After this week’s Arkansas elections, it is more clear than ever: educational freedom is finally on its way to the Natural State.
State legislative candidates and Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders all made educational freedom cornerstones of their campaigns. Virtually across the board, they were resoundingly successful.
The people of Arkansas sent a clear message that it’s time to disrupt the education status quo and put students first, once and for all.
This is tremendous news for low-income Arkansas children who are trapped in failing schools; for kids with learning or other disabilities who need more focused teaching beyond what they can get in a traditional setting; and for parents who want to send their kids to schools that more closely align with their values.
Of course, this news is not all peaches and cream for the typical naysayers and defenders of the status quo. These small but loud voices are already lighting their warpath against educational freedom, claiming it will “send government money to religious schools” and is therefore somehow un-American or improper.
But this claim is full of myths.
First, there is no such thing as “government money.” Any and all money that governments have come from taxpayers. By definition, then, any educational freedom plan that allows students to use monetary resources to transfer to religious schools is not a transfer of government money–because government money doesn’t exist.
A plan like this would simply allow families to retain their own money and use it at a school of their choice, rather than being forced into a particular school based on arbitrary lines drawn by government bureaucrats.
Second, educational freedom is about far more than just “religious” schools. Sure, there are plenty of religious private schools in Arkansas and hopefully any plan put forth by state policymakers will include them in it, as it would be unfair to exclude them.
But educational freedom is a lot broader. It means letting kids go to different public schools if they so choose.
It means letting kids attend charter schools, which are non-religious, if they choose.
It means letting kids attend non-religious private schools if they choose.
It means letting kids be homeschooled if they choose.
It could also mean letting kids participate in virtual schools or micro-schools if that fits their needs best.
It will be up to Arkansas policymakers to decide how broad they want to go; we would suggest they go as broad as possible, to help as many Arkansas kids as possible. But to pretend that educational freedom is only or even mostly about religious schools is simply incorrect.
Finally, “government money,” as the Left defines it, goes to religious institutions every single day, in every corner of Arkansas, and they do not say a word. Well, in fact, they advocate for it.
For example, take some of the state’s largest hospitals: Baptist Health, St. Vincent’s, Mercy Hospital, and NEA Baptist, just to name a few. These are all religious organizations that get hundreds of millions of dollars in “government money” every year. Opponents of educational freedom regularly advocate for more and more government funding of these institutions. Why is this "transfer" of "government money" ok but educational freedom is not?
How about The Salvation Army? They are a deeply religious organization. Do educational freedom opponents object to them getting “government” funding?
Or perhaps local partnerships with Arkansas religious nonprofits that help fight addiction? Or help provide homeless care and meals? Or help recruit and train foster parents for the state? Are educational freedom opponents opposed to this?
The list of religious institutions that get “government money” is perhaps endless, yet opponents of educational freedom say nothing. (In fact, in many cases, they openly advocate for more of this type of spending.)
Here’s the truth: educational freedom is coming to Arkansas. And when it does, it will finally create a level playing field for Arkansas kids. It will put parents back in charge by giving them back their money—not government's—and allow them to choose the school that best suits the individual needs of their kids.
And this is good news for every single Arkansas child.