OCPA official: Oklahomans deserve preschool choices

BY BRANDON DUTCHER Published: January 30, 2013
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Oklahoma parents prefer the tax break by a margin of 55 percent to 31 percent. Among women, it's 51 percent to 35 percent. Among women with household income under $35,000, it's 55 percent to 29 percent.

Parents want choices.

In their book “Disrupting Class,” Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen and his co-authors concluded that universal pre-K is “an ineffective mechanism for addressing the challenge of better preparing children for school.” After all, universal pre-K is expensive, and not everyone needs it or wants it. In a world of scarce resources that have alternative uses, let's redirect some of that money to the tax break mentioned above, or to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

An ESA for preschoolers would work like this: If you don't enroll your 4-year-old in the local public school, the state portion ($3,461) of your child's per-pupil expenditure would be deposited into an ESA at your bank. You could use that money for private school tuition, curricular materials, or other educational expenses. If you don't spend it all, save the rest for college.

Parents get some much-needed flexibility, and public schools get less-crowded classrooms and higher expenditures per pupil (given that some local and federal dollars would remain in public schools). Today, one in five Arizona students is eligible for an ESA.

Here's hoping the idea comes to Oklahoma.

Dutcher is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank. National School Choice Week starts on Jan. 27.