Guest post by Ann Kerr
School choice. Parental choice. It sounds good. It looks good. But, is it really all that it is cracked up to be?
A new Oklahoma law, hailed by Governor Stitt as a major victory for parents and
students in Oklahoma, is just about to move into action with the Tax Commission’s
adoption of an emergency rule this week.
While the text of the bill originally failed and faltered, it was “saved” by some resourceful legislators, who simply gutted another bill, pasted in the language, and ran it through under a different number.
The new law does two things. First, it provides families that are not in the public school
systems – either brick and mortar or virtual charter schools – with reimbursement for
certain educational expenses. Public money, potentially millions of dollars out of the
state budget, is promised to private schoolers and traditional homeschoolers, who up until
now have been completely private and parent-directed.
Second, the new law lays the groundwork to gather a wealth of information about private schoolers and traditional homeschoolers alike. Previously private information will now be public information shared between government agencies.
The law is not simply about school choice or parental choice. The “parental choice” law
results in government control and involvement. When eligible families seek
reimbursement, they will be required to give information to receive public funds.
Specifically, the reimbursement law necessitates that the Oklahoma Tax Commission
analyze requests for certain reimbursement of fees, curriculum and other educational
expenses and cross-reference requests with the Department of Education for validity. If
the Tax Commission reviews the information and finds that money was handed out
improperly, then the tax man will come back to families and “capture” what was lost.
Further, the Department of Education is required to create an online platform for the
exchange of information, ratings and reviews of educational providers. (Look out
These rich sources of unnecessary and intrusive information-gathering could obviously
be used by the state to paint a picture of the entire private and homeschool communities
and would likely lay the groundwork for future regulation. Opting out would no longer
be an option.
While private school and homeschool freedom has not been obliterated yet, the chain is
now placed around educational liberty – just as a choke chain is put around an animal‘s
neck – as a sign of warning and threat to obey.
When the government offers something “free,” it is never free. It appears that the chain
may only grow tighter and tighter, until parents have no educational choices at all. The
real losers will be the children.
Warning – homeschoolers and private schoolers. Look out for the knock on the door and the man on your porch, who says, “Hello, I am with the government, and I am here to help.”