School choice efforts took a substantial step forward yesterday when Oklahoma’s Democratic Governor Brad Henry signed into law the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act. Special needs children in the state will now be able to attend a school of their parents’ choice through the help of vouchers. This program will provide significant opportunity for an estimated 15 percent of Oklahoma children and their families.
Support for the new law came from both sides of the political spectrum. The principal authors of the bill, Sen. Sally Kern (R) and Rep. Jason Nelson (R) were joined by representatives Anastasia Pittman (D), Jabar Shumate (D) and Sen. Patrick Anderson (R), to maneuver the legislation through the state congress and senate before its signing by Governor Henry. Nelson thanked Governor Henry in The Daily Oklahoman for his support and explained that the bill will provide children with special needs “a chance at a better education and a better life.”
Betsy DeVos, chairman of The American Federation for Children, commented on the school choice victory:
We salute Governor Henry for his leadership in enacting this transformational new program, and we congratulate the bipartisan team of Oklahoma legislators who worked together and put politics aside for the sake of helping children with special needs.
Oklahoma joins a growing list of states who offer school choice for parents of special needs children, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Utah. The president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, Robert Enlow encouraged other states to take similar action:
Because of the governor’s and legislature’s courageous acts, Oklahoma’s children with special needs have been afforded a new, better chance to succeed in life. … Other states should emulate Oklahoma and its willingness to put the interests of kids and parents first.
Back in Washington, the Obama administration has been turning back the clock on school choice, working to phase out the highly successful and popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. But states like Oklahoma are moving forward with policies to put power in the hands of parents and opportunity in the reach of children. Many families will now have the opportunity to send their children to those schools they feel will best meet their needs. Hopefully the administration will see state choice victories as a sign that it is indeed parents – not bureaucrats or union leaders – who should have control of their children’s educational future.
James Hall is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm