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School choice could benefit Oklahoma's military families

BY DON SOIFER AND ROBERT HOLLAND Published: August 4, 2012

With its recent adoption of opportunity scholarships, Oklahoma has become a leader in tapping the power of school choice to help families and society as a whole. The potential exists to draw on this power to help military families, who sacrifice greatly to serve the nation.

With four major military bases and installations, including Fort Sill and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma has a significant military presence. More than 17,000 school-age children from military homes live in the Sooner State.

Redeployment is a necessary part of military life, one that puts a strain on parents seeking educational continuity and quality for their children. Department of Defense data show that military children typically attend six to nine school systems through their K-12 years, with at least two transfers in high schools. Underscoring the angst of military families as they scramble to find adequate schooling is the sad reality that about half of public schools enrolling military dependents fail to meet basic state standards.

A new concept in school choice that could especially help military families is the Empowerment Scholarship Account. An ESA allows eligible parents to withdraw their children from assigned public schools and get 90 percent of their per-pupil funding for deposit into an education account. They then can withdraw money to pay for private school tuition, online instruction, tutorial services, textbooks or future college expenses.

Matthew Ladner, senior adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, has argued that this type of reform has the advantage of giving families “the broadest possible market among education delivery methods, and true ownership of funds.”

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