The state of Oklahoma launched a program last summer to help low-income families keep their students in private schools. The Stay in School Fund tuition assistance program, launched by Governor Kevin Stitt in July, is said to have exceeded expectations in ensuring low-income families who suffered a COVID-19 related job loss or demonstrated financial challenges could keep their child in their learning environment.
"Our Stay in School program has successfully supported more low-income children and their families than officials predicted for a fraction of the cost,” said Gov. Stitt. “By ensuring these children could remain within their educational support system amidst a global pandemic, we have provided critical stability for families who need it most.”
The governor's office provided a press release about the program, which included personal testimonies from three Oklahoma families about how the program impacted them. Those statements are included below.
“I am a single mother of two who attend a Christian school. As is, I struggle to send them there, but I make the sacrifices necessary because I think Christian education is important. I work two jobs, which both have been very much affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With everything that’s happened, I knew I couldn’t afford tuition. I am more than grateful to have been given the opportunity for my kids to stay in their school and have some sense of normalcy." – Josephine Shaw, mother of Stay in School Fund students
“Without Governor Stitt’s support and the generosity of the ‘Stay in School fund’ program, my daughter would have not been able to continue her education within the private school sector. Due to a recent terminal diagnosis, my family has had a sudden shift in all areas, but thanks to Governor Stitt and his God-fearing heart, my daughter did not have to take a sudden shift in her education, teachers, and friends. No amount of gratitude can suffice.” – Teresa Ponce, mother of a Stay in School Fund student
“Our family came here to Oklahoma due to business opportunities, but COVID lent to further difficulty as we, like many, had to close one business and I lost one of my two part-time jobs. Your grant program came at just the right time for our family. We were so thankful to have been given the opportunity to apply. When we learned we had been approved, it lifted a huge weight. We truly appreciate Governor Stitt for advocating for our kids. From a full heart, we can’t say ‘thank you’ enough!” – Dawn Hughes, mother of a Stay in School Fund student
The Stay in School Fund program used $10 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, provided through the federal CARES Act, to help stabilize Oklahoma’s education system and reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences by providing temporary funds to students currently attending private schools whose continued attendance was threatened by the financial fallout of COVID-19.
The governor's office said the program largely benefits low-income families. More than one out of every five children benefitting from the program came from a home with income at 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or lower, which equates to a family of four with $26,200 or less in annual income. Nearly 60% of recipients were from families with incomes at 185% of the FPL or less, or $48,470 for a family of four.
When the Stay in School fund was first launched in July, it was predicted the program would benefit more than 1,500 Oklahoma children with scholarships up to $6,500 each. Ultimately, the program is said to have helped 25% more children at 20% lower cost (1,893 children at an average cost of $5,132 per child).
Students who received funding attend 97 private schools across the state, including schools in non-metropolitan communities such as Clinton, Durant, Sulphur, Ponca City, Muskogee, Bartlesville, Tahlequah, Enid, Miami, Choctaw, McAlester, Okarche, Corn and Ardmore.
To read the full Stay in School Fund report, Click Here.