Some Are More Equal Than Others

Some Are More Equal Than Others - July 3, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

George Orwell ‘s 1945 novel, Animal Farm was a political satire where animals had overthrown the farmer and established their own society based on equal rights and equal opportunity and the supreme rule that “All Animals are Equal.” Unfortunately, after a very short while, the barnyard animals developed human instincts to the extent that the allegorical theme became, “All Animals are Equal/ But Some are More Equal than Others.”

A prime example of some being “more equal” than others is the disparity in the way that certain Oklahoma legislators have attempted to define student eligibility in a couple of scholarship programs.

One program is Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), often called Oklahoma’s Promise. The other is the establishment of Private School Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO) created pursuant to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program.

OHLAP was created in 1992 by the legislature to help more Oklahoma families send their children to college. OHLAP is administered by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

SGOs were created in 2011 by the legislature to provide individuals and corporations the ability to receive tax credits of up to $150,000 per year to offset taxes due the state and to reduce tax burdens by charitable contributions and channel donations to students who attend K-12 private schools.

To be eligible for an OHLAP scholarship, students must register during their eighth, ninth or tenth year of school, take certain college preparatory classes, stay out of trouble, maintain a 2.5 GPA and their parents meet certain income limits.

To be eligible for a SGO scholarship, students must attend a private K-12 school and their parents must meet certain income limits.

The OHLAP scholarship is for college tuition only and does not cover items such as fees, books, supplies, or room and board for a maximum of five years or achieving a bachelor’s degree, whichever comes first.

The SGO scholarship is for payments of $5,000 or 80% of the total private school educational expenses, whichever is greater for up to thirteen years or until the student reaches age 21. However, if the student was on an Individualized Educational Plan in the public school before transferring to a private school, the student may receive up to $25,000 per year.

OHLAP rules require that a student’s parents not earn more than $50,000 per year during the year that the student registers and that the parents may not earn more than $100,000 during the year that the student begins college or any year thereafter.

SGO rules do not require that income parameters be reviewed until the student is ready for the private school tuition and then parents of private school students may earn $134,589 with two children or up to $226,941 depending upon the number of family members.

Incredibly, while OHLAP rules require that each and every child in the family must meet eligibility requirements, once a SGO recipient meets income guidelines, ALL of his or her siblings will automatically receive the scholarships until they all graduate or reach 21 years of age, regardless of how high the parent’s income may go.

Despite already stringent eligibility requirement on OHLAP scholarships, the legislature has repeatedly been trying since 2008 to make it more difficult for students to qualify for Oklahoma’s promise. The assault became so intense that in 2013, 56 anti-public education legislators, many of whom are still in the House of Representatives, voted in favor of House Bill 1721 to decrease by 40% the amount of money that an Oklahoma Promise student’s parent may earn when the student is ready for college.

At the same time many of the same legislators passed House Bill 2643 (2014) and House Bill 1693 (2015) making private school scholarships more lucrative and more beneficial to high income taxpayers who channel their money to private schools.

Could it be that there is a connection between campaign donors and those who benefit from private school tuition scholarships, or maybe it’s just that some people are more equal than others?

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.