Personal Freedom

Senator Osmond’s “Choice and Accountability in Public Education” Proposal

On Sunday, Senator Osmond released more specific details of his proposal to reform education law in Utah. The proposal contains three separate pieces of legislation, the first of which interests us the most.

Titled “Parental Right to Educational Freedom,” this first bill would require parents to “choose an educational pathway for each child upon 6 years of age”—the age at which, under Utah law, a child is considered a “school-age minor.” Parents would sign an affidavit indicating whether they will be enrolling their child in a government school, private school, or educating them in the home.

Some parents have voiced concern in social media regarding this requirement, requiring two important clarifications:

First, some parents have read the wording in Senator Osmond’s proposal to mean that a parent’s educational decision for that child is permanent—that once you sign the affidavit, your child must be educated that way for the remainder of his or her childhood. This is not true. Osmond’s proposal would allow parents to simply sign a new affidavit anytime the parent wishes to change their schooling situation, or if they move to a new school district. For example, a parent who intends to enroll their child in private school would so indicate, and a few years later if they desire to home school instead, they would sign a new affidavit indicating that change. Parents retain flexibility and are not locked into any one system.

Second, some parents have balked at the requirement to sign such an affidavit at all. Terms like “nanny state,” “big brother,” and “heavy hand of government” have been generously employed—but they are misguided criticisms of what is actually a reduction in regulation. Parents who put their kids in “public” school already effectively sign such an affidavit when registering their children for school each year. There are numerous registration papers to fill out upon enrollment, and this one-time requirement is in no way onerous, and in fact beneficial for reasons explained further down this article.

But the reduction in regulation will be felt the most for homeschooling families, who currently are required to notify the local school district with an affidavit every single year. Changing this requirement to a one-time notice—effectively a notice that the child will not be utilizing the government’s schools—is a huge improvement over the status quo. Why is this important? First, it’s a step in the right direction towards the important presumption of parental responsibility over a child’s education. Second, some parents have had altercations with agents of the state, and removing this requirement would eliminate those encounters and allow homeschooling families to peacefully pursue their own educational paths.

Additionally, Osmond’s first bill would “formally exempt” parents who home or private school their children “from any and all state educational requirements such as classroom time, curriculum standards, testing, or reporting.” Current law requires homeschooling families, for example, to educate their children “in the subjects the State Board of Education requires to be taught in public schools” and “for the same length of time as minors are required by law to receive instruction in public schools.” Parents who are exercising their stewardship by educating their own children should not be made to comply with such requirements (which have also led to altercations).

Osmond’s second bill attempts to introduce accountability to the government education system, offering parents a “bill of rights” regarding their child’s education, while also introducing contractual stipulations that parents will agree to upon enrolling their child in “public” school. While the particular stipulations may be good or bad, we agree in theory that such a contract is important and necessary; parents who wish to utilize government services should better understand, and agree to, the ramifications of that decision. Spelling it out in additional detail for all involved parties is something we support.

The third and final bill aims to allow local school districts to have increased flexibility in how classroom time is spent. There are not a few stories of wasted classroom time, for example after finals are over, where teachers simply show movies to their students, throw parties, or otherwise engage in non-educational activities. Introducing additional flexibility can help to remedy some of these responses to a currently rigid system.

Our interest is primarily in the first bill, as it contains some important reductions in regulation and takes the state in a better direction towards a recognition of parental responsibility. While the specific text of Osmond’s bill has not yet been released, we remain hopeful that the end result will be a net win for educational freedom in this state, and for those parents who choose not to utilize government schools, an important affirmation of their ability and responsibility to choose their child’s educational path.