Saturday, September 12, 2020

OCPA column: Notable support for school choice


Notable support for school choice
By Jonathan Small

In politics, as in retail, consumer demand drives product selection, only politicians offer policies rather than baked goods. So it’s notable that multiple speakers strongly advocated for school choice policies every night of the recent Republican National Convention.

That type of strong, vocal support only happens when politicians are certain a policy is both popular and beneficial, as several speakers demonstrated.

Sarah Hughes, whose eight-year-old son is a beneficiary of a Wisconsin school choice program, told national viewers her son “would have slipped through the cracks in public schools” but now has been provided the educational opportunity that will allow him “to succeed.”

Tera Myers, whose son has Down syndrome and is a beneficiary of an Ohio school-choice program, likewise noted her son says school choice “helped my dreams come true” and allowed him to become the “best I can be.”

Such stories are not outliers, nor are they isolated to places far from Oklahoma. Our state has seen dramatic success stories generated by school choice.

For example, in north Tulsa this year Crossover Preparatory Academy continued educating students through distance means when Tulsa Public Schools effectively threw in the towel, other than having online review of past content.

Many of the low-income, all-male and mostly minority students at Crossover Preparatory Academy in North Tulsa attend that private school because of a state tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

The benefits of their private-school education can be seen by comparing those students to their socio-economic counterparts still in Tulsa Public Schools. A TPS official recently told the State Board of Education that district now expects that kids “who might otherwise have been predicted to be two years below grade level” are instead going to be “approximately three years below grade level.”

The kids at Crossover still have opportunity thanks to education, but many kids in TPS do not and will pay the price for years.

Former Rep. Jason Nelson, who created a state program that pays for children with special needs to attend private schools, has reported some parents “have told me that it saved their child’s life.” That is not hyperbole. Oklahoma’s school-choice programs have served children with special needs, teens recovering from addiction, survivors of horrendous childhood abuse, and more. School-choice has not only changed lives but saved them. 

As the nation grapples with issues of inequality, one of the best paths forward is to expand school choice in Oklahoma and elsewhere. As Donald Trump Jr. bluntly noted, if officials really want to “help minorities in underserved communities,” the best option is to “let parents choose what school is best for their kids.”

Ja’Ron Smith, deputy assistant to the president, noted at the RNC that education “is the great equalizer.” He’s right. It’s time we give all students of all races and economic backgrounds a greater chance at success through school choice.

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

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