Free Market Friday: Voters want school choice
Earlier this year in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, public school parent Sen. James Lankford – and self-described avid supporter of public education – discussed why he also believes school choice is important.
And, Sen. Lankford isn’t alone. According to a new survey of likely Oklahoma voters commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and conducted by the firm Cor Strategies, fully 65 percent of Oklahomans – nearly two in three – support using tax dollars to allow parents to choose the education that works best for their children.
Another interesting finding: A whopping 66 percent of respondents didn’t think taxpayers are getting a good return on the $9,700 per student, per year investment in public education. Only 22 percent of respondents indicated that taxpayers are getting a good return on public education investment.
Perhaps one reason for these findings is because a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work. Parents need options when it comes to education. What works for one child may not work for another. That’s why school choice matters; it allows parents to find the best fit for their children.
Maybe that’s also why Oklahomans showed support by a margin of 49 percent to 36 percent for education savings accounts, or ESAs.
With an ESA, tax dollars follow children. The state puts the funds it would have spent on a child’s behalf into a bank account that the parents control. The parents can then use these funds to purchase the education that best meets their child’s needs from a wide variety of sources, including public schools, private schools, virtual schools, charter schools, and even institutions of higher education. ESAs can also be used for educational expenses such as tutors and therapists.
This latest survey is the eighth since 2014 that has shown strong support from Oklahoma voters for ESAs and other forms of school choice. While eight surveys have shown support, just one poll – commissioned by some of the same players implicated in the Hofmeister campaign scandal – showed that Oklahomans oppose school vouchers (that poll didn’t ask about ESAs).
It’s time to prioritize school choice for Oklahoma families. If we care about helping the most vulnerable, then we should promote choice for K-12 students just as we do for users of government services in the areas of higher education, Medicaid, transportation, mental health, human services, and many other areas.