Point of view: School choice is a basic American freedom
This is “National School Choice Week” and it is a good time to take stock of what rights we have been granted as parents to educate our children, what rights we have not, and why all this matters.
What is “school choice?” It is the ability of a parent to choose where to send their child to school. In Oklahoma, those options theoretically include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, homeschooling or free virtual schools. Whether these choices are available to most parents often depends on decisions made by elected officials. For instance, Oklahoma permits public charter schools to operate, but stifles their growth by funding them inequitably compared with traditional public schools. We have many great private schools, but unlike several other states, don't allow most parents to use their education tax dollars to cover the cost of tuition.
Why does choice matter in education? Like all matters of basic liberty, it's because in a free society we believe people should be able to control their destinies. If our ability to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as outlined in our Declaration of Independence, somehow does not encompass what we teach our children, then it is a hollow promise indeed.
Choice also matters because it is synonymous with better educational outcomes and better social outcomes. A study by the Urban Institute demonstrated that children who were recipients of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship — a school choice program aimed at helping low-income families attend private schools — were more likely than their peers to go to college and graduate. A study published in Social Science Quarterly demonstrated a significant decrease in criminal behavior among students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. These studies, and others like it, simply reinforce common sense. If your child is in a failing school, or being bullied, or has a special need that isn't being attended to, then exercising choice and sending that child to a more suitable school will likely produce a better outcome. Parents do not need research studies to know that.
What should we be doing on School Choice Week in Oklahoma? Certainly, we should be thankful for the choices we do have and the many teachers, administrators and parents who work to make those choices not only available, but successful.
Beyond that, we should organize. The Oklahoma Parent Power Summit will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at St. Luke’s Christian Life Center, 251 NW 14 Street. We are serious about empowering parents, protecting the educational freedoms we have and fighting for those we do not. Join us if you are too.
Ruiz is executive director of ChoiceMatters.