| June 11, 2012

Oklahoma officials blocking the schoolhouse door

It was 49 years ago today that Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to block the entry of two students.

Sadly, government officials in Oklahoma are still blocking the schoolhouse door.

The deficiencies of Oklahoma’s government-run education system are such that a black market has sprung up in this state. For example, some parents are so desperate to get a better education for their children that they will lie about their place of residence. This is why some suburban public schools, for example, require parents to present a June or July utility bill before they can enroll their children.

Some school officials take even more extreme measures. In the Tulsa Union district, for example, bureaucrats in marked security vehicles perform “residency checks” to make sure students actually live where they say they live—even to the point of asking to see a 12-year-old girl’s bedroom and personal belongings. (Education reporter Mike Antonucci rightly calls this “the creepy school district border patrol.”) And it’s all done in an attempt to keep some folks out.

As the liberal Berkeley law professor John E. Coons has observed: “We still arrange education so that children of the wealthy can cluster in chosen government enclaves or in private schools; the rest get whatever school goes with the residence the family can afford. This socialism for the rich we blithely call ‘public,’ though no other public service entails such financial exclusivity. Whether the library, the swimming pool, the highway, or the hospital—if it is ‘public,’ it is accessible. But admission to the government school comes only with the price of the house.”

Oddly enough, even as Union is blocking the schoolhouse door to keep some students outside, it is simultaneously blocking the schoolhouse door to keep other students trapped inside. The district has sued the parents of special-needs children who chose to take advantage of a new law granting them private-school scholarships. (In an excellent editorial last week, The Oklahoman decried the “Jim Crow-era measures” used against private-school scholarships.) That litigation is on its way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court—though law professor Andrew Spiropoulos isn’t even sure there’s a real case and controversy here.

To his credit, George Wallace repented for his past. Oklahoma officials who trap bullied children like Phylicia need to do the same.

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