A recent SoonerPoll found that a majority of Oklahomans support implementing a tax credit worth part of a child’s tuition to parents who would like to send their child to a non-public pre-kindergarten. The proposal was supported by 54.1 percent of Oklahomans while only 41.3 percent opposed.

“The results indicate that most Oklahomans believe private schools can and should play just as large a role in educating children as the public school system,” Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll, said. “Oklahomans are increasingly more open to providing more options to parents deciding on a school for their children.”

In Oklahoma, state-funded pre-kindergarten has been in place for 18 years, and 99 percent of Oklahoma school districts have pre-kindergarten programs which have been funded directly through the state’s school finance formula since 1998.

In recent years, Gov. Brad Henry and the Oklahoma Education Association have pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, and today Oklahoma has the highest enrollment rate in America. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, more than 72 percent of all Oklahoma 4-year-olds are voluntarily in public pre-kindergarten programs, about half of those attend full-day programs.

The state funded pre-kindergarten program is not without is share of criticism. The CATO Institute, a libertarian think-tank, produced a study linking Oklahoma’s low test scores in grades 4 and 8 to enrollment in public pre-kindergarten..

For critics like Adam Schaeffer of the CATO Institute, model legislation like the Early Education Tax Credit aims to “improve the quality and efficiency of preschool options by harnessing market forces and would pay for itself by using savings generated from the migration of students from public to private schools in grades K-4.”

Here in Oklahoma legislation similar to Schaeffer’s model is currently in the Senate. SB 1922 which includes, among its many provisions, tax credits for parents 4-year-olds who want to attend private pre-kindergarten schools.

Privatization in the school system has long been a priority among conservatives, in fact 60.8 percent of those who identified themselves as conservatives showed support for the tax credit in the most recent SoonerPoll.

Further analysis of results show 55.4 percent of those respondents who would like to see a decrease in the size of government support the tax credit proposal. Support for the proposal is also high among those who do not believe more money spent on public schools means more learning in the classroom, with 62.7 percent of proposal supporters sharing that belief.

“The true test for this issue will be how Oklahomans view the increased challenges that public schools will face with declining funding as parents take their tax dollars and enroll their children in private schools,” Shapard said.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 1000 likely voters from Feb. 25 – March 8.   This particular question was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The study has a margin of error of ± 3.1 percent.

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