If the pandemic has taught us anything about public education, it's that parents and students need more options.
Many parents in 2020 felt trapped as the school their child was zoned to moved away from in-person learning, whether or not that was the best option for their family. If they looked into other public school options, these parents were likely disappointed to find the transfer process is, at best, a headache. In many cases, a transfer completely unavailable. Some students are in private schools today solely because that was the only workable option available, and their families could afford it.
In the coming legislative session, Oklahoma has an opportunity to change its one-size-fits-all approach by embracing open enrollment in public schools. Open enrollment simply means kids will be able to go to any public school that has capacity to accept them, regardless of their address. State funding would follow these transfer students to their new schools, encouraging competition to provide the best outcomes.
The situation many people faced in 2020 - their zoned school was closed, but a nearby school was open - would no longer be a problem.
But this is not a policy geared just to the (hopefully) short-term global pandemic. There are many reasons a school may not be a good fit, and parents should not have to relocate to access the right school for their child.
States like Arizona, Indiana and Florida have had success with similar open enrollment policies. Parents clearly appreciate having more than one public school option - tens of thousands of students in those states now attend schools other than those they are geographically zoned to.
Oklahoma's founders understood the importance of establishing "a system of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of the state." So much so, in fact, they put it in the state constitution twice. We do not live up to this ideal when we close off all public schools based on home address.
The Legislature will have the opportunity to make Oklahoma's public schools truly open to all children this spring. The business community will encourage them to do so.
Note: This article was first published in The Journal Record on Dec. 31, 2020.