I firmly believe that parents want what is best for their children and, more importantly, know what’s best for their children; at least better than a bureaucrat does. This used to be a universally recognized principle — the idea that parents should have more say and more control over their children’s education.
But in recent years, we’ve seen federal, state, and local officials attack that presumption and try to freeze out parents from their children’s education. Unlike former Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe, who infamously said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” I firmly believe that it is a parent’s duty to care about their children’s education. I do not think it is the state’s job to parent. The presumption is that parents will do what is best for their children and their children’s education.
That is why Missouri’s leaders continue to press for education reforms that empower families to make choices regarding their children’s education. A few years ago, Missouri adopted a law that established a fully-virtual public school option, where a family could withdraw their student from their brick and mortar public school and place them in virtual education. This option, the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP), gave alternatives to families desperate to safeguard their children’s education. Importantly, the school district would have to pay for this option because it is public education and the family is entitled to the use of their tax dollars.
Many families opt for this option because of concerns over bullying or that their child has special learning or medical needs that an in-person environment just cannot meet. Regardless of the reasons for doing so, parents are empowered to choose a publicly funded, virtual option for their children if they think it is in their child’s best interests.
But as we have seen with the rollout of other reforms, school districts and some “bad apple” superintendents are finding ways to pump the breaks and stonewall families seeking to pursue this option. Not all schools have done this, but they need to hold the districts that are doing so accountable to right this ship. Parents are supposed to smoothly access this program, and school districts are supposed to respect the parental wishes and approve their children for the program. Instead, some superintendents seem to play the role of gatekeeper–they refuse to approve a child for MOCAP without a demonstration of good cause on the parents.
Instead of trusting parental wishes to choose their preferred type of public education, these bad apple superintendents seem to think that the law entrusts bureaucrats to have the final say in a child’s education. This is absolutely not the case.
Families should not be left out in the cold concerning their child’s education, nor should they be met with long delays or evidentiary hearings before getting approval. The current resistance on the part of some school districts needs to stop, and parental control needs to return to education. Either the Missouri General Assembly needs to act — and rest assured you will see me talking about this issue more — or Gov. Mike Parson needs to use his executive powers to see DESE implement an emergency waiver for families so that they can start accessing MOCAP.
Unlike what some big-government bullies and bureaucrats seem to think, parents are not morons, nor are they “domestic terrorists” as described by the National School Board Association, for caring about their children’s welfare. MOCAP is a choice that our state provides to families, and families should have every right to access that program if they deem it in the best interests of their child.
Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin is a Republican who represents SD 18. She is the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.