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Saturday, May 27th, 2017Last Update: Thursday, May 4th, 2017 02:03:55 PM

Nearly 4 in 10 Oklahoma Teachers Would Choose Private or Home Schooling for Their Own Children

By: Brandon Dutcher

When asked what’s the best educational choice for their own children, one might expect near unanimity from Oklahoma public school teachers. Teachers might favor their own schools not just for reasons of loyalty to one’s employer (Thunder employees don’t cheer for the Warriors), but because they have firsthand knowledge of school quality and safety.

So it’s surprising – and perhaps somewhat telling – that nearly 4 in 10 teachers would choose a private school or homeschooling for their own children, according to a recent SoonerPoll survey. (The survey of Oklahoma teachers, conducted from September 29 to October 10, has a margin of error of +/- 4.56 percent.)

When Oklahoma lawmakers convene for the 2017 legislative session, they should do what eight other states have done: enact an individual tax credit or deduction for approved educational expenses (including private school tuition and homeschooling). This would empower teachers – and indeed all Oklahoma parents – to make whatever choice they think is best for their own children.

Passing educational choice legislation is never easy – the battles to secure Oklahoma’s special-needs voucher law in 2010 and tax-credit scholarship law in 2011 were intense – but reformers appear to have some wind at their back.

As the American Federation for Children (AFC) noted in a press release on election night, “the momentum for giving parents robust school-choice options continued to grow in Oklahoma today” with the election and re-election of several school-choice supporters to the Oklahoma Legislature. Several candidates backed by AFC even won head-to-head matchups with members of the public-education community who were staunchly opposed to parental choice. Among those victors: state Rep. Elise Hall (R-Oklahoma City), state Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa), new state Sen. Joe Newhouse (R-Tulsa), new state Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville), state Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), and state Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City).

AFC’s in-state committee, the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund, spent more than $210,000 in this year's legislative races. This is sometimes referred to as “dark money,” an ominous-sounding phrase used (usually by people who disagree with the donors’ electoral preferences) to describe healthy and important First Amendment activities.

The phrase “dark money” is especially beloved of liberal journalists and members of Oklahoma's public education community, though I suspect enthusiasm for its usage has dampened of late. You may have seen in the news that several friends of education’s failed status quo – state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, GOP campaign consultant Fount Holland, and a pair of former teacher-union and administrator-group officials – have been charged with felony counts for inappropriate use of so-called dark money (in contrast to AFC, which played by the rules).

Rather than continuing to penalize parents financially for raising their children in accordance with their consciences, it’s time for Oklahoma policymakers to enact and expand policies – vouchers, tax credits, ESAs, and more – which secure parental rights.

As Oklahoma's GOP-controlled government considers education funding and teacher pay raises in 2017, let’s hope they insist that the price for more public-school funding is increased parental choice.

About Brandon Dutcher

Dutcher is Senior Vice President at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) http://www.ocpathink.org/, which was founded in 1993 as a public policy research organization focused primarily on state-level issues. His award-winning articles have appeared in 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He can be contacted at: Brandon@ocpathink.org, at: twitter.com/brandondutcher or facebook.com/brandondutcher

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