Should parents be allowed to use the tax dollars intended for the education of their child to subsidize the cost of an education at a privately operated school? Most Oklahoma voters say yes, according to a new SoonerPoll Quarterly Poll, with regular church attenders and evangelicals expressing even stronger support.
The survey question, which attempted to provide the strongest argument for educational-choice proponents and opponents alike, was worded as follows:
Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?
Respondents favored educational choice at a rate of 51.5 percent, with 37.3 percent opposed.
SoonerPoll CEO Bill Shapard said his firm has asked the same question many different ways with the same result. “Time and time again, we’ve asked Oklahoma voters in a variety of ways about the concept of school choice and a majority continues to support it,” he said.
A deeper look into the demographics of the poll’s respondents shows that among regular church attenders support for school choice rises even higher: 59.1 percent of Oklahomans who say they attend religious services weekly support educational choice while 29.5 percent oppose.
Voters who identify as “evangelical” support educational choice by an even wider margin, with 63.4 in support and 26.1 percent opposed.
Rev. Craig Eidson is lead pastor of Freedom Church in Piedmont and is a vocal supporter of educational choice.
“My wife and I have homeschooled, used private schooling, and had our children in the public school system,” he said. “We believe that utilizing all three methods allowed for a great education for our kids. However, it would have benefited us greatly as parents to have been able to offset the cost with an education savings account, tax break, or other means to help with the costs involved in homeschooling and private schooling.”
Eidson’s wife, Michelle Eidson, serves as the principal of Spring Creek Elementary School in Deer Creek.
Rev. Eidson told attendees at the July 29 meeting of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition that he and his wife have always strived “to do what’s best for the kids.”
“You hear that a lot,” he said. “’Do what’s best for the kids.’ The question is, if that’s what (those) people are really for. … Vouchers cannot hurt, and they are almost certain to help. We need God’s help. Allow parents to have total control of their children’s education.
“When we say we’re for what is best for the kids, do we really mean it? Or is it all about the agenda for public schools?”
Clarence Oliver of Broken Arrow, an emeritus professor in the Oral Roberts University College of Education, opposes educational choice policies. Oliver is a former superintendent for the Broken Arrow Public Schools and was the lead plaintiff in an unsuccessful legal challenge to Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program. In an exclusive interview with CIJ, Oliver said he is opposed to any use of state funds to pay for the education of children in nonpublic schools.
“A basic component of the (state) Constitution provided that the state had an obligation to fund public schools,” he said. “If you use those funds to fund other than public schools, I think it’s a violation of the Constitution and should not be permitted.”
When asked specifically about the idea of a “moral right” to educational choice, Oliver said the notion is a distraction from what he believes is the real issue. “I don’t think it’s a moral issue,” he said. “I think it’s an education decision.”
“It’s the right of a parent to choose to send their children where they want to,” he said, “but I do not think that the public funds should be used for anything other than public activities.”
Wade Burleson is a strong supporter of both public schools and educational choice. The senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid and a prolific author, Burleson said that among the members of his church he sees 80 percent support for educational choice. He said that he and the congregation of Emmanuel Enid see the implementation of educational choice as not only a moral right but as a logical imperative.
He said that competition creates improved outcomes in all situations and education is no different. “When people have a choice to send their children to a different school, then the public school—by the very nature of competition—becomes better,” he said. “When education becomes a monopoly, as in business, then service, product, efficiency all decrease in value.
“From history, from logic, from scripture, it’s the parent’s responsibility to educate their children,” he said.