Monday, January 31, 2022

OCPA column: Putting parents in charge of education

By Jonathan Small

Today in Oklahoma, parents fall into two camps. One camp has the financial resources to move to another school district or independently pay for private school if a local district isn’t working out for their child. The other camp must endure problems and hope things somehow improve because those families don’t have the finances to get their children out of a geographically assigned school.

But Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat wants to level the playing field and provide all Oklahoma parents—from all walks of life and all parts of the state—the ability to send their child to any school of their choice, including private schools.

Senate Bill 1647, by Treat, would create the Oklahoma Empowerment Account (OEA) Program and provide all Oklahoma families with a state account that could be used to pay for a range of education services, including private-school tuition. The money in the account would be based on the per-pupil state-funding allotment already dedicated for a child.

That’s revolutionary. For the first time, Oklahoma would fund students, not buildings, when it comes to education.

Under Treat’s bill, every dime now allotted for K-12 education will continue to go to education. Not one penny will be cut. But instead of giving bureaucrats control, Treat would put parents in charge.

While most school employees do their best to serve all children, we know there are circumstances where that is not possible. How many of us know a child who was relentlessly bullied at school? In some cases, those children attempt suicide if they cannot escape, yet our current system forces many families to endure a child’s abuse if they are not wealthy.

Then there are children with special needs who would be better served in a school dedicated to such students. And many families would like their children educated in an environment where religious and moral values are part of the curriculum along with English and math.

Treat’s bill would not force anyone to put a child into any school. Instead, it would give parents the choice to send their children to any school the parents believe serves those children.

Contrary to what the bill’s opponents claim, the only way a school district can lose money is if local families choose to exit from the school. And if numerous local families don’t feel a school serves their children well, why should they be forced to send their children and tax dollars there? That would be like requiring people to use the same mechanic even if he never fixes your car.

Despite ever-increasing taxpayer expense, Oklahoma typically lands near the bottom of state rankings on educational outcomes. Treat’s bill could not only reverse that trajectory, but also make Oklahoma a national leader in the education metric that matters most: parent empowerment.

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

1 comment:

  1. So, this is an 'equity' bill. A bill to "level the playing field"? What happens to those who scrimp and save to either homeschool their children or put them in a private school? The benevolent government comes in to "help" those who don't want to have to scrimp and save? What happens when government money enters a private or a homeschool? Doesn't the government have the right to ask for accountability for their money? If so, what does this look like - the government telling a private or homeschool what curricula they can use, what books they can buy? Oklahomans have a stellar amount of choice in their education - homeschool, private school, charter schools, public schools, online schools, transferring schools - why must Republicans believe that having the government direct funding of education outside those for which they are directed to spend will help all those needing help? What about unintended consequences?


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