Vouchers/ESAs

Vouchers, also known as education savings or scholarship accounts, aren’t a solution for helping build a solid education foundation for Oklahoma’s children. We urge legislators to work with parents and education leaders at all levels for real solutions to support the 693,000 students in their public schools.


There are no shortcuts.


Key Points

  • Vouchers DIVERT funding from already underfunded public schools that educate 90 percent of Oklahoma children, leading to increased class sizes and limited educational opportunities.
  • Vouchers SUBSIDIZE private school for more affluent students.
  • Vouchers lack ACCOUNTABILITY for taxpayer dollars and student achievement and are vulnerable to fraud and abuse.
  • Vouchers are UNPROVEN as a means of consistently or significantly improving achievement for all students.
  • A majority of parents OPPOSE using taxpayer dollars to pay for private school.
  • Limits on the number of eligible students are unlikely to last. Indiana started its voucher program in 2011-2012 with 3,900 students. Limits on participation were quickly lifted and last year Indiana paid out more than $131 million on behalf of 32,000 voucher recipients. More than half of last year’s voucher recipients never attended a public school, and the income level of participating students increases each year.
  • Oklahoma has school CHOICE.
    • More than 40,000 students transfer to a school in another district.
    • More than 11,000 students transfer to a different school within their district.
    • More than 16,000 students attend charter schools.
    • More than 80,000 high school students choose to participate in Career Tech classes.

Within 10 years, Oklahoma taxpayers could be subsidizing 69,000 private school students at a potential cost of more than $300 million a year with little to no accountability for how the money is spent or for the academic achievement of recipients. This is NOT OK!


Senate Bill 560

Over the next decade, SB 560 vouchers could shift as much $1.6 billion from public schools to pay for vouchers. See the projected district-by-district breakdown here.

Voucher projection

*Projection based on 6,900 students receiving a $4,400 voucher.

Who would be eligible?

  • SB 560 would make vouchers available to students entering pre-k this fall in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties and to students in kindergarten through 12th grades who attended public school this school year.
  • The bill temporarily caps voucher participation at 1 percent of statewide student enrollment — about 6,900 students.
  • Each year, new students equal to 1 percent of statewide student enrollment could receive vouchers.
  • The 1 percent cap would sunset after 10 years.
  • If vouchers are approved this year, thousands of students in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties entering pre-k this fall could have their entire private school education subsidized by taxpayers. Is that really what taxpayers want?

How much would a voucher be worth?

  • State aid for the average Oklahoma student is about $4,900. The bill contains a sliding scale based on the recipient’s family income level, ranging from 90 percent to 60 percent of total state aid factors multiplied by the grade level weight and the student category weights. The average amount of the voucher would range from about $2,946 to about $4,400.

How would vouchers be funded?

  • SB 560 calls for the anticipated voucher cost to be set aside before state aid is allotted to school districts, potentially reducing the state aid available for every school district.

How can vouchers be spent?

  • The bill allows the state Board of Education to decide what qualifies as an eligible expense.
  • The voucher money would be made available via a debit card or other electronic payment system.

What is the bottom line financial impact for school districts?

  • The first-year cost of vouchers could reach nearly $31 million.
  • The annual cost would compound every year as new students are added in compliance with the cap.
  • By year 10, taxpayers could be subsidizing 69,000 private school students at a cost of more than $300 million a year with little to no accountability for how the money is spent or for the academic achievement of recipients.
  • Over the first 10 years, vouchers could divert $1.6 billion from public schools.
  • The calculation assumes state aid does not increase above today’s level and that the cap remains in place for a decade, which is unlikely based on experiences in other states.

Voucher laws

In the name of accountability, state leaders have piled on a growing amount of mandates and paperwork on public schools. Vouchers lack transparency in how taxpayer money is spent and for how students are performing. 

  • Every dollar of money to public schools is coded and tracked, and strict limits are placed on how much schools can spend money for administration and other areas.
  • SB 560 places no limits on how the voucher money could be spent, leaving that decision to the state Board of Education, whose members are not elected.
  • Private schools would not be limited in how they spend voucher money or be required to account for expenses.
  • Private schools are under no obligation to accept all students. In fact, in Indiana and Arizona, growing numbers of voucher students are from more wealthy families and are leaving higher-performing schools.
  • Public schools must give state-mandated tests, adhere to state-adopted academic standards and face sanctions if students aren’t performing well. The proposed vouchers allow recipients to avoid any student achievement-related reporting and mandates.

Oklahoma Public School Enrollment

Oklahoma families have made their choice. More than 90 percent of Oklahoma families picked public schools, and enrollment is growing! Lawmakers should focus on helping students where they are — public schools.

  • Want school choice? We have it! More than 40,000 students transfer to another school district every year, at least 11,000 more students transfer to different schools within their districts, more than 16,000 students attend charter schools and more than 80,000 of the state’s high school students choose classes available through the state’s career technology system.
  • Vulnerable students face a variety of challenges when it comes to education. The best way to meet the needs of Oklahoma’s most needy students is to ensure their public school is filled with great leaders, great teachers, plentiful resources and support to meet their daily challenges.

PollResearch on voucher programs in other states shows vouchers have been costly but offers no confidence that vouchers will improve achievement among participating students. Oklahomans know the best investment and best form of economic development is strong public schools.

  • Independent studies have concluded that students in the nation’s longest-standing voucher programs do not have consistently or statistically significant better achievement than their public-school peers. Learn more here.
  • Longitudinal data on the Milwaukee Parental Choice program found that students in grades 3-8 receiving a voucher performed statistically similar to their public school peers.*
  • Money spent on vouchers will make it more difficult for schools to invest in innovation and research-based methods of student achievement that would improve learning for all students.*
  • In Arizona, voucher recipients are disproportionately white and from higher income levels. Learn more here and here.
  • In Indiana, a growing number of recipients are white and the income level of recipients is on the rise. Learn more here.
  • The Indiana Department of Education found that public schools suffered a $53 million funding loss last year because of students who had never attended public schools but were receiving private school vouchers. Learn more here.
  • Oklahomans oppose using taxpayer dollars for vouchers. Read the poll.