The bill to create a school voucher program Oklahoma failed earlier this year to get a pass in the state legislature. Oklahoma is a state where 68 percent of respondents promote school choiceand yet this little school election bill, which was sponsored by the state Senate president and supported by the governor, was rejected.
In 2020, I was the executive director of a charter school in Oklahoma, authorized by the local county public schools. The district retained 5 percent of our government funding each year as a permit fee. When the state passed a law limiting statutory fees to 3 percent of government funding, the commissioner increased our rent by an amount equal to the fee reduction.
Both develop a critical flaw in the current K-12 education reform movement: it underestimates the system’s hostility to innovation. Even in a school-happy state like Oklahoma, even the narrowest reforms only occasionally meet the challenge of the traditional system. If they survive, the system easily confronts them. Our public education system is a bureaucratic monopoly controlled by special interest groups and, for all intents and purposes, immune to change.
Compulsory education in the United States does not work for anyone. This dearachievement lags behind internationally teachers leaving professions, and parents feel powerless. Despite 60 years of rising costs and disappointing results, almost nothing has been done to fix the system. Adults argue and point fingers, and children and society pay the price for inaction. Progress in education has stagnated.
Meanwhile, we have made progress in almost all other human endeavors. We live longer and live better. We are more prosperous thanks to innovations related to the fact that entrepreneurs take risks and bring new and better ideas to market.
However, the enemies of innovation are the engines of our public education system: state bureaucracy, monopoly and special interests. The state bureaucracy is not afraid of failure; they crave resources and therefore serve even higher levels bureaucracy to get them. Monopolies are not afraid of competition; they are afraid of failure and therefore avoid the risks required to change. Special interests fear competition and crave influence; they undermine market incentives by accumulating disproportionately power.
In the area of education reform, those who support the traditional system require more resources, and reformers are in favor of various forms of choice. Reformers, however, seldom describe the necessary political changes that must be made in order for reform to be possible. Addressing the woes of our education system may in fact require more resources in the end and certainly involves more choice, but this must be preceded by political reforms that make the system amenable to sustainable innovation.
The political processes that govern the education system exist outside the established norms of our electoral system. School board elections are usually not held at a time when general elections are being held. For example, my home state elects school board members in February. These snap elections have low voter turnout and thus have a disproportionate impact on the special interests of teachers in particular. These snap elections often create school boards with views on education that differ from community community views. represents.
School board elections also usually do not include guerrilla labels on ballots. The average voter does not have time to research the positions of individual candidates for school boards, and therefore even in the elections that take place on the cycle, he will leave this choice empty. Again, this gives more impact to special interests. Guerrilla labels inform voters of a likely candidate positions.
Finally, about 25 percent of states choose higher education in elections independent of states the governor. The candidate for the position forces the candidates to experience grace for special interests. Being elected also makes the head of public education a natural competitor to the governor and thus prone to unproductive conflicts.
Until these political processes change, one cannot expect changes in the education system as well. Even minor reforms will either not withstand the legislative process or will be easily opposed once implemented. Real progress can only come after we break the power of the enemies of innovation in the education system.
Don Parker has been a member of the school board for 15 years, two terms was chairman of the board and two years executive director of the district. He has also worked three times in a row in the Oklahoma Department of Education in various advisory positions.