| September 5, 2011

Parents and students voting with their feet

Last year when SoonerPoll asked Oklahoma voters to give the state’s public schools a grade, a mere 5 percent gave the schools an A. Only 28 percent gave the schools a B.

So even though some 9 out of every 10 schoolchildren in Oklahoma choose to attend public schools, one has to wonder just how enthusiastic their parents are about this choice. As education reporter Mike Antonucci once asked, “If the government, under the force of law, takes money from my paycheck every month to supply me and every other citizen with a Yugo, and I choose not to spend additional personal income on a Chevy, am I ‘choosing’ the Yugo?”

A story which appeared last week in the Tulsa World is instructive in this regard. Associated Press reporter Tom Coyne reports from the Hoosier State (‘Indiana vouchers prompt thousands to transfer schools'), but the principles apply in Oklahoma as well:

Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.

It’s a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools.

Long feared, indeed. And for good reason. As David Boaz writes in his book The Politics of Freedom:

Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product. School boards, superintendents, and teacher unions are convinced that no one would attend public schools if they had the choice. Like Fidel Castro and former postmaster general Anthony Frank, they have a keen sense of the consumer demand for their product and are fighting a rearguard action to protect their monopoly.

Indeed, the Tulsa World story informs us that some public school principals have been reduced to “pleading with parents not to move their children” (which I sort of respect, given that in Oklahoma the establishment’s rearguard action was decidedly more crude and cruel.) And the postal comparison is apt: As I argued earlier this year in The Oklahoman, a heavily unionized, government-owned, government-operated monopoly is no better equipped to deliver education than it is to deliver mail.

Some parents are starting to figure that out, and are voting accordingly with their feet. I expect this trend to continue, both nationwide and in Oklahoma.

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