Oklahoma churches against education
November 7, 2022
Greg Forster, Ph.D.
The latest results from the Nation’s Report Card are “appalling and unacceptable,” and Oklahoma’s are among the worst. Yet some pastors—those for whom the prophetic voice is a professional responsibility—aren’t interested in prophecy but in profits for their government friends. Worse yet, they fiercely oppose the only proven way to improve academic outcomes in public schools.
It’s always sad to see clergy—professional spokespeople for the kingdom of God—standing in the schoolhouse door, helping special interests destroy children’s lives so they can keep siphoning money out of the government school monopoly. Sad, but not surprising, alas, given the Babylonian captivity of our churches to political ideologies of both parties. But when Oklahoma’s schools have just performed so poorly on the Nation’s Report Card that even the guardians of the monopoly are talking about what a disaster it is for the state, that ought to be a wake-up call to those for whom the prophetic voice is a professional responsibility.
Alas, the reverse seems to be happening. The political lobbying group calling itself “Pastors for Oklahoma Kids” and the always-oh-so-fashionably-progressive Oklahoma Conference of Churches are all the more resolved to go on demanding endless rivers of money for special interests. For those who think the kingdom of God is measured in the size of government budgets, the news that the last gigantic money dump has produced no results—or in this case, negative results—is only proof that an even bigger money dump is desperately needed. And if you doubt it, you’re against the mission of God. Meanwhile, the only proven way to improve academic outcomes in government schools—the only even plausible plan for doing so—is the policy these pastors oppose.
The Nation’s Report Card is a national evaluation of how our schools are doing. Since the 1990s it has measured basic skills like math and reading. As you may have heard, the results that came out last month showed devastating learning losses in U.S. schools over the past three years. Math scores fell to the lowest level ever recorded. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona described the results as “appalling and unacceptable.”
Oklahoma’s results were among the worst in the nation. Its scores fell even faster than the national average, and it now ranks near the bottom of the 50 states. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister called it “deeply troubling.”
Of course, we all understand this is about the pandemic. But not in the way the defenders of the status quo would like to think. They’re all shouting that the decline in scores is not their fault. However, it was in large part the system’s choices that made the decline as bad as it was. For example, Emily Oster of Brown University finds that in states that moved quickly to reopen schools, math scores declined less.
Not to mention that these declines were coming from a low starting point, and that’s not the pandemic’s fault. Given the millions we spend on the government monopoly, we have a right to expect excellence, but we weren’t getting it even before the world ended. As J.D. Tuccille puts it: “Public schools didn’t need masks, Zoom classes, and social distancing to do a terrible job at educating students; they managed that all by themselves long before the pandemic.”
Parents ought to have the right to find the best educational solution for their children at any time, but especially when the system is failing so spectacularly. Of the 28 empirical studies that have examined how school choice affects public schools, 25 find it improves them. A truly prophetic voice is a voice for choice.
Alas, the good Babylonians of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches aren’t interested in prophecy but in profits for their government friends. Check out their “Areas of Focus” page to see all the different domains in which they demand justice in the form of bigger government budgets. From the environment to health care to poverty, they’ve got one bell and they keep ringing it: more money for government bureaucracies, no matter whether it does any good.To treat the number of dollars we spend on a problem as the measurement of whether our efforts to address the problem are successful is worship of money, plain and simple.
Under “Education” they demand, without asking how much we already spend or whether it’s effective, that “funding should be increased across the board” for government schools. And they opine that “public school teachers should be recognized as professionals who deserve to be paid as professionals.” When they say “paid as professionals” they don’t mean paid based on how well they get the job done in the judgment of those for whom they’re supposed to work, which is how professionals actually get paid in every profession not dominated by government cronyism.
If you want to know why their vision of the kingdom of God only includes government-controlled schools and doesn’t support any other schools, you won’t find out from them. They don’t explain. But you might find out by consulting their good friends at Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, whose social media feed is a sewer of falsehoods about the evils of school choice programs.
Obviously the reason I want churches to dump this left-wing pabulum is not because I want them to preach right-wing pabulum. Nor would I want them to go silent, and leave the kingdom of God without a public witness for justice and mercy in the world. But would it be expecting too much if we asked them to give a damn whether or not the ever-bigger budgets they have spent decades demanding are having any positive impact on students?
To treat the number of dollars we spend on a problem as the measurement of whether our efforts to address the problem are successful is worship of money, plain and simple.