Education Empowerment

A Parent’s Only Influence on Public Schools

Many have argued, including my own mother, that we should fix the public school system instead of passing an education choice bill. 

As a parent, you want the best possible outcome for your child and all children. You naturally assume that you have a say in local public school system decisions. 

This argument assumes that under the current system, parents and taxpayers control or meaningfully influence what public schools teach. That premise has major flaws.

Consider the textbook adoption process. 

I was involved in two elementary textbook adoptions as an educator in Weber School District. A group of parents and teachers were brought to the district offices early in the school year. All of the major textbook publishers were invited — Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, etc.

This invitation for parental involvement was more optical than substantive. The opportunity was only available to a handful of parents who were apparently chosen by the district or principals because of their ability to follow the lead of teachers and district personnel. 

The district controlled what was presented throughout the process, while the parents just reviewed what was presented. 

A teacher once offered an alternative textbook for us to review. The district informed everyone that we could only select from what was being presented. Once a textbook was selected by this group, it was then presented for approval to the district’s board of education, who always adopted the recommended textbook.

Some districts don’t allow for any public review or comment on the curriculum. Because this was such a problem, the Utah Legislature passed a bill this year requiring an opportunity for parents and teachers of the district to give input.

Since 2020, a growing group of Utah parents have formed advocacy groups. These parents have voiced their concerns over curriculum and books in the library, but the districts have not listened. 

In 2022 and 2023, these groups appealed to the legislature to do something, yet a bill to limit the type of books in the school libraries was ignored by some of the districts who worried about a free speech lawsuit. Clearly, parents are not calling the shots, or even influencing them. 

As a principal, I only experienced one change based upon parent feedback. In the fall of 2020, over 700 students unenrolled from Weber School District based upon their online offering. This exodus of students, along with their funding, caused panic and change in the district. A financial incentive did what no amount of advocacy could: within two months (not two years), schools changed their online classrooms to be more responsive to the parents.

Utah’s new education spending account provides parents with the power and means to walk away from an education that they don’t like to find something better. When those parents walk away, the public school system will respond.

As one public school supporter told me, “The public schools better provide the best education that they can to keep kids from leaving.” That is the power of education choice.