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  • Writer's pictureCindy Nicolai

School Choice or Education Liberty?

Do You Believe in School Choice or

Do You Believe in Educational Liberty?

Many people are jumping on the School Choice bandwagon acknowledging that parents should have the choice to send their children to any school they want. We would totally agree with that. In fact, we would say that it is a parent’s right to choose the form of education that best suits their family. That is true educational liberty. No argument there. Some go a step further and fully support the National School Choice week and even market their school of choice during this one week in January. But the school choice that is promoted during School Choice week may not be what some followers think it is. It all boils down to whether you are looking for choice within a government controlled system, or freedom from the system. Here is a breakdown of the School Choice that is being promoted and true Educational Liberty.

In Oklahoma, our constitution allows for three distinct educational options: Public, Private, and Other Means.

Public - Requires enrollment in a government funded, government controlled institution and includes:

  • Traditional Brick and Mortar Public School

  • Virtual Public School (online classes)

  • Brick and Mortar Charter School

  • Virtual Charter School run by corporations (online classes)

Private - Requires enrollment in a parentally funded, privately controlled institution and includes:

  • Private Christian Schools

  • Private Secular Schools

  • Online Private Schools

Other means - No enrollment required. Is parentally funded, directed, and controlled and includes:

  • Home Education

  • Private Tutoring

Implementing School Choice legislation will not increase or add to those options. The only thing it will increase is the governmental control over the current non-public venues which choose to participate by accepting educational subsidy appropriations in the form of a government funded ESA. The idea and theme of School Choice and School Choice week is to let government funding follow the student. We all know that where government funding goes, so goes the government. This regulation laden program then will only allow choice within a government controlled system, not freedom from the system.


"Maybe, instead of using government funds to enslave private and home education and increase the monopoly, we can find creative ways to heal some of the injuries that government overreach has inflicted on public education."


The argument is that while yes, those options are currently available, they are not accessible to everyone because of location or finances and it is the government’s responsibility to remedy that. We must break the “monopoly” of the failing government funded public school system so that everyone has the opportunity to attend a more successful school, thereby receiving a better education making them more prepared to enter the workforce.

Sounds noble, but wait, what is wrong with this picture?

First of all, how do we break the monopoly of government funded public schools if we are turning ALL schools into government funded schools through ESAs? How does that work? Oh, I know. It can only work if we are using Common Core Math. That’s the problem! 1 government public school + 3 government funded private schools = 1 bigger government school! I get it now.

Maybe, instead of using government funds to enslave private and home education and increase the monopoly, we can find creative ways to heal some of the injuries that government overreach has inflicted on public education. Bringing control of the local schools back to the local community would be a good start. Reduce the number of overpaid bureaucrats governing the school districts by unifying smaller school districts into one. Giving educators more freedom to teach to the student instead of the test would make a dramatic improvement. Increasing parental involvement by encouraging parents to be in the classroom would help with discipline. And, adjusting teacher’s salaries to reflect their worth would raise morale and restore the value of the local schools.

Secondly, why are we wanting to lure students out of a “failing” government funded public school system only to put them back into a government funded school which will fall under the same oversight, curriculum standards, rules, regulations, and red-tape restrictions we are trying to get away from? Anything the government funds, the government will control. What’s that? You say that the entire school won’t be subject to the government controls, but only those students within the school who choose to use the educational subsidy appropriations. Whew. That will make it much easier on the participating school now that they have to have two completely different sets of rules and testing and content and red-tape…that is, until they decide it is just not a viable option and is easier to have everyone do the same thing - forcing all their non-subsidy students to now comply with government controls and standards as was done in Indiana Catholic schools. Where is the choice in that?

Third, if the purpose is truly to help those “poor students” in poverty stricken and failing school districts, and we want them to have access to a private or more successful school across town, how are we going to get them there? If you thought the bus routes were long now… And, if we don’t intend to use public school transportation to actually do what we are saying needs to be done by transporting these “poor students” across town, then why are we doing it? Better yet, for whom is it really intended?

Fourth, how are we going to prevent fraud? When these targeted “poor families” suddenly have thousands of dollars on a debit card to spend on educational expenses, it is going to be very difficult to monitor all receipts to ensure expenses are legitimate. Arizona’s ESA program is so riddled with fraud that they have halted plans to expand it until a tighter, more stringent method of regulating can be implemented. Do we really want to create a state of fraud and all the chaos that comes with it?

Finally, if we are going to offer all of these educational opportunities FREE through School Choice ESAs, who is going to pay for it? Nevada passed the first universal ESA bill in 2015 and they are still asking the question, “How will it be funded?” Is it coming out of the Education Budget? Without totally revamping the funding structure for schools, how will we keep from double-dipping? Are Ad Valorem (property) and other taxes going to be raised? How will this affect the current need to increase teacher’s salaries? Will more busses be required? Will another government agency eventually be necessary to oversee this costing taxpayers even more money?

It seems that there are more questions than answers but the most important question that we need to ponder is, do we really want educational choice, or do we want educational liberty? We need to be very careful in coming to a conclusion on this because often our choices can take away our liberty, but true liberty will never remove choice. Don’t settle for the illusion.

(i) Parents choosing any School Choice option other than traditional brick and mortar public school or virtual public school may or may not be eligible depending on how the School Choice legislation is written in your state. Most have caps which only allow a certain number of students, is limited to certain school eligibility may be determined by income, and non-public (see definition below) venues may not be an option.

(ii) The government funded ESA will pay up to 90% of what the school district would have received to the parent in the form of a debit card. The amount will vary from state to state. In most states these funds are accumulated through increases in Ad Valorem and other taxes.

(iii) Non-public venues include non-government funded institutions such as private schools or other means of education (includes but not limited to privately funded, parent-directed home education or private tutoring). ALL charter schools, virtual charter schools and any form of public school at home are considered, by law, public schools and subject to governmental control. IF a private school or those educating by other means takes government funds as an approved provider through a School Choice ESA, they will be considered public institutions and be subject to ALL rules, regulations, requirements, and restrictions as the public school. What the government funds, the government controls.

(iv) Content includes sex education, tolerance, worldview, perspective of historical events, character training, ideology, and much more.

(v) Government funded schools are required to set their calendars between certain dates and are required to attend a specified number of days or hours per calendar year. In some states the requirements specify that attendance cannot be less than 5 days per week within the calendar year. Current Oklahoma compulsory attendance laws require 180 days or 1080 hours.

(vi) Non-public venues, while still adhering to any state compulsory attendance laws, have the flexibility to create a yearly calendar which fits their dynamics and student population. They may hold classes only 4 days per week, or set their calendar starting and ending dates different than that of the local public school. The possibilities are endless as long as a school year meets the compulsory attendance requirements of 180 days or 1080 hours.

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