I am the parent of two children in Edmond Public Schools, the same district where I graduated, and I have always considered myself a champion of public education. As a student, I had wonderful teachers and inquisitive classmates from all different types of backgrounds. Additionally, the public nature of our school kept us rooted in the collective success of our community and neighbors.
I still support public education, but my experience during the COVID-era has brought on a disturbing revelation: The system is designed to leave parents with as little power and influence as possible.
As a parent, I am encouraged to attend PTO meetings and volunteer to help fundraising drives. When it comes to substantive concerns — will our school be in-person or remote? How will teachers support students with special needs? What does the curricula entail? — I have found that parental input is often met with indifference or even hostility.
There is a reason for this, and it is not that teachers and administrators are aloof and indifferent by nature. They understandably brush off parental concerns because our public school system has fostered a culture of minimal choice and top-down control.
There is a power imbalance between parents and professional educators and administrators with many real-world implications. Low-performing schools have little, if any, incentive to improve. Children with special needs are often neglected. And, when parents find themselves unhappy with what is being taught in their schools, they have little if any recourse.
I became conscious of this power imbalance because of decisions made in my school district in the wake of COVID-19. Thankfully, many other parents noticed, as well, and we are working together to correct it.
That process begins with organization. I am now a proud member of Parent Voice Oklahoma (and our local chapter, Parent Voice Edmond). If you are a parent (or a teacher or an administrator), I invite you to join us.
We are working to educate ourselves and others on the options available to parents and students. Did you know that the majority of Oklahoma children are available to receive grants to attend private school, either through the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarship or Equal Opportunity Scholarship programs? Or that there are dozens of free charter schools in the state, many of which offer students the opportunity to specialize in STEM, or foreign languages, or other academically rigorous fields? If any of this comes as surprise to you, I invite you to attend the Oklahoma City Education Expo on Jan. 27 at the OKC Convention Center to learn about these options and how they may benefit your family.
Oklahoma is making policy gains when it comes to education freedom, and we need to build on those gains. In 2021, the Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt took action to support and expand the Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program that helps lower-income families send their children to private schools. They also made it easier to transfer from one school district to another, and tied school funding more directly to student enrollment. Taken together, these policies provide an incentive for schools to treat parents and students as valued customers rather than take their attendance for granted. The next step should be to pursue “backpack funding,” where the education dollars allotted to each student follow them to whatever school they choose to enroll in.
This week (Jan. 23-29) is National School Choice Week. Nowhere are “choices” more important than where and how we raise our children. Expanding our choices will deliver a stronger system of public education, students who are better prepared for college and the workforce, and parents who have more agency over the lives and wellbeing of their children.
Liz Miller is an Edmond parent and a leader in Parent Voice Oklahoma.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Viewpoint: Oklahoma parents demand more control over kids’ education