OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — The state just opened its web portal for the Parental Choice Tax Credit. Now, Oklahomans’ tax dollars will go to paying a California company to administer the program.
“I don’t know if we can trust the people in charge that are choosing these folks,” said Representative Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman.
A $3.95 million, one-year agreement between the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and Merit International Inc. is coming to light. The OTC said most of the cost is coming out of the OTC’s budget, plus an additional million dollars from the legislature.
The commission said cost, along with tax payer and school experience, is why it went with a California company instead of one in Oklahoma.
“They are very popular with states that have chosen to divert their public tax dollars to private schools through vouchers or through tax payer schemes,” said Rosecrants.
“I don’t really know any specifics about the vendor,” said House Speaker Charles McCall.
The OTC said typically it would build its own system, but it is short on time and expertise.
The state’s online portal opened Tuesday, giving private school families access to public tax dollars up to $7,500 per student.
“We’re subsidizing private school education,” said Rosecrants.
“Parents are in charge of making the educational decisions for their children, where they go to school,” said McCall.
Merit will be responsible for reviewing applications, verifying eligibility, customer support, and marketing.
“I’m not surprised the state of Oklahoma would acquire a software platform,” said McCall. “Hopefully, it’s tried and true out there.”
The Tax Commission said it is implementing control to verify taxpayer identity, household income, student enrollment, and school accreditation.
“The fact that apparently they’re [going to] hire it out? That’s concerning. Especially since we don’t have a lot of information from the vendor that’s been chosen,” said Rosecrants.
Some lawmakers are skeptical. Trouble with out-of-state company partnerships are fresh on the mind. Think back to Class Wallet.
Attorney General Gentner Drummond said Oklahoma owes the federal government $18 million in COVID funds that went out the door to families who didn’t qualify.
So far, it’s not clear who will be auditing Merit’s work.