Oklahoma’s Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities provide students with special needs school vouchers to attend a private school of their parents’ choice. The program was enacted and launched in 2010. Eligible students must have or qualify for an Individualized Education Plan to participate. On this page, you’ll find more information about the program, including funding, eligibility, and legal history.
One of 15 private school choice programs exclusively for students with special needs
377 participating students (2014–15)
16 percent of students eligible statewide
51 participating schools (2014–15)
Average voucher value: $6,632 (2014–15)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 99 percent
Oklahoma students with special needs currently in public school are eligible to receive a voucher to attend a private school chosen by their parents.
The voucher is worth the state and local dollars spent on the child in his or her public school or the chosen private school’s tuition and fees, whichever is less. The child’s resident school district can keep up to 5 percent of the funds for administrative purposes.
Any student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in effect and who either spent the prior year attending an Oklahoma public school or is the child of an active-duty member of the armed forces who has been stationed in Oklahoma is eligible. After receiving a voucher, the child will continue to qualify each year through high school graduation or until such time as the child would return to a public school. Students who were previously provided services under an Individual Family Service Plan through the SoonerStart program and during transition were evaluated and determined to be eligible for school district services no longer need to have spent the prior school year in attendance at a public school to be eligible.
Okla. Stat. §§ 70-13-101.1 and 101.2
On November 20, 2012, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma dismissed the Jenks Public Schools system’s lawsuit against parents using Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships on procedural grounds, stating the school districts do not have standing as Oklahoma taxpayers to sue under the state’s constitution and that parents were the wrong parties to sue. Ind. Sch. Dist. No. 5 of Tulsa Co. v. Spry, 2012 OK 98, 292 P.3d 19 (2012).
In October 2013, 12 plaintiffs renewed the legal challenge by suing the state as individual taxpayers. In a written opinion released September 10, 2014, the Oklahoma County District Court ruled the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities program violates Article 2, Section 5 – the Oklahoma Constitution’s Blaine amendment – only insofar as the program allows public funds to be used to pay tuition at private, sectarian, religious schools; paying tuition at private, non-sectarian religious schools is permissible in this narrow ruling. The Court also stayed its own decision until Oklahoma’s Supreme Court could render a final decision. The case has been fully briefed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and a decision is pending. Oliver v. Hofmeister, Oklahoma Supreme Court, Case No. 113,267. In a related case, the State of Oklahoma joined several other states in an amicus brief supporting Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley, a case challenging the constitutionality of state Blaine amendments that the Supreme Court has accepted for hearing (see Colorado’s Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program).