2015 School Choice Series: West South Central

Noodle’s 2015 series provides a state-by-state overview of school choice options. In this article, you'll find descriptions of the available options in each of the Gulf (West South Central) states, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research.

Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.

Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options in 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options — such as charter schools and voucher programs — relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the West South Central states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.

School Choice in Arkansas

Arkansas has 32 charter schools that serve about 12,000 students. While these numbers may seem impressive, charter school advocates in the state consider them insufficient. In Arkansas, the state’s Board of Education must approve new charter schools, and some feel that it imposes unnecessary funding limitations and caps on plans that would expand the number of charter schools.

At present, Arkansas does not have a private school choice option.

The state does, however, support open enrollment — including transfers both within and beyond a student's home district. In fact, if space is available, students may choose any school in the state. That said, the issue of transfers is contentious, as many schools deny prospective new students entry. According to the Public School Choice Act of 2013, many students from schools in academic distress are eligible to transfer — but they often lack schools to transfer into, as some 21 districts opted out of participating in the program. Recently, the state’s Board of Education upheld transfer denials on appeal.

Reportedly, a new school choice law can be expected in 2015, upon the expiration of the latest temporary law.

Online courses are available through Virtual Arkansas and Arkansas Virtual Academy, in addition to local district programs.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Louisiana

Louisiana has many school choice options, including four for private schools.

The first two are tax-related. Parents can receive tax deductions for education-related expenses, including tuition. Recently, a 50 percent cap was lifted, thus allowing a maximum deduction of $5,000. Tax credits are also available for individuals who make donations to School Tuition Organizations, which are entities that provide scholarships for private school education.

The third option is a voucher through School Choice Pilot Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities. The voucher allows students with disabilities to avail themselves of up to 50 percent of the average per-pupil cost to attend a private school.

The final option is a scholarship through the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. This program serves low-income students from failing home districts and allows them to attend private schools. Proposed legislation seeks to expand the scholarship program.

Louisiana has more than 100 charter schools, many of which were opened after Hurricane Katrina in an effort to bolster education in affected areas. Some opponents of choice, however, deemed these openings an effort to privatize education in the affected region. The New Orleans area is part of the Recovery School District — the only one of its kind in the nation. All schools in the district are charters.

Louisiana offers online education through the Louisiana Connections Academy and the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy.

The state also offers open enrollment. Students in low-performing schools are allowed to transfer to any school district in the state, while students from any school can transfer to another school in their home district. That said, the new school must both agree to the transfer and have available space.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Oklahoma

School choice in Oklahoma is a hot-button issue. A 2014 poll showed that Republican voters are strongly in favor of reform. A current bill seeks to institute education savings accounts for parents with children in private schools. They would receive part of the state's per-student funds to use for multiple education-related expenses. There is strong opposition to the bill among those who feel that tax dollars should go toward public schooling.

Oklahoma offers two private school choice options: vouchers and tax credits. The Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act provides funding to low-income students. The program also gives tax credits to individuals and businesses donating to Scholarship-Granting Organizations. Additionally, there is funding available for special needs students through the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

Oklahoma’s open enrollment policy allows students to transfer to any school within or beyond their home districts for any reason. The receiving school has the option to receive or deny incoming students, however; and each district employs its own policies. Schools cannot use student disabilities, athletic abilities, or extracurricular talents as criteria — but they can make determinations based on their own capacity, which is often limited.

The state currently has just 17 charter schools.

There are, however, three full-time online charters schools: Oklahoma Virtual High School, the Oklahoma Virtual Academy, and the Oklahoma Connections Academy, in addition to supplemental online courses offered through state universities.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Texas

Texas is a battleground state for the school choice reform movement, and there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate; some politicians have called choice a civil rights issue.

There is an open enrollment policy for transfers both within and beyond a student's home district.

Texas is one of the states that does not allow a private school option. Impending legislation to install vouchers could change that, however. Under the proposed law, parents would receive vouchers to send students to a school of their choice. Opponents worry that these vouchers would take money away from public schools, especially those in urban areas that typically serve the most disadvantaged students.

The state does offer almost 300 charter schools. Recent controversy arose regarding whether some charter schools "cherry-picked" students from wealthy neighborhoods to enhance achievement scores. Opponents of charters and vouchers advocate instead that the available state resources be allocated to fix struggling public schools.

Texas also offers online education through the Texas Virtual School Online Network, which provides supplemental courses. There is also a database of available full-time online schools throughout the state.

Resources for Further Research

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