The Show-Me Institute, a conservative Missouri think tank, is just the latest group to propose a Parents’ Bill of Rights — a plan that, like all such documents, is designed to make angry people even angrier. It purports to reflect the interests of moms and dads after a year of fierce debates over curriculum and student safety.
This is not to be confused with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights, which he says “is needed to combat (the) Left’s indoctrination of students.”
Nor does it have anything in common with the Parents’ Bill of Rights that Missouri already has, which addresses education standards for students with special needs.
Whatever it’s called, some of the Show-Me plan is uncontroversial. Parents have a right to know what schools are teaching, it says, and how they’re performing. Of course they do.
We’ve said in the past that public school performance measures and test scores should be easier to understand. We endorse budget and curriculum transparency. Any interested person should have access to this information.
But transparency shouldn’t be limited to public schools. All public institutions must be open to scrutiny, from the health department to the police force. That’s how democracy works, or is supposed to anyway.
Schools shouldn’t be exempt from public oversight, but they shouldn’t face a higher transparency burden than other public functions, either. Schools should be open because they are public, not because they are schools.
That’s why all Missourians must pay close attention to Show-Me’s claim that parents have the right “to choose the existing educational option that works best for their children.”
Missouri parents already have that right. Parents can send their children to private schools or educate them at home.
That isn’t what school choice supporters like the Show-Me Institute really have in mind, though. They want parents to be able to choose private schools and require taxpayers to pay the cost, through vouchers, tuition credits, tax-advantaged savings accounts and the like.
Missouri has enacted an indirect voucher program.
Free public education is one of this nation’s greatest populist inventions. We all have a stake in a well-educated citizenry, which is why everyone pays school taxes, even those without school-age children. Everyone benefits from good public schools.
Sometimes public schools don’t perform well. There’s a way to fix that through elected school boards, which set policy, budgets and curriculum. That’s how we fix any public problem — through free and fair elections and open debate.
Conceding defeat, and using public money for private school tuition, turns this idea on its head.
Perhaps you think the police department is so dysfunctional that you need to hire private security for your home or business. You have that right. You don’t have the right to ask everyone else to pay for your decision.
Just so with education. If public schools are bad, make them better — don’t abandon them. If private schools are truly interested in opportunities for poorer students, let them waive tuition, offer scholarships or raise funds on their own. Some already do.
There are lots of plans for bills of rights: for patients, workers, athletes, drivers, students, taxpayers. What we need more than another plan or two for parents is a renewed commitment to protecting and investing in public education.
This was first published by the Kansas City Star and is reprinted with permission.