School choice program proves dramatic success

The “Stay in School” program launched by Gov. Kevin Stitt last summer, which used some federal COVID-19 funds for private-school scholarships, has allowed over 1,000 low-income Oklahoma students to attend private schools at substantially lower cost than what would have been spent on those same students in traditional public schools, a new report shows.

“Critics claimed the program would benefit only ‘rich families’ living in Oklahoma metros and would never cover the cost of actual tuition,” the report noted. “Those criticisms have been dashed to pieces by the real-world results.”

The report, released by the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission, showed that the majority of scholarship recipients were eligible for the free-and-reduced lunch program with many living in severe poverty, and recipients are now attending private schools across the state, including rural Oklahoma.

The Stay in School Fund tuition assistance program, launched by Stitt last July, used $10 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund—money provided through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—to pay for returning private school students to remain in their schools.

One reason Stitt launched the program was concern that the economic impact of COVID-19 would eliminate outside funding for many private-school scholarship programs and force many students to return to public schools. That influx of students would have increased the financial strain on public schools.

The governor also warned that the disruption of changing schools amidst economic uncertainty could contribute to increased adverse childhood experiences, or ACES.

“Our Stay in School program has successfully supported more low-income children and their families than officials predicted for a fraction of the cost,” Stitt said. “By ensuring these children could remain within their educational support system amidst a global pandemic, we have provided critical stability for families who need it most.”

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