Mickey Hepner | December 7, 2009

Three Reasons Oklahoma Needs School Choice

Mickey Hepner

In a recent article, I offered a modest proposal to enhance school choice in Oklahoma. I proposed that Oklahoma start funding a $3,000 tuition scholarship for every K-12 student who enrolls in an accredited Oklahoma private school. Such a proposal, I argued, would provide parents with more freedom, more flexibility, and more choices in finding the school that best fits their children's needs.

I have heard from many people who have great compassion for our children, and a great passion for improving our educational system, yet who believe I am wrong. Allow me to address the three most common arguments I have heard against my proposal.

"We already have school choice." It is true that parents have some school choice in our state. We have made progress in recent years in the formation of charter schools, yet these are limited only to Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. Furthermore, parents can choose a public school by choosing where to live. Yet this raises the question, if some school choice is good ... wouldn't more school choice be better? Currently, many families have limited access to the network of private schools in our state. Why not give more parents more choices by making a private school education more affordable (as my proposal does)?

"No public money for private schools." This phrase is usually stated in a manner that indicates the speaker believes it should be a debate-stopper. However, this argument is inconsistent with how we operate many other government programs. For example, when the Department of Transportation wants to fund repairs to our state's roads and bridges, it often turns to private companies to perform the service. When the Oklahoma Health Care Authority wants to fund health care expenses for Oklahoma's needy families, it often turns to private health care providers to provide that service. When the State Regents for Higher Education want to provide tuition assistance to Oklahoma college students with the Oklahoma's Promise program, it turns to Oklahoma's private colleges and universities to accept those funds and provide the education. We routinely use public funds to hire private organizations to provide important services. Why not do it with K-12 education too?

"School choice hurts public schools." Actually, there are two reasons that the opposite-school choice helps public schools-is more likely to be true. First, under my proposal the state would provide a modest $3,000 scholarship, paid for by reducing each public school's allocation by $3,000 for each student they lose to a private school. Since we currently spend much more than $3,000 per student (actually more than twice that amount), public school funding on a per-pupil basis actually would rise. Furthermore, recent economic research finds that public schools that are losing money and/or students respond by increasing spending on technology, teacher development, and enhancing their curriculum. In other words, competition forces public schools to get better.

If we truly want to give children the best education, we must enable parents to choose the best schools for their children.

Dr. Mickey Hepner (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma. He serves on the executive committee of the board of directors for The Oklahoma Academy.

Mickey Hepner

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