Wednesday, November 9, 2016

More momentum for Oklahoma ed choice

Three developments in the last week will add to the momentum for educational choice in Oklahoma.

First, additional choice supporters were elected to the state legislature last night. Read about each of them here. Of special note is the re-election of Dan Newberry, the Senate author of the state's most expansive private-school choice program. Newberry dispatched the retired education bureaucrat (and vocal ed-choice foe) Lloyd Snow.

In this year's legislative races, the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund spent more than $210,000. This is sometimes referred to as "dark money," a scary-sounding phrase used (usually by people who disagree with the donors' electoral preferences) to describe healthy and important First Amendment activities. The phrase "dark money" is especially beloved of liberal journalists and members of Oklahoma's public education community, though I suspect enthusiasm for its usage has dampened of late. Which brings us to the second key development: Ed-choice foes Joy Hofmeister, Fount Holland, and a pair of former CCOSA and OEA officials were charged last week with felony counts. The indispensable Michael Bates has a summary here

If you ever needed confirmation of Preston Doerflinger's observation that Hofmeister is a Democrat in Republican clothing (something I have long pointed out—here and here, for example), look no further than this affidavit. And don't miss this gem from GOP campaign consultant (and ed-choice foe) Fount Holland: "A little savvy would make OEA unstoppable. The question is are they for us, and can they be quiet and stomach our right wing rhetoric long enough to get what they really want; a pro education environment for our state." That quote perfectly encapsulates why Oklahoma's GOP supermajorities (75 to 26 in the House; 42 to 6 in the Senate) are not unalloyed good news.

Third, ed-choice supporters Donald Trump and Mike Pence were victorious last night. You may recall that Mr. Trump, noting that the existence of a public school monopoly should "set off antitrust alarm bells," is on record saying parents deserve more choices. "Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships," he said. "I call it competition—the American way."

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (center) is pictured in his office on November 16, 2015,
with several Oklahomans who were on a school-reform fact-finding trip to Indiana.  

Vice President-elect Pence also supports school choice, including vouchers and tax credits. "Let’s open more doors of opportunity to more Hoosier families by lifting the cap on the dollar amount that choice schools receive for students and raise the cap on the choice scholarship tax credit program," the Indiana governor said in last year's State of the State address. In a meeting in his office on November 16, 2015, Gov. Pence discussed education reform with several Oklahomans who were on a fact-finding trip to Indianapolis sponsored by the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Gov. Pence spoke openly about school choice, including education savings accounts. (Contrary to the claims of ed-choice foe Jadine Nollan, a state representative who says Gov. Pence advised Oklahoma lawmakers not to enact ESAs in a difficult budget year, what he actually said—as I and several others who were in the meeting can attest—is simply that it's more difficult to do it in a down budget year.)

In any case, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the education establishment's rearguard action to protect its monopoly cannot hold year after year. Oklahoma's political leaders, rather than continuing to penalize parents financially for raising their children in accordance with their consciences, will eventually enact and expand policies—vouchers, tax credits, ESAs, and more—which secure parental rights. As Oklahoma's GOP-controlled government considers education funding and teacher pay raises in 2017, let's hope they insist that the price for more funding is increased parental choice.

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