Kaitlyn Finley | August 17, 2021

To mask or not to mask? Give parents educational choices

Kaitlyn Finley

It’s August. Schools are opening for another year. Depending on locality and state, children may be required to wear a face mask in the classroom. Ten states now mandate masks for students, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. Meantime, eight states have banned local mask mandates. Yet some school districts have imposed a mask mandate anyway.

A quick glance at social media reveals that mask mandates and anti-mask legislation have produced many unhappy parents and fierce opinions. Some parents still fearful of COVID-19 express their support of mandatory masking for children by school boards. Other parents want no mandates and a return to pre-pandemic normalcy.

In some states the mask debate has extended beyond just school boards and parents. Last week, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the state supreme court to hear his challenge to Gov. Andy Beshear's statewide mask mandate.

As the debate heats up, this question remains: To mask or not to mask? And who gets to make that determination for everyone? Florida found an answer. It's to expand school choice options and allow parents to decide.

Earlier this month, Florida’s State Board of Education approved a measure to extend program eligibility of the 2018 Hope Scholarship Act to families that don't agree with Covid-19 protocols at their children's public schools. The Hope Act allows students to receive a scholarship to pay for private tuition or attend a different public school. Students subjected to documented cases of harassment and bullying were offered a way out of their local public school. Now the law will extend to Covid-related measures, which some parents see as a form of harassment.

The Florida law will pay up to $7,100 per eligible student in the 2021-22 school year.

The state is not alone reacting to mask mandates. Other state lawmakers and political leaders are calling for more school choice options in response to Covid-19 policies. Earlier this month, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton said the legislature is considering a special session to address the issue of masking in schools. Parents, Sexton said, should have the final choice regarding masking for their children in school.

"I don't think it lies with the General Assembly. I don't think it lies with the school board. I think it lies with the parents... [I]f the parents disagree with the school boards having the mask mandate then they should have the school choice where the kids can pull their kids out, take their money, and go to any school that they want to.”

Arizona Republican legislators requested that Gov. Doug Ducey authorize students to receive state-aid scholarships for private tuition if the student is “trapped with any school district that is non-compliant with state law.” Ten Arizona school districts, including eight in metropolitan Phoenix, have mask mandates despite a state law that bans districts from requiring masks or vaccines. Earlier this month, Arkansas legislators introduced a bill similar to Florida’s recent initiative.

Although Covid and mask mandates have spurred a number of lawmakers to action for more parental school choice, it’s clear that expanding school choice is the best option for parents in all circumstances.

In a recent New York Post column, education policy scholar Corey DeAngelis noted that universal school choice remains the catchall solution for parents concerned about their child’s education or school environment.

“Families should be able to take their children’s education funds elsewhere regardless of their school’s masking decision,” DeAngelis wrote. “The mask rule is just one of many reasons a child’s residentially assigned government-run school might not be the right fit.”

DeAngelis is right. Universal school choice is the best answer for parents. Educational funds should follow the student. If you're one of the many parents who don’t agree with local or state ordinances for school masking, or you have objections with the school’s curriculum, then universal school choice is the answer for you.

Parents, not government officials, know their child best. They should get to decide where their children’s education funds are to be spent, whether that be towards private or public schooling.

In the age of Covid and beyond, it’s clearer than ever that universal school choice is a must for parents and children. Next year, Oklahoma lawmakers must not let this policy solution fall by the wayside. It's time for universal school choice in Oklahoma.

Kaitlyn Finley Policy Research Fellow

Kaitlyn Finley

Policy Research Fellow

Kaitlyn Finley currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on healthcare and welfare policy. Kaitlyn graduated from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Previously, she served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time in Washington D.C. interning for the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

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