Jonathan Small | January 29, 2016

Free Market Friday: Empower parents

Jonathan Small

Across the country, many are celebrating this week as National School Choice Week. In fact, Martin Luther King III recently marched with more than 10,000 people at a rally calling for more educational choices for families and students.

I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s son that expanding school choice is an imperative for helping the most vulnerable. As more and more embrace the need for expanded educational choice, policy proposals are showing how to make this a reality.

A recent policy analysis by Oklahoma State University entrepreneurship professor Vance Fried details how to modernize K-12 education funding. Fried’s “Blueprint for Education Reform: Educational Choice and Empowered Public Schools” is a clear road map to building an education system that meets modern needs.

For context, Fried presents one startling graph that tracks two key indicators over time. The first is Oklahoma’s total per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, and tracked from 1972 through 2012. As you might expect, it trends almost constantly upward. Spending nearly doubled over that period.

The second line charts Oklahoma’s average SAT scores (adjusted for participation rate and student demographics) and validates the results against Oklahoma’s NAEP scores. The line is flat. Actually, it dips down a little near the end. How? Well for starters, while school enrollment grew by about 9 percent in those decades, school staffing (especially for non-teaching positions) soared by 83 percent.

Fried calls the old school model a “factory” where kids are forced into a one-size-fits-all teaching model reminiscent of 1907, or earlier. Instead, he suggests, schools can and should use modern technology like online courses to allow each student to progress at his or her pace, replacing the old seat time model with measures of academic competence.

That would require removing many of the burdensome regulations imposed on schools today, especially those associated with federal funding. Most of all it would require a new philosophy that places parents and students, not bureaucrats, at the center of the decision-making process.

In other words, let the tax dollars set aside to educate Johnny follow him to provide a wide range of learning services and tools. In three words: universal school choice. Education savings accounts would do just that.

Professor Fried’s paper is a vital contribution to Oklahoma’s education debate. Let’s hope our lawmakers read it carefully.

The most vulnerable deserve it.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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