Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Aiming for universal school choice

"Universal choice is the principled—and pragmatic—education policy," Greg Forster writes. "Every Oklahoma family that wants choice should have it—now."

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Did the education system play a role in our current cultural unrest?

Protesters set up a guillotine outside the home of billionaire Jeff Bezos on June 28, 2020. A flyer promoting the march
on Bezos's home called for an end to his "abuse and profiteering" and to "abolish the police, the prisons, and Amazon."

In a recent survey, likely Oklahoma voters were asked: "Do you agree or disagree that the current cultural unrest is rooted in what our students have learned in the public education system?"

As you can see here, Republicans and Democrats differ sharply. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Notable GOP support for school choice

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

In politics, as in retail, consumer demand drives product selection, only politicians offer policies rather than baked goods. So it’s notable that multiple speakers strongly advocated for school choice policies every night of the recent Republican National Convention.

That type of strong, vocal support only happens when politicians are certain a policy is both popular and beneficial, as several speakers demonstrated.
Survey research consistently shows strong support
for school choice among Oklahoma Republicans.

Sarah Hughes, whose eight-year-old son is a beneficiary of a Wisconsin school choice program, told national viewers her son “would have slipped through the cracks in public schools” but now has been provided the educational opportunity that will allow him “to succeed.”

Tera Myers, whose son has Down syndrome and is a beneficiary of an Ohio school-choice program, likewise noted her son says school choice “helped my dreams come true” and allowed him to become the “best I can be.”

Such stories are not outliers, nor are they isolated to places far from Oklahoma. Our state has seen dramatic success stories generated by school choice.

For example, in north Tulsa this year Crossover Preparatory Academy continued educating students through distance means when Tulsa Public Schools effectively threw in the towel, other than having online review of past content.

Many of the low-income, all-male and mostly minority students at Crossover Preparatory Academy in north Tulsa attend that private school because of a state tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

The benefits of their private-school education can be seen by comparing those students to their socio-economic counterparts still in Tulsa Public Schools. A TPS official recently told the State Board of Education that district now expects that kids “who might otherwise have been predicted to be two years below grade level” are instead going to be “approximately three years below grade level.”

The kids at Crossover still have opportunities thanks to education, but many kids in TPS do not and will pay the price for years.

Former state Rep. Jason Nelson, who helped create a state program that pays for children with special needs to attend private schools, has reported some parents “have told me that it saved their child’s life.” That is not hyperbole. Oklahoma’s school-choice programs have served children with special needs, teens recovering from addiction, survivors of horrendous childhood abuse, and more. School-choice has not only changed lives but saved them.

As the nation grapples with issues of inequality, one of the best paths forward is to expand school choice in Oklahoma and elsewhere. As Donald Trump Jr. bluntly noted, if officials really want to “help minorities in underserved communities,” the best option is to “let parents choose what school is best for their kids.”

Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president, noted at the RNC that education “is the great equalizer.” He’s right. It’s time we give all students of all races and economic backgrounds a greater chance at success through school choice.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

While teachers' kids get special treatment, other Oklahoma parents are out of luck

In some Oklahoma school districts (Oklahoma City, Norman, and Owasso, for example), "teachers and other staff are allowed to bring their children to physical school sites and the district provides adult supervision of those pupils' on-site 'distance' learning," Ray Carter reports. 

The special treatment given to the children of school staff has not gone unnoticed by other parents. But the perception of special treatment may be the least of the problems created by the program. Benjamin Lepak, a legal fellow at the 1889 Institute who previously provided counsel to 24 elected officials across three counties while working for a district attorney, said such arrangements appear to violate the Oklahoma Constitution.

It's small wonder that Oklahoma voters, by a margin of two to one, say that if schools don’t open in the fall, parents should be able to take their tax dollars and go to another school.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Choice is what parents need in the era of COVID

"School choice is not a magic wand that removes tradeoffs and hard choices," Greg Forster writes. "But it allows parents to make the tradeoffs that make sense to them."

Monday, August 31, 2020

School choice highlighted at RNC

At the recently concluded Republican National Convention, numerous speakers stressed the importance of school choice. The topic was mentioned every day of the convention, by multiple speakers.

Oklahoma government funds controversial sex-ed curriculum

"Many 'age-appropriate' and 'abstinence-based' sexual education courses in public schools are far more graphic than parents realize, and often stretch the meaning of the word 'abstinence' to include a wide range of sexual activity," Ray Carter reports. "One sex-ed program criticized by officials is allowed in Oklahoma schools and funded by a state agency."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Private-sector forces create a government success

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

After having been at the bottom of the barrel, Oklahoma now ranks in the top 10 for bridge conditions, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration. That success is the result not of government, but primarily of private-sector forces. And similar improvements can be generated elsewhere by taking advantage of market forces and the benefits of competition.

In 2004, nearly 1,200 of Oklahoma’s 6,800 highway bridges were considered structurally deficient. Today, only 86 highway bridges are considered structurally deficient, and each is already scheduled for improvements through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year construction plan.

