I was flipping through the paper a few weeks ago and came across what is called an advertorial. In this news story format, a group puts forth an article for submission to the paper that blatantly attempts to make people think that the story is a piece of journalism, when in actuality, that group has paid for the right to put the article in the paper.
A few days after that, I heard a radio commercial advertising this same type of organization. This was followed by my seeing a state legislator having coffee with a paid staff person of a similar organization. In and of itself, these three items are not wrong, per se, but given appropriate context, we have a serious blind spot to address as a state.
The advertorial, the radio spot, and the staffer were all involved with the public charter school effort. In considering these three incidents, I have been struck by the gross imbalance their efforts do to the concept of public education.
Consider that maybe this morning you heard a commercial advertising Tulsa Public Schools. Then you see in the paper where El Reno Public Schools has paid to put an article in their local paper. Finally, you learn that Woodward Public Schools has a paid staff person using time to meet with members of the legislature to push a particular point. You might not have a real problem with any of this, but remember that all this is paid for with your tax dollars! You have hired a lobbyist for one district. You have spent money on radio and print advertising. I can well imagine the backlash public schools would hear from certain corners were districts allowed to use public money to promote their interests so fervently. Of course they’d be criticized, as they often are, for wasting taxpayer dollars or wasting time we should be teaching.
It reminds me of a favorite line I have from Ida Tarbell’s History of Standard Oil in which she said,“There is no gaming table in the world where loaded dice are tolerated, … yet Mr. Rockefeller has systematically played with loaded dice.” That about sums up my feelings on this competition between traditional public schools and alternative forms of “public” education.
I don’t mean to be a doomsday person, but when you allow one group to use your money to actively work to take your product away, you will eventually go out of business. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that is exactly what some have been advocating for a long while.
The reality is that those who scream “school choice” likely don’t know all the options available in their local public school for which they are already paying! Your child is ill and needs someone to come to the home? We already do that. Your child doesn’t work well in a traditional classroom setting and needs a virtual school? We already do that. You want a place that offers college preparatory classes? All of our high schools offer several Advanced Placement courses and other college prep options. The general public doesn’t know all the good options already available because we are legally forbidden from advertising them.
It’s blatantly unfair. And I know life isn’t fair, but that is no excuse to allow unfairness of this type to hurt our children. The fact is that 90+ percent of Oklahoma’s kids are still educated in a public school, and that number grows each year. I encourage each of you to research state laws surrounding what public schools are allowed to do compared with other types of education. It should become clear that public education is competing on an unlevel playing field.