OPPONENTS of policies that would give parents greater freedom to send their children to a school other than the one that’s geographically closest often argue Oklahoma already has school choice. If you want to put your kids in another school, they say, you can just move to another district.
This argument ignores financial reality for many families — the costs and logistical challenges of moving are not simple for everyone. But it’s also an argument that is being rejected by many teachers and other school employees, as recent action by the Edmond School Board highlights.
The board voted to let the children of teachers and other district staff attend school in the Edmond district even if they don’t live in the district (and therefore contribute no property tax funding to the school).
An administrator said the policy was needed to make sure the district could recruit qualified staff — teachers in particular — to Edmond schools. Officials said a survey, conducted in January and February, showed the district could have potentially 61 fewer teaching applicants if such a policy wasn’t in place. The district is working to fill 100 teaching vacancies.
Other area districts with similar policies include Guthrie, Deer Creek, Piedmont, El Reno, Yukon, Mustang, Mid-Del, Moore, Norman, Putnam City and Oklahoma City.
Defenders of this policy, which we have no problem with, will argue it’s simply a matter of convenience for teachers with children. Yet the same argument can be made for many parents who are not teachers. People live in one school district but go to work in another district every day all across Oklahoma, yet their children aren’t allowed to attend the school most convenient to their work site.
In this instance, school choice involves only selection of traditional public schools. But there’s evidence teachers also support school choice that involves private schools. A SoonerPoll survey of Oklahoma teachers, conducted last year, found 46 percent would choose a private school, public charter school or homeschooling as “the best educational choice when thinking about your own children.” The poll found 23.8 percent of Oklahoma teachers would prefer a private school for their own children, 15.8 percent would home school, and 7 percent would choose a public charter school as their first choice.
Just 3.5 percent of those polled were private school teachers, so the results indicated many public school teachers see value in school choice outside the traditional system for their own children.
Those views are in line with the opinions of the general population. A recent statewide survey of likely Oklahoma voters commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and conducted by Cor Strategies found slightly over half of Oklahoma voters would send their children to a private school, public charter school or home school if financial concerns and transportation weren’t a factor.
The status quo, in which students are assigned schools based on geography and not quality or individual need, fails many Oklahoma families. That those poorly served by this system apparently include even teachers in traditional public schools is further reason to advance reform and expand educational opportunity for all.