The Edmond Sun


June 27, 2014

Mixed success for educational choice in 2014 Legislature

EDMOND — In a visit to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in late May, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker offered a passionate defense of Wisconsin’s statewide school voucher program.

It’s not a matter of public schools versus private schools, Walker said. (His own children went to public schools.) Rather, it’s a matter of ensuring that every family has the opportunity to choose the best school for their son or daughter.

Oklahomans want those opportunities. In December 2013 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice commissioned a statewide survey of Oklahoma voters. The survey was conducted by Braun Research Inc., a company which has been used by such research firms as Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

Right now more than 9 in 10 Oklahoma students attend a traditional public school. But the survey found that Oklahomans want more choices.

The results are especially pronounced among those voters who are paying the closest attention: parents of school-aged children. One in three parents say they would choose a traditional public school for their children. The rest would choose a private school, a charter school or homeschooling.

Doubtless aware of this underwhelming demand for its product, the government school monopoly fights hard every legislative session to make sure none of the little revenue units head for the exits. In 2014 the results were mixed.

The monopoly folks were able to squash a charter school expansion bill, a parent trigger bill and a bill that would have provided Education Savings Accounts to allow low-income children in Oklahoma’s worst-performing schools (basically the bottom 10 percent) to go to a private school.

They were less successful on other fronts. Oklahoma’s scholarship program for special education students — which is already saving lives (go to YouTube and type in “Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Stories”) — was expanded to include students who have been provided services under an Individual Family Service Plan through the SoonerStart program.

In addition, Oklahoma’s popular tax-credit scholarship program (63 percent of Oklahoma voters favor it, 28 percent oppose) was expanded.

Under the program, Oklahomans can donate to philanthropic organizations that help families pay private-school tuition. The newest such organization, the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, was launched this year. Board members include OCPA president Michael Carnuccio and state Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa.

With these scholarships, students get an opportunity to go to a school where the third-grade illiteracy rate is — here’s a concept — zero. And donors get a 50 percent tax credit. A new law increases the tax credit to 75 percent.

In his OCPA visit, Gov. Walker made the point that Wisconsin’s voucher program is causing the public schools to improve. No surprise there. As education researcher Greg Forster has noted, “23 empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

Let’s empower Oklahoma parents with the choices they want and deserve.

BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is senior vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank.

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The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
     View Results