Tuesday, December 08, 2020

OCPA: Inaction on parental school choice is impossible


Inaction on parental school choice is impossible
By Jonathan Small

Oklahoma parents are demanding parental school choice and lawmakers are paying attention.

A new poll by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates (CHS) found 61% of Oklahoma voters support school choice, which was defined as “the right to use tax dollars raised for their child’s education to send their child to the school of their choice whether it is public, private, online, or charter.”

Among Republicans primary voters, support reached 74%. Support was consistent in both urban and rural areas.

That strong support is no surprise, especially considering ongoing public-school closures. Those closures are wreaking havoc and destroying opportunity. This is evident in increased failure rates in academic courses and significant learning loss.

In August, an official from Tulsa Public Schools even told the State Board of Education that district officials expected “that our least-reached students will have lost approximately a year more learning than would have otherwise been the case because of the COVID-related interruptions. So if I’m a student who might otherwise have been predicted to be two years below grade level, we’re anticipating that that student will now be approximately three years below grade level.”

Some school officials now want to end state testing, ensuring parents will not be notified of a child’s learning loss.

Oklahomans’ support for school choice is not tied solely to COVID-19. Polls have found strong support for parental school choice repeatedly since 2014. And Oklahoma’s political leaders have embraced it.

In January 2019, House Speaker Charles McCall said lawmakers “must put parents back in charge of their children’s education and give underprivileged families more options and more opportunity to thrive.”

This year Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat endorsed raising the cap on Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program, saying, “Where there are kids that lack opportunity, my heart pains for them. We need to make sure they are not forgotten.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsed school choice in his 2020 State of the State speech, saying, “Let’s work together to make sure all students at all schools have access to an innovative, enriching curriculum, regardless of ZIP code.”

Yet, despite public support and the backing of legislative leaders, the bidding was done of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, socialist Bernie Sanders and the OEA/NEA union, which heavily opposed both school choice and President Trump and instead backed Biden and Kendra Horn.

Thankfully for the most vulnerable, there is now no reason for delay. In addition to public support, GOP lawmakers also have the numbers on their side. Republicans now hold 82 of the 101 seats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and 39 of the 48 seats in the Oklahoma Senate. It takes only 51 and 25 votes, respectively, to pass a bill in each chamber.

With this favorable environment for saving the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable through significant expansions of parental school choice, inaction will be impossible.

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

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