Brandon Dutcher | May 15, 2017
Oklahoma politicians shouldn’t penalize parents
By Brandon Dutcher
Parents, not government officials, have the moral right to raise their children according to their consciences.
That, in a nutshell, is why school choice is so important.
Think about it. In a free society, the government rightly defers to parents when it comes to raising their children. Bottle-feed or breastfeed? Spanking or time-out? Piano lessons or karate lessons? For countless decisions every day, the government defers to parents when it comes to raising their children.
And since education is simply a subset of parenting (as education professor Jay Greene sagely reminds us), the government should defer to parents when it comes to educating their children.
Now obviously the government is going to spend money on education. But politicians shouldn’t play favorites, directing all the money to schools operated by the government. Let’s direct some of it to parents in the form of a voucher or a tax break.
We know that Oklahoma’s political leaders respect parents. In 2014 they enacted a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to ensure that no state government entity infringes upon parents’ rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
But as important as that law is, it’s time to translate its principles into effective remedies, says Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos. “We must guarantee all parents, no matter their income, the effective right to exit a failing school and choose one, public or private, that satisfies their needs.”
Happily, we already do this for some parents. For example, Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program is helping certain bullied children, autistic students, rural students who want a faith-based education, and many more.
Moreover, our state’s tax-credit scholarship program is helping hearing-impaired children, homeless students, teenage students battling addiction, and more—all while saving the state money.
So private-school choice is working for those who are eligible. But we need to do more. All parents have the right to direct their child’s path.
Some parents would prefer a more rigorous curriculum for their children. Others are tired of all the bullying. Others simply don’t want their daughters sharing a locker room with boys. (In Tulsa Public Schools, for example, “gender non-conforming students” have the right to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their “gender identity.”)
Whatever the reason, politicians should not penalize parents (by making them pay twice) for raising their children according to their consciences.
School-choice foes say we shouldn’t “drain money from public schools.” But that assumes the public schools are entitled to the money in the first place.
In truth, they have no place of privilege, says Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony Williams, a liberal Democrat. He rejects “the antiquated belief that existing public school systems have the right of first refusal when it comes to educating our children.”
Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, strikes the right balance. “I am very pro public schools,” he says. But he also supports parental choice. In fulfilling their God-given duty to raise their children, he says, parents “should be able to consider the best option for their children’s whole education and formation.”
Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. He is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine, Forbes.com, Mises.org, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S.
Senior Vice President
Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine, Forbes.com, Mises.org, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.