The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), otherwise known as Oklahoma’s Promise, offers higher education scholarships to students from low and middle-income families in Oklahoma. During the 2019-20 school year, the program provided over $66 million in scholarships to 15,347 students. According to the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Act, the program is intended to relieve students of the burden of paying tuition and help them achieve post-secondary success.
Requirements for the program are as follows: applicants must be in the 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grades (or specifically ages 13-17 for homeschool students), and their parents’ adjusted gross income (AGI) must be below $60,000. In addition, they must maintain a 2.5 cumulative GPA throughout high school and complete a 17-unit college preparatory curriculum that consists of credits in English, math, lab science, humanities, foreign language, fine arts, etc. (much like the Oklahoma core graduation requirements). Students must also agree to some basic guidelines regarding class attendance, homework completion, drug use, and criminal behavior.
The requirements above apply to homeschool and public school students. However, the statute lays out an additional requirement for homeschool students or students from non-accredited private schools: they must have a 22 or higher ACT composite score in order to qualify. Why is this requirement placed only on homeschool and non-accredited private school students? Consider the ramifications of this requirement: if a public schooled student scores a 21 on the ACT it will have no impact on their eligibility for Oklahoma’s Promise, but if a homeschool or non-accredited private school student achieved the exact same score, they would be disqualified from participating in the program and barred from receiving Promise funding.
Is there some specific reason that the legislature chose to single out homeschool and non-accredited private school students? Do these students typically struggle with academic performance issues? Are they less deserving of aid than public school students? The answer to both questions is a resounding no. Study after study has shown that homeschool students perform better than public school students on tests such as the ACT. In addition, a study conducted at Ave Maria University in Florida showed that homeschoolers performed just as well, or significantly better, than their public schooled peers when it came to ACT/SAT test results, as well as overall GPA, core GPA, and major GPA.
On the other hand, public schools in Oklahoma have some documented competency issues. A recent ranking of the best schools in all 50 states showed that the best school district in Oklahoma (Jenks Public Schools) only had a 44% proficiency level in reading, and a 42% proficiency level in math – the best school district in the state. Additionally, a lawsuit was filed in an Oklahoma school district last year alleging that the school district gave students credit for classes who had no understanding of the concepts and graduated students who were wholly unprepared for the rigors of college academics. The individual who brought the suit wished to be reinstated as a 5th year senior in order to re-take classes and adequately prepare for his post-secondary education. In response, the school district asked for the case to be dismissed and stated that a high-school diploma is not an indicator of course mastery. For reference, this student graduated with a 2.31 GPA and the GPA requirement for Oklahoma’s Promise funding is 2.5.
I understand that, given the largely unrestricted freedom to homeschool in Oklahoma, it could be possible for parents to falsely report information on a transcript. It is not unconscionable for the legislature to consider this possibility and attempt to mitigate it. However, as noted above, there is no guarantee that the public school system is properly awarding grades on transcripts, either. If anything, the academic performance data indicates that the public school students need some sort of benchmark ACT requirement, not the homeschool students (but I digress).
To be clear, I am not advocating for the elimination of testing requirements. Rather than unfairly singling out homeschool and non-accredited private school students for extra testing requirements, the legislature should consider implementing testing for all applicants to Oklahoma’s Promise. This could ensure some base level of competency for all students who apply for financial help through Oklahoma’s Promise while eliminating a blatant form of discrimination against homeschool and non-accredited private school students.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.