Parent Power Index, a website comparing state policies based on how much power a parent has to get their child a good education, gives Oklahoma a C overall, but a D on . We can do better.
Since last March, Tulsa and Oklahoma City public schools have barred their doors to the kids they are charged with educating, shirking the duty for which they were created, and depriving kids of the education they deserve. During that time, Epic Charter was the subject of a witch hunt by public education insiders and still saw its enrollment grow to the point where it serves more students than any traditional public school district in the state. Sixty-one percent of Oklahoma voters they favor full school choice where the money follows the child – and 72 percent of Republicans support such a policy. There is a Republican supermajority in both houses and a governor who strongly supports school choice.
Yet to date, the most impactful school choice bills filed in the legislature still barely nibble around the edges. One bill would expand the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program to include military families. Two more bills would create similar programs for victims of bullying and children with medical hardships. These are all, like current Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship recipients, groups worthy of our time and attention. Finally, there is a bill to create a digital wallet program that allows grants to be given to students based on household income levels – low-income students get first crack at the grants, with the maximum income gradually increasing until the grants are gone.
The fact is, all these proposals should be redundant. ought to be the first item on the agenda. Educational choice shouldn’t be limited based on income level or hardships faced. There shouldn’t be any more of cap on funding than there is on public schools. The same pool of money – money allotted to educate Oklahoma children – should be directed to whatever school actually educates those children. It shouldn’t matter if the school is run by the state or a private entity as long as they are fulfilling the mission of educating. It ought to be up to parents, not lines on a map, to decide where that education takes place.
If that’s too big a lift, how about something smaller, but still meaningful? If the general rule is that most students are expected to attend public schools, let’s carve out a bigger exception. Perhaps, any student whose public school is failing them should be eligible to go elsewhere with their taxpayer money. Perhaps if a student’s parents object to the subject matter they are being taught, they should be given a scholarship. Certainly any student whose school refuses in-person education should be free to attend a private school.
These are still just exceptions to the rule, so they avoid some of the fight with the education establishment. Only a monster would tell a child, “We don’t know how to teach you, but you’re not allowed to go anywhere else.” Only someone bent on ideological indoctrination would forbid parents from seeking a school more in line with their values. It’s hard to imagine the right adjectives for someone so lazy that they refuse to do their job, but so corrupt they won’t allow anyone else to do it either.
These student groups are just as worthy as victims of bullying and those with medical conditions. But they make up a much larger percentage of our public schools’ population. While still half measures, these reforms would move the needle towards getting every Oklahoma kid a good education.
Oklahoma may never catch when it comes to school choice. But big picture thinking could put parents in the driver’s seat.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.