Increased funding was a component of that successful turnaround—but only one component. The more important factor was reliance on private-sector competition to generate improvement.

How? The state’s eight-year road plan has an equal emphasis on performance and outcomes, along with funding. Notably, ODOT uses state funds to pay private entities to perform the work. That’s not a minor detail.

ODOT’s contracts include bonus pay for high-performance and, on the flip side, the agency can and does fire contractors who don’t live up to expectations. Imagine that.

Thus, this is a “government success” built almost entirely on free-market competition and the superior service produced by the private sector. It’s a success that can be duplicated elsewhere.

Each year it is common for education advocates to call for the creation of an eight-year plan for schools. Yet those advocates typically want a plan focused only on increased funding, not increased funding tethered to increased reliance on competition and private-sector providers. But the road-and-bridge plan shows such competition is crucial.

If school funding were increased each year, with parents allowed to use their taxpayer dollars to choose a child’s school (public or private), we would quickly see improvement in education that matches the improvement in state bridges. When pay is tied to educational outcomes for children, providers quickly show they can provide better outcomes—knowing that if they don’t, bad providers will be let go.

Such choice is especially important now as many districts are ignoring the needs of children by telling parents they can go online-only or do without. Notably, in the urban areas where such take-it-or-leave-it edicts are coming from public schools, most private schools are finding a way to safely offer in-person instruction. Those private schools do so because their pay is tied to consumer needs, not bureaucrats’ wants.

There’s a reason Oklahoma’s eight-year plan for roads succeeded when the old Soviet Union’s five-year plans generated only misery. One relies on private-sector forces, while the other trusted government bureaucrats over market forces.

As Oklahomans rightly celebrate our top 10 ranking in roads, they have reason to note our continued low ranking elsewhere, including education, and then ask this question: Why not copy success?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Oklahomans say per-student funding should follow the student

By a two-to-one margin, Oklahomans say that if schools don’t open in the fall, parents should be able to take their tax dollars and go to another school. This according to a statewide survey of active likely voters conducted August 10–13, 2020. The survey, with a sample size of 630 and a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent, was commissioned by OCPA and conducted by Cor Strategies (script here, results here, methodology here).

Voters were also asked about their view of homeschooling: “With COVID-19 forcing many parents to pursue home-based education solutions, would you say your opinion on homeschooling has become more or less favorable as a result of the coronavirus?”
  • Much more favorable ... 31%
  • Somewhat more favorable ... 26%
  • Total more favorable ... 57%
  • Somewhat less favorable ... 11%
  • Much less favorable ... 15%
  • Total less favorable ... 26%
  • Unsure ... 18%
The “more favorable” view prevailed among Republicans (62% more favorable, 21% less favorable), Independents (51% more favorable, 28% less favorable), and Democrats (52% more favorable, 28% less favorable).

Friday, August 7, 2020

The cost of 'free' education becoming unaffordable

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

What if you paid for a service, were then told the service would not be provided, that you wouldn’t get your money back, and that you are now expected to pay for the same service again? That’s the reality facing parents in Oklahoma school districts that have refused to reopen physical sites and are instead mandating distance learning for all.

Through numerous taxes, Oklahomans have already paid for children’s education. But now they are being told they will pay for much of that service a second time, either directly or indirectly.

To cite one example, this week Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that $15 million in federal funding will be used to launch 30 community centers to serve roughly 4,200 children. The centers will have mental health professionals, social workers, virtual learning tools such as computers and iPads, meals and snacks, a weekend backpack program, and other programming to support families.

Put simply, Oklahoma is spending $15 million to provide many services that have already been funded through other taxes and would normally be provided in schools. Stitt’s plan is necessary only because some public schools refuse to reopen.

Families will directly pay additional costs due to continued school shutdown.

Many parents must work and now must also ensure their children’s safety while they are gone. Some will hire babysitters—another added cost of schooling. But many will not be able to afford that alternative, so some parents may have to quit a job to stay home with children. That’s a huge financial burden for many families and an insurmountable one for many single-parent households.

In some homes, older siblings will be left in charge of younger siblings, but that’s obviously not ideal and cause for concern.

Churches and other civic organizations will no doubt step up and provide places for children to stay that are safe. Once again, however, that requires spending additional money that will not go to other uses.

Officials at schools that are going online-only claim they want to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure, yet in many instances, parents will be forced to rely on alternatives that still involve large gatherings of children during the day, just in non-school settings.

As a result, the virtual-only model will do little to reduce potential COVID exposure among children, who are not very susceptible to the virus anyway, and the online-only model will increase the cost of education for families who can least afford to bear additional financial burdens.

This highlights the continued need for education choice in Oklahoma. Parents should be allowed to use their education tax dollars to send their children to the school of their choice. Otherwise, the cost of “free” public education will only continue to skyrocket as the service provided to parents declines.