Saturday, February 20, 2016

Have Oklahomans already made their choice?

"Oklahomans have already made their 'choice' when it comes to education," Edmond school board member Meredith Exline wrote in a recent column. "More than 90 percent of parents have chosen public schools."

But let's think about this for a moment. Education reporter Mike Antonucci once asked: "If the government, under the force of law, takes money from my paycheck every month to supply me and every other citizen with a Yugo, and I choose not to spend additional personal income on a Chevy, am I 'choosing' the Yugo?"

Not necessarily. Indeed, it's pretty clear that Oklahomans want more choices. A recent Cole Hargrave Snodgrass survey (of 500 registered Oklahoma voters, taken October 26 to November 5, 2015) asked Oklahomans their preferred educational option for their children. A majority (56 percent) said they would choose a traditional public school. But 21 percent said they would prefer a private school, 9 percent said a charter school, 9 percent said home school, and 1 percent said an online school. (School-choice opponents eager to question the survey's methodological soundness should also note that this same survey had the Boren tax increase winning 65 percent to 31 percent.)

So a full 56 percent say they would choose a public school. That's a lot. But it's a far cry from 90 percent. Indeed, past surveys have found an even greater desire for options. When a January 2015 SoonerPoll asked parents what type of school they would select to obtain the best education for their children, 41 percent said a traditional public school, 43 percent said a private or parochial school, 8 percent said a charter school, and 7 percent said home school.

On Larry King's radio show several years back, Keith Geiger, then president of the National Education Association, admonished a school-choice proponent: "Quit talking about letting kids escape." But some kids really do need to escape. Not many kids here in Edmond, perhaps. My neighbors have already made their choice, and most appear to be satisfied. But "many, many parents are not able to take their children where they want them to go to school," says Dr. Betty Mason, former superintendent of the Oklahoma City Public Schools, in the one-minute video below. "They're stuck for economic reasons."

In other words, they have not truly "made their choice."

I urge you to watch the brief testimonials at Many parents are in a crisis situation. These are the types of parents who would say to James Lankford, "My child doesn't have a few more years. This is my child's only shot."

Folks in the public education community sometimes evince an unsettling lack of confidence in their own product. One wishes they would step forth boldly and declare, "We have absolutely nothing to fear from an ESA program!" After all, Oklahomans have already made their choice.

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