School choice offers escape from critical-race-theory harm

May 13, 2021

Ray Carter

Although a newly passed state law makes it illegal for schools to teach racial-superiority philosophies associated with critical race theory, some school officials have indicated they may ignore the law.

If so, legislators say expansion or creation of new school-choice programs, including Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), could negate that problem.

“If a school chooses to do this, number one, we’re going to handle that from a legal standpoint,” said Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant. “But number two, parents need to have the ability to just move their kids. Competition drives all things.”

“If schools are ignoring this, school choice is one of the really, really good ways that we can combat some of that,” said Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore.

House Bill 1775, by West and Bullard, bans K-12 schools from requiring or making part of a course any material that declares “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

It includes several similar provisions, such as banning instruction that tells children an individual “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt recently signed the bill into law, saying schools can teach the history of racial challenges in the United States and Oklahoma “without labeling a young child as an ‘oppressor,’ or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex.”

Yet some public-school officials have loudly attacked the new law, including the Oklahoma City school board, which recently voted to denounce it.

The Oklahoma City school board members are mostly white.

Board member Carrie Coppernoll Jacobs, who is white and previously worked as a teacher, said “the conversations that happened in my classroom would absolutely have been illegal under House Bill 1775.”

Board member Meg McElhaney, who is white, said HB 1775 “makes something that I think is critical to a public-education system illegal.”

Boad member Carole Thompson said HB 1775 was “censoring the information that is necessary for our students to learn and learn about history.” Oklahoma City Superintendent Sean McDaniel, who is white, also called the bill a “form of censorship in the classroom.”

Oklahoma City School Board member Ruth Veales, who is black, said the law tries “to shut the voices down of people in order to protect white fragility.”

Recent polling shows the views of Oklahoma City school board members conflict with the views of an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters.

A recent national poll commissioned by Parents Defending Education, a “national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists imposing harmful agendas,” showed that large majorities of citizens oppose the types of instruction barred by House Bill 1775.

The poll of 800 active voters, conducted from April 9–19, found that nearly 74 percent said they opposed teaching students that white people “are inherently privileged” while minorities are “inherently oppressed and victimized.”

Eighty-eight percent opposed assigning white students the status of “privileged” and non-white students the status of “oppressed,” with 78 percent of voters strongly opposed.

In addition, nearly 69 percent of voters opposed having schools teach that America was founded on racism and is structurally racist.

Both West and Bullard say they have been contacted by parents relieved that state law is trying to ban critical race theory in Oklahoma classrooms.

“I’ve been contacted a lot since it got signed, thanking me, thanking the governor, because they have seen some of this starting to come into their schools, or at least aspects of it,” West said.

“I can’t tell you how many emails from people I’ve had from the metro saying, ‘Thank you. We had nowhere else to go,’” Bullard said. “I’ve had that comment said to me I can’t tell you how many times. Families have emailed me and said, ‘Senator, we had nowhere else to go, so our kids were just going to get forced into this stuff.’”

But West noted that HB 1775 has no significant penalties included for violations, so some public-school districts may feel emboldened to ignore it. He said giving parents the power to leave via school choice may be necessary to incentivize compliance.

“I think that will be part of the conversation as we move forward if schools ignore this law,” West said.

Bullard, who was a teacher before being elected to the Senate, said he supports providing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to Oklahoma parents in urban areas, such as the families who wrote him saying their financial status does not allow them to remove a child from a local school that has been promoting critical race theory.

“ESAs would give your kids that are in these schools that are indoctrinating the power to get out of it,” Bullard said.

ESAs allow parents to use taxpayer funding to cover the cost of educational services, including payment of private-school tuition.

“We’ve got to get indoctrination out, either way,” Bullard said. “And ESAs will help us, probably more than anything else in the metros, to straighten some of that up.”