Saturday, August 4, 2007

School choice for me, but not for thee

[This column by Brandon Dutcher appeared January 22, 2003 in The Oklahoman.]

Let us now speak highly of Democrats.

I’m talking about prominent Democrats who understand that parents have a duty to provide the best possible education for their children, and who exercise school choice in order to perform that duty.

For example, you may recall that the Clintons and the Gores sent their own children to elite private schools. Same with multimillionaire politicians like Ted Kennedy and John D. Rockefeller. And they should be applauded. Parents should choose the safest and best schools for their children, whether those schools are public or private.

Closer to home, the chairman of the Oklahoma City school board (of all people) exercises school choice. The Oklahoman reported last August 25 of this prominent corporate executive that “both his children attend private schools — a decision he said his family believes is the best educational choice for their children.” Hooray for educational choice.

Consider also the lively and loquacious liberal on the public-affairs talk show “FlashPoint.” He too is a wealthy Democrat who has exercised choice for his own progeny.

And consider our new governor, who’s going to spend the next four to eight years in public housing on Oklahoma City’s northeast side. Do you think he’s going to sit idly by while the government assigns his children to an elementary school with woeful test scores, a middle school which issued 524 out-of-school suspensions in the 2000-01 school year, and a high school where the average ACT score is 15.4? The governor cannot be blamed — indeed he should be commended — for making another choice, even if it is simply choosing different public schools.

“Parents have a fundamental right — written into the various international covenants protecting human rights — to choose the schooling that will shape their children’s understanding of the world,” says Boston University education professor Charles L. Glenn. “But a right isn’t really a right if it can’t be exercised.”

A new poll gives parents reason for optimism. Conducted during American Education Week in November by the University of Oklahoma Survey Research Center in cooperation with Wilson Research Strategies, the poll shows that more than six in ten Oklahomans (61 percent) support giving parents tax breaks, or credits, which would allow them to send their children to the public, private, or parochial school of their choice.

School choice for the rich and powerful is a nice first step, but it’s not good enough. Liberal activist Martin Luther King III, who favors education tax credits, put it best: “We basically have one supplier, the public education system, and it has become a huge bureaucracy. This bureaucracy has to be challenged. Fairness demands that every child, not just the rich, has access to an education that will help them achieve their dreams.”

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