Stitt stands with parents

February 23, 2022

Jonathan Small

In his State of the State address, Gov. Kevin Stitt made clear he stands with parents before bureaucrats. That was a shock for status-quo defenders but welcome news to families.

Stitt endorsed robust, statewide school choice, saying funding should follow a child instead of being tied to buildings or systems. The governor vowed to “support any legislation that gives parents more school choice” and specifically pointed to Senate Bill 1647, by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat. That legislation would allow state funding to follow a child to any school, including private schools, giving parents the financial ability to choose a wider array of education options and increasing the likelihood their children will be taught and excel academically in an environment that best serves them.

“In Oklahoma, we listen to parents, because we know God gave kids to parents—not to the government,” Stitt said.

Impetus for this reform is also tied to the fact that Oklahoma has long been a laggard in education. As Stitt noted, Oklahoma is still ranked 47th for education, and just 15 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates are ready for college in all core subjects—English, math, reading, and science.

“God gave kids to parents—not to the government.” —Gov. Kevin Stitt

Those low rankings persist despite record funding and a billion dollars in reported school surplus.

Those poor outcomes are also a logical consequence when school choice is limited. Should a school not serve a child—for whatever reason—too many families are currently left to simply endure the situation because they have no other options. That this produces substandard academic results is not surprising.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, decried Stitt and Treat’s proposal, claiming it would dismantle public education. Other critics voiced similar views.

Yet every penny going to education would still go to children’s education under SB 1647. And it is notable that Hofmeister and other critics did not offer any proposal to improve education outcomes. That suggests their theory is to keep doing the same thing over and over while hoping for a different result.

It’s also notable that Stitt’s critics were mostly silent on his call to provide six-figure salaries to the best teachers.

Last year Stitt, Treat, and House Speaker Charles McCall showed great leadership by expanding a tax-credit program for donations to scholarship-granting organizations. For many working-class students, those private-school scholarships have been a lifeline.

But the state must do more. Oklahoma’s education outcomes will not improve until education policy focuses on children, not the buildings they’re taught in. During COVID, many parents found their local schools ignored the needs of families—no doubt because school officials know most families can’t afford to leave. It’s time to flip that power dynamic and give parents the upper hand.