Sunday, August 09, 2020

Small: cost of “free” education becoming unaffordable


The cost of “free” education becoming unaffordable
By Jonathan Small

What if you paid for a service, were then told the service would not be provided, that you wouldn’t get your money back, and that you are now expected to pay for the same service again? That’s the reality facing parents in Oklahoma school districts that have refused to re-open physical sites and are instead mandating distance learning for all.

Through numerous taxes, Oklahomans have already paid for children’s education. But now they are being told they will pay for much of that service a second time, either directly or indirectly.

To cite one example, this week Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that $15 million in federal funding will be used to launch 30 community centers to serve roughly 4,200 children. The centers will have mental health professionals, social workers, virtual learning tools such as computers and iPads, meals and snacks, a weekend backpack program and other programming to support families.


Put simply, Oklahoma is spending $15 million to provide many services that have already been funded through other taxes and would normally be provided in schools. Stitt’s plan is necessary only because some public schools refuse to re-open.

Families will directly pay additional costs due to continued school shutdown.

Many parents must work and now must also ensure their children’s safety while they are gone. Some will hire babysitters—another added cost of schooling. But many will not be able to afford that alternative, so some parents may have to quit a job to stay home with children. That’s a huge financial burden for many families and an insurmountable one for many single-parent households.

In some homes, older siblings will be left in charge of younger siblings, but that’s obviously not ideal and cause for concern.

Churches and other civic organizations will no doubt step up and provide places for children to stay that are safe. Once again, however, that requires spending additional money that will not go to other uses.

Officials at schools that are going online-only claim they want to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure, yet in many instances parents will be forced to rely on alternatives that still involve large gatherings of children during the day, just in non-school settings.

As a result, the virtual-only model will do little to reduce potential COVID exposure among children, who are not very susceptible to the virus anyway, and the online-only model will increase the cost of education for families who can least afford to bear additional financial burdens.

This highlights the continued need for education choice in Oklahoma. Parents should be allowed to use their education tax dollars to send their children to the school of their choice. Otherwise, the cost of “free” public education will only continue to skyrocket as the service provided to parents declines.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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