One of the major principles of the school choice movement is the idea that parents should be empowered to choose where and how their children are educated. This seems like a fairly simple idea: parents are responsible for their children and should direct their education. For some reason, many of those opposed to school choice can’t seem to grasp this. Either that or they reject the premise entirely. In fact, they seem to hold the idea that it is the government’s role to educate children and view anything that breaks the status quo as a threat.
In a recent opinion piece for The Oklahoman, one writer attempted to invoke scripture in his rebuttal of the effort to expand school choice in Oklahoma. As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the American education system; however, it does seem to heavily indicate that parents have the responsibility to raise their children. Ironically, I believe that the very verses the author vaguely cites to support his argument actually form a basis of the school choice movement. In Psalm 127, Solomon states that children are a blessing from the Lord. He goes on to say that children are like “arrows in the hand of a warrior” and the man who has “a quiver-full” of them is blessed. Proverbs 22:6 says to train up a child in the way he should go.
These verses (and many others) indicate to me that children are a blessing from the Lord to their parents, not just some vague blessing on society, and parents are commanded to train them. If parents are not given control and instead are forced to send their children to the school in their district, their ability to direct their child’s education is severely limited (if not quashed altogether). However, it seems that putting parents back in charge by giving them the ability to direct their child’s education is about as biblical as you can get.
The author also cites the state of Michigan as an example of the disastrous effects that school choice policies could have on a state. He claims that the policies of former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rendered the Michigan school system “one of the weakest in the nation.” However, the data do not support this claim. According to US News & World Report, Michigan ranks 29th overall, but ranks 12th in college readiness. According to a WalletHub survey Michigan is ranked 33rd. Finally, in a survey of parents, teachers, and students to determine overall satisfaction with the school system, Michigan ranks 19th. While these rankings do not place Michigan near the top, they are certainly nowhere near the bottom.
Finally, like many others, the author seems to think that money is the root of—and the solution to—all the educational ills we face as a state. However, it’s not quite that simple. Of course schools need funding, but throwing piles upon piles of money at a problem does not guarantee results. For example, a recent survey of all 50 states (and D.C.) provides us with some interesting data: Alaska is 4th in spending but has the 48th ranked school system. Washington D.C. is 3rd in spending but has the 41st ranked school system. By contrast, Virginia is 25th in spending but has the 4th ranked school system. Utah is 50th in spending but has the 18th ranked school system.
None of this is to say that there aren’t issues with Oklahoma’s convoluted school funding system. On the contrary, it is in dire need of reform. However, simply pumping more money into it should not be viewed as a metric of success. 1889 Institute has written on dollar efficiency in school funding and concluded that spending more money without superior outcomes indicates inefficiency and ineffectiveness in allocating taxpayer resources.
If Oklahoma is truly to become a top-ten state in education, the legislature needs to empower parents to direct their children’s education while also making the most efficient use of every dollar.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.