Over the years, I’ve listened to numerous interest groups and cabinet officials pitch various public policy ideas. While discussing how the proposal would resolve some issue of state-wide concern, proponents often included the caveat, “It’s not a silver bullet.” Very few policies merit silver-bullet designation; however, universal school choice is a notable exception. Truly universal choice can resolve many of the problems that plague today’s education system.

During the 2021 legislative session, the state legislature took steps toward increasing mobility within the monopolistic public education system with two pieces of legislation. The first expanded the state’s open transfer law, and the second supported a pluralistic educational system by growing the state’s Equal Opportunity Scholarship program. As the legislature supports legislation that empowers every parent to direct their child’s education, an actual educational marketplace will arise. An open educational marketplace will allow students and parents to vote with their feet. It will enable them to determine the composition of a pluralistic system as they send their children to schools that meet students’ individual needs. It will result in the curricula, pedagogy, world-views, and even the physical environments demanded by – and responsive to – parents and students.

The latest public-school controversy to hit the news comes out of Norman North High School. The school library reportedly featured “books like ‘Art of Drag’, ‘Trans Teen Survival Guide’, ‘Concrete Rose’ and other books” to foster “a learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming of all students.”

As might be expected, the reaction to the school’s efforts was mixed. Many parents were furious. Leaders of the LGBTQ+ community praised the effort. Representative Rob Standridge (R-15), citing evidence such as the failure to display the Bible, argued that the school promoted a biased, leftist agenda, contradicting what parents were teaching at home.

Much of the controversy exists because students must accept whatever education is offered at their geographically assigned school monopoly. Mobility in an open education market diminishes the negative impact of schools misaligned with a parent’s expectations. School choice allows students to go elsewhere – to choose a school outside of the ideological homogeneity embraced by much of the public-school establishment.

Could there be a school that thrives with a mission to embrace a specific demographic of student? Of course. Could there be a school whose core value is diversity? Yes. Could there be a school founded on traditional Christian beliefs? Absolutely. Could there be project-based, classical, Montessori, or tech schools? Sure. If there is demand, then any of these options, and many more, could be available to parents and students.

Regardless of which side of the ideological debate you fall on, universal school choice is a solution. With universal choice, parents would direct 100 percent of student education funding in a truly open education marketplace, thereby signaling the type of school they want for their child. In such a system, education providers would have an incentive to supply the variety demanded by parents. Parents and students would not be required to conform to the system; rather, the system would conform to the parents and the students.

As a parent, I want the best education I can get for my children. I also want my children to be good human beings. To do this, I teach them, read to them, take them on excursions, and have them attend church. I am working to fulfill my parental responsibilities. The last thing I want is for the school entrusted with my child’s education to undermine everything I do and teach at home.

Universal school choice empowers parents, not political bureaucracies, to determine how and where a child is educated. Through universal school choice, parents direct education funding to schools that meet their educational expectations and goals. Ultimately, universal school choice gives parents a meaningful voice and the power to compose a pluralistic education system. By embracing choice and variety in education, we become united in pursuit of a quality education for all. 

Brad Galbraith is Land Use Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at bgalbraith@1889institute.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.