Better UTAH Beat Episode 57 – July 23, 2013

It’s not that we’re attention starved in Utah. In fact, we frequently get kudos for our stunning natural habitat, our gainfully employed workforce, and our attractiveness to technology companies. But for some state legislators it isn’t enough to receive accolades for our varied accomplishments, we need attention for our crazy moments, too. Senator Aaron Osmond’s recent blog entry for eliminating mandatory public education falls in the latter category.

In a blog on the state senate’s website last week Senator Osmond made the case for eliminating compulsory education. The story went national after it was reported on by the Huffington Post–where a Huntsman daughter couldn’t distance herself fast enough from the Beehive state–the Daily Beast, and Esquire. It even made the late-night comedy rounds on the Conan O’Brien Show.

But what exactly is Osmond’s argument? He makes three claims, only the first of which is the inflammatory suggestion that we do away with mandatory education. The other three claims are how he plans to do it:

  1. Make education a privilege, not a right.
  2. Remove hourly requirements from education, and instead base education on benchmarks completed, such as exams.
  3. Make parents exclusively responsible for their children’s homework, assignments and classroom behavior.

In other words, in order to eliminate compulsory education you must first eliminate it as a right. Since the Utah constitution guarantees freely available public education that is free from sectarian control, this would presumably require rewriting the state’s constitution. Second, remove incentives for classroom-based learning. Third, remove educational expertise from the teacher.

But what, indeed, would be the effect of eliminating compulsory education? Would it, as Osmond hopes, provide much-needed reform to our educational system?

Probably not. In fact, it would likely only increase the divide between the haves and the have-nots in Utah. Children that come from economically advantaged households are already educationally advantaged. After school, parents drive them to soccer games and help them with homework. Those children, whether or not education is mandated, will still receive stellar educations. But what about the poor?

There is some concern among Utah’s progressives that poor people will suddenly stop educating their children if Osmond’s bill is passed. Let’s be clear that this sort of piling on the poor has to stop. Utah’s conservatives already occupy this shameful ground in their push for such cruel requirements as drug-testing welfare recipients.

Osmond’s proposal isn’t so much a threat to education as it is a boon to those who want to further entrench class distinctions. Is Osmond taking the first shot in what he likely would consider class warfare? Osmond’s bill is not designed to keep the poor out of schools, but rather to keep them in by allowing the rich to opt-out of public education.

The poor will continue to send their children to school. They just won’t be good schools. Instead of improving the quality of education for everyone–Osmond’s plan, in effect, creates two educational systems. A public educational system that, without its public mandate continues to be even more drastically underfunded in Utah, and an exempt class that can educate their students at home and in private schools with vouchers.

As the Salt Lake Tribune’s Paul Rolly has noted, Osmond had shown himself to be something of a pragmatic reformer in recent legislative sessions, but those attempts never quite panned out. This new proposal makes Osmond seem exasperated, choosing instead to throw up his arms as if to say: This reform business is too hard, let’s just get rid of the whole thing.

To Senator Osmond we say: isn’t the really hard stuff, like education reform, worth fighting for?

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat. Have a fun and safe 24th, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah. For more information, visit betterutah.org.

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