funds or public school education improvement grant organizations.

Total credits are currently capped — $1.5 million in credits a year for the public school program and $3.5 million a year for the private schools. Individual taxpayers are limited to credits of $1,000; $2,000 for joint filers and $100,000 for corporations. As currently worded, SB 407 would raise the caps to $15 million and would allow public schools to participate through their own foundations instead of a third party.

It’s complicated and somewhat disguised but don’t be misled. The private school scholarship-tax credit scheme is a voucher system, a means to get money that should go to public schools to private schools.

Advocates insist that it will lead to more money going to public schools, but we aren’t buying what they’re selling.

Earlier in the process, the legislation retained a limitation that would prevent any of the donated money from helping any school district with more than 4,500 students, neatly excluding Bixby, Owasso, Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow and Tulsa. The current version changes that, but — given the bill’s stealthy, protean nature — who knows who’ll eventually end up with all this tax credit money?

If the Legislature wants more tax money to go to public schools, they know how to do it. Appropriate it. Don’t give corporations and millionaires tax breaks for giving money to the schools they deem worthy. And don’t give it to private schools and claim that it’ll helps public schools.

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