Free Market Friday: Popular Henry program improving lives


From the Journal Record’s article written by Jonathan Small.

Eight years ago today, Democratic Gov. Brad Henry signed into law a bill creating a scholarship program for special-needs students. What do Oklahomans think of the program?

A statewide survey last month asked this: “Oklahoma has an educational choice program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities, which makes private-school scholarships available to special-education students, foster children, and children adopted out of state custody. Do you support or oppose this scholarship program?”

The survey, commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and conducted by Cor Strategies (with a margin of error of 4.37 percent), found that 61 percent of Oklahoma likely voters support the program. Only 18 percent oppose, while 21 percent are undecided.

The support is bipartisan. Oklahomans in Gov. Henry’s party favor the program by a margin of 56 percent to 21 percent. The margin among Republicans is 64 percent to 16 percent.

To be sure, it was a bumpy ride for some of these eight years. In what my colleague Andrew Spiropoulos described as “a pattern of hostile and vindictive acts toward the neediest children and their families,” many foot-dragging and then litigious education officials tried to kill the program.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, rightly criticized “wealthy school bureaucrats who abuse their power.”

But all is well. In 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled – unanimously – that the program is constitutional. Some of those wealthy bureaucrats are now gone. And though some still choose to cling bitterly to ideology – the Tulsa World, for example, editorialized that the scholarship program “was a bad idea when it was first written, and we continue to oppose it” – it doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that the program is helping the most vulnerable kids in Oklahoma – deaf and hearing-impaired children, autistic children (including some who were bullied to the point of considering suicide), and many more. Every school day, there are kids who are happier and learning more, and parents who are filled with relief and optimism because of Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships.

As Speaker Pro Tem Kris Steele said at the time, the program is a way to honor the memory of Kim and Brad Henry’s infant daughter and to “let it be known for generations to come that she, and her parents, are helping to improve the lives of special-needs children across the state.”

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).


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