Brandon Dutcher | December 1, 2016
Oklahomans Want Educational Choices
By Brandon Dutcher
An honest reading of the public-opinion survey data over the past couple of years shows that Oklahomans favor educational choice.
In the last two years, six different public opinion surveys—from respected polling firms such as Tarrance, SoonerPoll, and Cole Hargrave Snodgrass—have shown strong support for various forms of private-school choice (e.g., vouchers, tax credits, and Education Savings Accounts). Meanwhile, one survey found that Oklahomans oppose vouchers (the survey didn’t ask about tax credits or ESAs).
But what if a pollster explored the question again now, in this climate dominated by daily news stories in which the adults involved in public education tell us that (despite $8.7 billion in total revenue, the most in state history) the sky is falling?
Well, SoonerPoll did just that. Oklahomans are indeed concerned about school finance—and they also want to give parents more educational choices. Here’s the question from SoonerPoll’s July survey of likely Oklahoma voters:
Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?
A majority of these Oklahomans, 52 percent of the respondents, favor educational choice, while 37 percent oppose (11 percent are undecided).
Unsurprisingly, support was strong in the two major urban centers. In the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, 59 percent favor educational choice while 31 percent oppose. In the Tulsa metropolitan area, 56 percent favor while 34 percent oppose.
But even in the rest of the state, 46 percent favor educational choice while 41 percent oppose.
Is school choice even feasible outside of the two metro areas? You may be surprised at just how widespread and affordable private education really is in this state. According to PrivateSchoolReview.com, “there are 226 private schools in Oklahoma, serving 36,272 students. The average private school tuition is $4,706 for elementary schools and $6,712 for high schools.”
That’s not a paltry sum, to be sure, but it’s worth noting that total per-student spending in Oklahoma’s public schools is $9,724, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Total per-student revenue is even higher: it’s more than $12,000 per student.
Would you believe there’s a thriving Christian school in Corn, Oklahoma, a town of 500 people? The school participates in Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program and Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program. If school choice is possible in Corn, Oklahoma, it’s safe to say it’s possible anywhere.
Today one in seven students in Oklahoma’s public school system is eligible for a private-school voucher. Four out of five Oklahoma families with children are eligible for a tax-credit scholarship, according to the organization EdChoice. And I expect school choice to continue to advance.
One reason is the Sexual Revolution’s continued assault on Oklahoma values. “The Obama administration is bullying the nation’s public schools into allowing students who claim they are transgender to use the bathroom and locker room facilities of the opposite sex,” Greg Forster pointed out in these pages in August (“Commode Core Shows Why We Need School Choice”).
And it’s not just the bogeyman feds. As my colleague Trent England has been discussing on The Trent England Show, the Oklahoma Library Association is pushing transgender propaganda at 10-year-old students in schools all across Oklahoma.
Tulsa Public Schools is so keen on the idea of calling a little boy a girl that teachers are being trained on “gender nonconformity” issues, including which bathrooms transgender children are allowed to use. No real surprise there; in June district officials in Tulsa flew a “Gay Pride” flag outside the TPS headquarters.
For its part, the Oklahoma PTA announced in July that the national PTA and its constituent associations will now be advocating for legislation creating a new protected class for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning” persons.
Parents, not government officials, have the moral right and the responsibility to determine a child’s path. The government—especially a government hostile to their values—should not penalize parents financially for raising their children in accordance with their consciences.
Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. He is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine, Forbes.com, Mises.org, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S.
Senior Vice President
Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine, Forbes.com, Mises.org, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.