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Oklahoma should focus on improving all public schools

Clark Frailey
Clark Frailey

Advocating for improved outcomes for public school kids in Oklahoma is about biblical justice. The Old Testament teaches that children are a blessing from the Lord.

Likewise, Jesus’ teaching is clear that children are important and that we should care for them.

A complementary Christian ethic advocating for the sanctity of life should push us to improve the quality of life for all of God’s children, regardless of where they reside in Oklahoma. Over 700,000 children, over 90% of our total school-age population, attend their local public school. Public schools are an integral part of the bedrock of communities across the state and are the single most efficient way to widely educate our kids.

Tragically, because of where a kid grows up in Oklahoma, many public education choices available to kids in the suburbs are not available to those in rural or urban areas.

While private school choice sounds great on paper, Oklahoma private schools simply cannot hold a candle to the wide distribution of our excellent public school infrastructure which we have been building together since 1907 across every ZIP code.

Yet we continue to underspend every single state in our region by thousands of dollars per student. These systemic funding failures have exacerbated today’s education crisis much like when a bridge or road fails due to insufficient maintenance. Vouchers and their cousin, tax-subsidized private school “scholarships” offer no solution at all to chronic public school underfunding.

Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Missouri spend zero public dollars on private school vouchers or tax-subsidized “scholarships.” Over the last decade, alone Oklahoma has expanded our spending on these privatization programs by more than 600%.

Powerful special interests infest the halls of our statehouse playing games and coordinating schemes in an attempt to push private school vouchers through the legislature before the public comprehends the truly negative long-term consequences that will inevitably result.

A shocking example we should learn from is former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ privatization sandbox in Detroit. Her plans there led Michigan’s K-12 system to now be recognized as one of the weakest in the entire nation.

Former President Donald Trump said, “A child’s ZIP code in America should never determine their future,” surely that must apply to children in rural ZIP codes with no access to any private options. This is why legislators should focus on innovative public school choices that can be made available across Oklahoma. That’s education justice. And our people cry out for it.

Lest we become the next Detroit, the devastating privatization ideology should be repelled from our statehouse and public schools should be funded to, at minimum, the regional average.

There is too much at stake for our future for any more games.

The Rev. Clark Frailey is a local church pastor and executive director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids — a nondenominational coalition of pastors from across Oklahoma who advocate for local public school children (