This summer, Oklahoma Watch reported how the state had spent $31 million on private school vouchers through the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program, yet had collected almost no data on the students receiving those vouchers. Data for the 2020-21 school year is now public.
The data, which is required under a state law passed in 2019, is meant to give the public a way to check for disparities among students receiving the vouchers and provide accountability for the state funds.
The program was established by the Legislature in 2010 to subsidize private school tuition for students with disabilities. Eligibility was expanded to children in foster care and children adopted out of state custody beginning in 2017-18.
The program cost $7.3 million last year, a slight increase over 2019-20, bringing the total since inception to about $38 million.
A few highlights from the data, which can be found on the state Education Department’s website:
• 1,135 students applied for a voucher in 2020-21 and 1,070 received funds. For 336 students, it was their first year in the program. Ninety-six students withdrew from the program or declined their funds.
• Just 16 students were denied access to the program in 2020-21. No school denied more than three applications, and most accepted all applicants.
• Not all students reported their race or ethnicity. Of those who did, about 50% are white, 16% are two or more races, 13% are Hispanic, 10.5% are Native American, 8.6% are black, and the rest fell into other categories.
• Low-income status was only available for 131 applicants; of those, 36 students were considered low-income.
- Community colleges received a boost from federal COVID-19 relief funding, but what will happen when those dollars are spent? Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey made a move it had considered but never pulled off for lack of money. It used part of the $25 million it had received from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which Congress passed as part of broader pandemic aid, to hire two financial coaches and set up an eight-person call center to address the fire hose of questions pouring in from current and prospective students. (The Hechinger Report, Dec. 12)
- Epic Charter Schools co-founders sue the school for millions they say they’re owed. In a breach of contract lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County last week, co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris say the school owes their company $6.84 million for work done to separate the company from the school. That’s 10% of the school’s state funding over a 90-day period. (The Oklahoman, Dec. 10)
- Teachers in Sioux Falls competed for cash at a hockey game. Backlash was swift. Five thousand $1 bills were scattered on the rink and 10 helmeted teachers scrambled to grab fistfuls of cash for classroom supplies. The team and event sponsor have since apologized for the ‘Dash for Cash’, which was meant to be a ‘positive and fun experience” but ended up highlighting the lack of resources and low salaries for teachers in South Dakota. (The 19th, Dec. 13)
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