Ruth and I watched our fair share of “kid videos” with our children when they were younger. I’m sure many of you can relate and are still plagued by occasional visions of Barney, Spot the Dog, or Teletubbies. However, I still remember one particular video. It was about different types of transportation and near the end of the video one of the Muppets said in an excited voice, “Oh, the choices, sir. The choices!”
For some odd reason, that phrase has stuck with me for all these years. The character was clearly awestruck that he was allowed to choose from among many different options. It would not have been exciting if he was allowed to choose, but only from one or two options. Similarly, if there had been many options but no freedom of choice, it would have been pointless. Thankfully for our little Muppet friend, he was allowed to choose from among many options and went away enthusiastically to build his own vehicle.
Unlike the video character, we North Dakotans have areas of our lives where choices are limited or simply not available. This is no more obvious than in the case of education. Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota® believes that parents have a God-given responsibility and right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and school choice is at the heart of this issue. School choice in its simplest form is about allowing public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs. This could be to a public school, private school, charter school, home school or other learning environment. This can be done in a number of ways: tax credits, education savings accounts, vouchers, charter schools, and so on. Whether it is done is a matter of policy priority.
While North Dakota law certainly supports many aspects of parents’ rights to educate their child as they deem best, there are still issues that remain with school choice in North Dakota. For example, the law requires testing to state requirements for any learning environment that is not a public school. Sadly, these are often based on Common Core requirements that have been proven to be inconsistent and poor indicators of a child’s academic abilities.
Then there is the reason many Christian parents choose alternatives to public education: values. The inherent value system the public school system promotes can often be at odds with our values and religious freedoms as Christians. For example, a video called the Laramie Project, a film affirming LGBT normality, was shown to high school freshmen in our state as part of their required sex education course. Similarly, Planned Parenthood’s Safe Spaces courses were held in our state, over the objections of parents, lawmakers, and many other leading community voices. The curriculum taught K-12 teachers “the importance of creating a supportive environment in schools to approach topics such as teenage pregnancy, bullying, and inclusivity” and covered things such as “consent, healthy relationships, sexual orientation & gender identity, the effects of social media on adolescents, body image and violence.”
So, can North Dakota parents say, “Oh, the Choices, Sir. The Choices!” when it comes to school choice? Not really. While we are allowed to make some choices, there can be significant limitations imposed on them. While there are some options, I doubt any parent is awestruck by the number of educational choices and associated financial support. Despite both limitations on school choice, we are duty-bound to always work to improve matters.
As we move into the legislative session in January, Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota will keep school choice as an issue at the forefront of our policy efforts, and we know we can count on your help to change things for the better. Educational choice for your children and grandchildren comes down to two things: your values and your God-given rights. Let’s not waiver on either one.
President and Executive Director