NEW ENTITLEMENT. School vouchers are being considered by our legislature this year. As in every year for the past quarter century. This may well be the year the concept is approved.  If it is, a new entitlement will be created—a civil right to make demands on the public treasury.

THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO PUBLIC GOODS. A source of civil rights is the services a person receives from the government. The most prominent example is the right to access to public schooling. This right is an aspect of a broader right of access to public goods intended to a be  nefit the public—schools, roads, sidewalks, parks and all the rest—when such goods are furnished. The government is under no obligation to provide public schools, roads, sidewalks, parks, though they generally do.  As such goods don’t exist in a state of nature, it is only after the locality decides to create schools, roads, sidewalks, parks and all like those does the right to access to public goods activate. The controlling purpose of government support of education is to address an identified need of the locality, state or nation. Student benefits are collateral enhancement.

Even if there were no schools—something that has happened in some states in my lifetime— the claims on then treasury would still have status. School vouchers are a new entitlement. 

BRAND NEW STATE, GOING TO MAKE IT GREAT. The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated. That is Article 13, Section1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. 

The commitment to execute Article 13, Section 1 has been strong. For years and years half of the new money went to education.  It helped that for a long while half of the legislators were married to a teacher. Others, I am thinking of George Nigh, were teachers.

Superintendent Cameron, the state’s first superintendent of public instruction, reported a total of 5,641 districts in the state in 1908, with about 2,200 districts created since statehood, most in the former Indian Territory.  Free public education was available, almost everywhere, although it would be years before enough trained teachers were available to staff the schools. An urgent need was a corps of trained teachers

Oklahoma Territory had created three tuition-free normal schools: At Edmond, at Alva, and at Weatherford. The state Universities at Norman and Stillwater and the college at Langston also offered teacher training  There were none in the former Indian territory. The first Oklahoma Legislature created three new normal schools; At Ada, at Tahlequah, and at Durant.

Before they were through that first Oklahoma Legislature created twelve new schools and colleges. These twelve added to the seven established before statehood made a total of nineteen state supported public schools and colleges in Oklahoma. 

The first names given these institutions—Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, Central State Normal school, Oklahoma Industrial Institute, Oklahoma School for Mines and Metallurgy—shows they were intended to supply the needs of the state. Going to make it great.

T0 MAKE A MORE PERFECT UNION. Two sections in every township was reserved for support of public schools when public land was opened for settlement in what became Oklahoma. This extended a national policy dating back of 1785. The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided that Lot 16 of every township should be reserved for the support of public schools.  Two years later the 1787 Northwest Ordinance extended the school land reserve provision to the public lands of the Northwest territory, stipulating that “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” 

The Land Ordinance of 1785 executed an ideal developed in the New England colonial settlements. New Englanders provided for public education in their land grants due to a belief that public education could be used to further unite the young nation and spread democratic ideals.

In short, our first legislators believed educated citizens are critical to the success of good government. Time and again the stated reason for support to public schools was to serve the nation—to make for a more perfect union—not to create a right or an entitlement.

Continue the good work,

Jim T. Holland

P.S. Strangely, private schoolers are to be entitled to make expense claims up to two times of the maximum expense claims entitlement for home schoolers. I wonder why home schooling is treated as low rent.. Is it inherently subpar, to be discouraged?

About those school vouchers…

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