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Point of View: Keep the caps, and do the most good for the most people

Sherri Brown
Sherri Brown

When debating expansion of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Scholarship tax credits, Positive Tomorrows is lifted up as an example of how the tax credit scholarships are benefiting vulnerable children. Who could argue against the great work Positive Tomorrows does for their students?

During the past 30 years, generous philanthropists have sustained Positive Tomorrows and helped it grow. In December, the school moved into its new 35,000-square-foot building paid for through a $15 million capital campaign. They are now able to serve up to 210 infant through eighth-grade children and their families. Tax credits were never necessary to incentivize these donations. Donors' generosity was rewarded with a charitable deduction and a sense of contributing to their community. So the question is, should it be the state’s responsibility to divert state revenues through tax credits for scholarships to Positive Tomorrow students or is their responsibility to the 26,155 homeless children served in our public schools?

Positive Tomorrows began in 1990 as a public school site in the Oklahoma City Public School system and continued to function as a public school until changes in the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act were made during the No Child Left Behind reauthorization of 2002. This change prohibited the segregating of homeless students in separate schools. In 2006, the state Department of Education and the school district informed Positive Tomorrows that they could no longer provide state or federal funding. The school closed its doors for one year and was able to raise enough money to reopen in 2007 as a private, tuition-free school.

The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 requires that every district appoint a homeless liaison whose duty is to identify homeless children, waive proof of residency requirements, provide transportation, assess the needs of the family and assist in connecting them to community services. According to 2018 data provided by the state Department of Education, only nine public school districts receive federal grant money to help defray the costs of the requirements, but all districts are required to provide them. Grant schools provided services to 10,817 homeless children and non-grant public schools served 15,338 homeless children that year, a total of 26,155 homeless, school-age children across the state.

The Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee believes that it is incumbent on our legislators to choose to do the most good for the most citizens. Let the philanthropists continue to take care of the 210 homeless children served by Positive Tomorrows and commit to supporting the public education system that serves 26,155 homeless children. Vote no on Senate Bill 407 and Keep the Caps.

Brown is a member of the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee.