A recent editorial in The Oklahoman arguing in favor of school vouchers deserves a thorough challenge because it omits and distorts important information about the issue.
— KFOR (@kfor) March 10, 2016
The editorial, titled “Conservative policy takes a hit with Oklahoma ESA decision,” ran Wednesday. The gist of it was that Republicans “capitulated” when the legislative leaders decided not to consider bills creating taxpayer-funded Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s), or school vouchers, that could be used by parents to pay for their children’s tuition at private schools. This apparently made The Oklahoman editorial board unhappy. State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, a Republican, wasn’t happy either with the voucher decision, arguing, “Republicans should put D’s (for Democrats) after their names and call it good.” Obviously, the voucher issue has struck some deep chord among some conservatives.
The Oklahoman argues that a majority of state residents support the idea of vouchers, basing its assertion on the results of one poll, and that vouchers would benefit “low-income” children the most. The editorial also makes the point that those opposed to vouchers are the “most rabid teacher union members and their allies.” Note the word “rabid.” What does that even mean in this context? How typically insulting and sophomoric for the newspaper.
The Sooner Poll that the newspaper cites is not as conclusive as the editorial argues. Here are the results. The biggest takeaway from the poll for me is that many of those polled apparently didn’t know exactly what ESA’s were. Some 17 percent of those polled selected “don’t know.” Only 28.9 percent said they “strongly support” ESA’s. The Oklahoman, of course, doesn’t parse the numbers in this manner, and simply argues that it’s clear there is strong support for a school voucher system, which hasn’t been proved conclusively. It mentions that this poll is “in line” with other polls, but it doesn’t specifically identify them.
The sanctimonious argument that vouchers will help low-income students the most is also false. When you take money away from public schools, some of which serve low-income students then you are hurting low-income students, and that’s exactly what vouchers do. The vouchers take money out of the public school system and give it to private schools. The argument that per-pupil spending would stay the same because there would be fewer public school students is fallacious. There are buildings that have to be operated, for example, and transportation costs that would stay the same. The absolute expected and desired end result for many people who aggressively agitate and push for voucher systems here and elsewhere, in its essence, is the dismantling of public schools.
— Tulsa World Opinion (@TWOpinion) March 11, 2016
Perhaps, it’s true that some low-income students would have actually ended up in supposed “better” private schools, but the vast majority of those people who would benefit from the system already send their children to private schools, anyway, because they have the financial means to do so. Contrary to what The Oklahoman argues, a voucher system here would thus reward the rich as much if not more than the poor unless there were established income limits in regards to participation. These issues were never fully sorted out or reconciled before the legislative leaders pulled the plug on the bills.
The obvious question: Why are Oklahoma conservatives just now so concerned about impoverished children? Their track record on helping the poor, from rejecting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to passing income tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich, is simply abysmal.
Many school superintendents and other educators in the pubic school system oppose a voucher system in Oklahoma, especially given the state’s consistent and historical inadequate funding for education. These are the experts on the issue. They are not “rabid.” They are the ones with the college degrees, certifications, experience and knowledge. Their expertise should be taken into full account, much like people would listen to medical doctors on health issues. One poll and wishful conservative ideology about the overall benefits of privatizing government aren’t as meaningful as what our state educators think about the impact of a voucher system on public schools here.
Oklahoma, which has one of the lowest per-pupil spending rates in the country and is dead last in the region in this regard, is exactly the wrong place for a school voucher system. Any money that is taken away from public schools right now with the state’s ongoing revenue failures and the expected $1.3 billion budget shortfall next fiscal year should be carefully vetted. Fund public schools at a decent level first, and then perhaps consider a limited voucher system based on income limits or, better yet, just realize Oklahoma has major educational funding problems and thus isn’t suited for a school voucher system. Legislative leaders made the right call when they stopped the bills.