Monday, April 18, 2016


Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

    This legislative session, State Representative Jason Nelson, (R-OKC) authored a proposal entitled, The Oklahoma Education Saving Account Act.  Under Nelson’s bill, state government would deposit money for a child, based on a sliding scale depending on family income, into an education saving account.  The money could be used for an accredited private or online school.  The money could also be used to buy textbooks, get tutoring or pay for achievement tests.  Florida has a similar program to what Nelson proposes.  On their website, the Florida Department of Education says, “School choice can benefit all schools by introducing the pressures and incentives of the marketplace into the educational arena.” Nelson’s bill narrowly got out of the House Education committee (vote of 9-8), and never got to the floor of the full House for a vote.
     The Oklahoma Education Association, not surprisingly, opposes Nelson’s idea.  Linda Hampton, president of the OEA said,  “The problem is, if you take money away from the public school, even if you take one child out, you still have to pay the teacher, the electric bills, buses,” she said. “You’ve still got all the expenses, but now you have less money.” Nelson contends that per-pupil funding would not decline under his proposal, but would slightly increase.  Hampton says the idea is a slippery slope and that people shouldn’t be ‘opting out’ of government services that are important for society. 
     Oklahoma isn’t the only state considering school choice.  Currently twenty seven states are considering mirroring Florida’s program.  Lily Garcia is president of the National Education Association and says the expansion of school choice ‘terrifies’ her because it promotes the idea that school is a commodity.  Garcia’s position is understandable because if school choice is expanded many parents would likely shop around for the best fit for their children and that might not be the public school system. School choice could endanger the current competition-free atmosphere that public education enjoys.
     The 2013 Oklahoma Republican Party platform under the heading ‘Education’ states the following: We believe all parents should be allowed to use their education tax dollars for the family’s choice of schooling.   The 2012 National Republican Party platform states: “We applaud efforts to promote school choice initiatives that give parents more control over their children’s education.”  Here are three reasons that Republicans support school choice:
     First, education money is taxpayer money.  The money that public education receives from the legislature is your money.  It belongs to you.  You should have the right to determine where your money is spent on your child’s education, not the government.  Parents should be involved in the decision as to where their education dollar is spent.  The renowned economist Milton Friedman, who was arguing for school choice in the 1950s, said, “Parents generally have both greater interest in their children’s schooling and more intimate knowledge of their capabilities and needs than anyone else.”  Friedman contended that more choices would improve public education in America. Under the current system in Oklahoma, parents who can afford it have a choice, but lower income Oklahomans must educate their kids where the government tells them to.
     Second, good schools don’t need compulsion, bad ones don’t deserve it.  Why should a child be compelled to go to a bad school simply because his parents can’t afford to send him to a private school?  Oklahoma schools achievement test scores has been less than stellar the last few years and the answer from the education community is always the same: Give us more money.  If ESAs were implemented and parents directly controlled where their educational dollars went, schools would be forced to compete in the educational marketplace.  Quality educators and schools shouldn’t fear competition- they should welcome it.  Good competition expands the market and results in better products and services.  Competition makes you better.
     Third, the purpose of public education should be to educate the public. If we are really concerned about Oklahoma kids getting an education, then why are we so focused on the venue or setting they get it?  Currently 87% of children are educated in Oklahoma public schools, 10% in private schools, and 3% are home schooled, but 100% of Oklahoma taxpayer education dollars go to public education.  Funding should mirror how children are being educated.  It simply makes sense.
     Nelson’s proposal didn’t make it to the floor primarily because the legislature is facing the single largest budget deficit in state history.  The price of oil has decimated state government and the timing for school choice just wasn’t right, but it is a concept whose time has come.  Every Oklahoma parent should be given the right to determine the education their child receives.

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