School Choice Bill May Leave Most Parents with No Choices

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Senate Bill 1647, known as the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, is supposed to give parents the power to choose whatever educational option is best for their child by giving them their share of the state’s education dollars. How is this a good idea for all Oklahoma children, and how will it improve Oklahoma’s underfunded public education system?

I understand that parents want the best education for their children. A few people might be able to use these resources either at home or for private education, but it’s a very selfish way to look at public schools in a democratic society. This bill would leave thousands of Oklahoma students behind in schools that have been drained of resources.

Rather than building up neighborhood schools with wrap-around resources, small class sizes, professionally educated teachers, high quality materials and technology, the Oklahoma Empowerment Act would tear apart neighborhoods as families vie for a spot at a school that may or may not be better for their child. Isn’t the best option for most children a safe, well-maintained neighborhood school where the community, staff and teachers are invested in creating a successful learning environment?

Yes, it takes vision, strength of will and funding to make that happen, but it can happen. Tearing apart public schools before they’ve ever been properly funded doesn’t make sense. Public education was not and is not a failure. Does public education need more investment, especially in areas that have been neglected for generations? Yes. But why not build up what we have? Why not make good on promises that have never been fulfilled?

What about children who live in rural communities? Will their money go to EPIC? We know how that turned out.

I agree with President Pro Tempore Greg Treat when he said, “Children from working families shouldn’t be relegated to a failing school simply because of where they live. Education is key to bringing generational change…” (Sidenote: I do find it interesting that the public schools are always called “failing,” while charter schools that have even lower test scores are never “failing.”)

Would handing parents a pile of money for their child’s education and sending them off on their own with no oversight actually help the children of Oklahoma? It can be helpful to look at other states such as Arizona, which have already enacted similar legislation. A parent of a child with special needs writes how she looked for a private school for her son and never found one.

Would it have been better for this family to have a fully funded public school with trained special education teachers?

And, before Oklahoma voters swallow the false narrative of full-on school choice, here’s another experience from an Arizona parent who moved to another state in order to get a good public education for her child.

Could I find individual voices of parents who were helped by choice? Yes. But choice implies that a choice actually exists. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of U.S. students attend public schools, and the majority are schools in their home district.

Before destroying public schools, which educate most children, why not consider providing what all children really need, such as small class sizes, professional educators, mental health counselors, a culturally sensitive curriculum, teacher autonomy, ongoing teacher training and support and higher pay for teachers. Once the playing field is level, then you can talk about choice.

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