OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Lawmakers are reacting to the State Tax Commission partnering with an out-of-state company to administer public dollars with the new Parental Choice Tax Credit Program.
At the same time, some Oklahoma City catholic schools are raising costs and restructuring tuition plans.
“This deal is getting worse all the time, I would say,” said Rep. John Waldron D-Tulsa.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission is now in a $3.95M contract with Merit International Inc. to administer funds with the Parental Choice Tax Credit program. It’s a plan that applies education funds to students rather than districts, funneling public tax dollars to private schools.
“What they’re doing looks like a tax voucher,” said Rep. JJ Humphrey, R-Lane. “The thing that I did vote for was a tax credit.”
Senator Carri Hicks posted to X, formerly Twitter: “We were told time & again the overhead would not exceed 1M,& here we are, proving once again that “choice” is costing the taxpayers nearly 4x…”
“Let’s tell the Tax Commission, ‘How about doing what we sent over there instead of wasting $4 million and ruining this?’ So how about that?” said Rep. Humphrey.
The Tax Commission said instead of issuing a bid, it picked Merit International Inc. based on a list of vendors provided by the state, then negotiated a price.
“If we can’t handle our own taxes in the state of Oklahoma, we have a problem,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City.
Under the new law, some families could receive up to $7,500 a student.
“We’re giving money to the affluent families already enrolled in the private schools, and we’re giving the private schools the option to raise tuition so that in the end. This is going to be $150 million subsidy to fancy schmancy private schools,” said Rep. Waldron.
An anonymous viewer sent us this sheet, showing St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in Edmond, is raising tuition by more than 75% in some cases.
“I asked the question on the floor while we were considering this bill, ‘Is there anything in this language that prevents a school from increasing the tuition to just consume the entire value of the tax credit?’ And the answer was ‘No,’” said Fugate.
“Yeah, it’s called capitalism,” said Waldron.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City sent News 4 the following statement:
Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City are changing their tuition structures to make them simpler than what they have been in the past. The elementary and middle schools are moving from a multi-tiered tuition structure to a flat-rate structure that does not have any sort of financial assistance from parishes built in. Not all the schools will have tuition of the same dollar amount, but the structure of the tuition will be the same based on each school’s cost to educate each student.
To minimize financial barriers for families as much as possible, parishes have often greatly subsidized the cost for their active members. In striving to keep the salaries of teachers and staff competitive, provide greater campus security and ensure academic excellence, Catholic schools in the archdiocese have simplified their tuition structures to better reflect the actual cost of educating each student, which on average is lower than the cost to educate students in a public school.
Families of Catholic school students needing tuition assistance will continue to have access to a myriad of financial aid options, such as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship, the recently enacted Parental Choice Tax Credit and other grant opportunities available through parishes and schools – ultimately receiving a high-quality education at an overall lower net cost than before. These new tuition structures will assist in creating a more sustainable and thriving Catholic school system in the archdiocese and provide greater educational opportunities for Oklahoma’s children.Avery Holt, Interim Director, Office of Communications
“Effectively they’re going to scoop up this subsidy pretty fast,” said Waldron.
“The elite private schools in the state of Oklahoma that will be taking these tax credits are not building additional wings to bring in additional low income kids,” said Fugate. “They’re just using it to pay back parents of kids who already attend those schools.”
News 4 reached out to 10 other Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of the credits. We either didn’t hear back or they declined to interview.