Free Market Friday: Give them what they want

September 26, 2014

Michael Carnuccio

When it comes to improving education, what can Oklahoma learn from other countries?

That question was addressed at a forum in Oklahoma City this month featuring author Amanda Ripley. Although I couldn’t attend, I do know one thing we can learn: Parents deserve choices.

“Every country in the world except North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba allows parents to choose schools,” said Boston University education professor Charles Glenn, who served in the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. “Every Western democracy except the United States provides public funding to support those choices.”

Public funding could come in the form of school vouchers, for example. Oklahoma voters very much like this idea. A Braun Research survey released in January showed that the favor-versus-oppose numbers for vouchers are 59 percent to 35 percent.

Or, public funding could come in the form of education savings accounts, which exist in Arizona and Florida. With an ESA, parents can deposit a portion of their child’s per-pupil funding into a designated account and use it to pay for tutoring, private-school tuition, educational therapy, online learning and even save some of the money for college.

Oklahomans like this idea, too. The Braun survey showed that the favor-versus-oppose numbers for ESAs are 56 percent to 34 percent.
Another school choice option doesn’t involve public funding, but relies on charitable contributions.

In Oklahoma and many other states, donors can give to a scholarship-granting organization such as the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which helps pay private-school tuition. Donors receive a 50-percent tax credit for their generosity.

The most sobering finding from the Braun survey is that when asked what type of school they would select in order to obtain the best education for their children, only one in three Oklahomans said they would choose a traditional public school. Two in three would choose something else.

Clearly, parental choice is an issue that deserves greater attention from the candidates for state school superintendent.

Democrat John Cox opposes what he calls the privatization of our public schools, whereas Republican Joy Hofmeister is on record supporting Oklahoma’s tax-credit scholarship program, Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program and the concept of ESAs.

But we need to hear more on the topic from both of them.