Over the past five months, Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan) has raised eyebrows with his plan to eliminate compulsory public education in the state of Utah. In an article first published in July, Osmond emphasized that his intention was not to harm public education, but to give parents more options in educating their children while changing attitudes towards education in general.
On Sunday, Osmond lifted the veil on the suite of legislation he is currently drafting to fundamentally change education policy in the Beehive state in a article he posted to UtahPolicy.com.
“I recognize the need for compulsory education, just not in its current form,” says Osmond. “My concern with compulsory education is that it’s all about the time in the seat, not the academic outcome.”
One of Osmond’s proposed bills would allow individual school districts to decide how many hours of classroom time are necessary for their particular district. “There is no cookie-cutter approach to teaching each child. Every district also has unique dynamics (from ESL, to poverty, to high-growth, to rural community). The amount of time that students and teachers need in a classroom setting varies by area.”
A second bill being floated by Osmond would create a public education participation contract and a parent bill of rights for education. These two ideas, Osmond feels, would codify the relationship, responsibilities, and expectations of both parents and public schools. Ideas in the parental contract include requiring that parents attend all scheduled parent-teacher conferences, respect teachers by supporting classroom discipline, and to pay for tutoring, repeated grades, and any other remedial coursework. Conversely, parents could choose to hold children back for maturity reasons, have influence in the choosing of a teacher, and make it easier for children to test out of subjects and graduate early. This bill would also mandate summer school for failing students—to be paid for by the parents.
Perhaps most controversial is Osmond’s proposal that children in either private schools or being home schooled will be exempt from all state educational requirements, including testing, measurements, standards and time-in-class. “For me this is a critical balance in reinforcing the right of parent to decide how and what a child shall be taught and ensuring the proper role of Government in overseeing education,” Osmond told Utah Political Capitol. “I do not believe that it is the Government’s role to dictate to homeschoolers what they shall be taught once they make the decision to home-school a child.”
When asked if this policy meant that it was possible that a parent could choose to ignore the so called “three-R’s” in education or even choose not to educate a child at all, Osmond says that nothing prevents that now and parents, even under his new system, would be held to educational neglect laws. He further noted that children would still be held to universal standards such as college entrance exams. “If Homeschool and Private school parents decide to return their child to Public Education, their child will be assessed with an age-appropriate assessment, and the student will be placed in the appropriate academic level based on that assessment. In addition if remediation is necessary, the local school district may charge all or part of that cost to remediate back to the parent,” says Osmond, who calls such a plan “true accountability.”
“Under current state statute,” says Osmond, “it is clear that the Parent has the primary responsibility for the education of their child. The state has the secondary responsibility.” When asked if different standards in different districts and between public and private/home schooling would create disproportionate education opportunities for children, Osmond admitted that “It is possible that some students will have lower quality education than others [under his proposal, but] that happens today. That is the reality of our current public education system. If we want to guarantee educational equality in everything we have already failed in a much more significant way.”
Critics are accusing accused Osmond of simply parroting proposed legislation from the highly controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC, critics charge, has attempted to undermine public education across the nation in favor of a free market approach—an approach that would result in the privatization of all schooling and the eventual elimination of public schools. By creating special carve-outs in the law that protect private schools from current standards, critics contend, it creates a system inherently stacked against public schools. Others are also raising concerns that by creating all of the additional paperwork and financial obligations for parents with kids in public schools, it’s simply a back-door attempt to encourage parents to withdraw from public schools and attempt homeschooling or private school.
Osmond vehemently rejects that the bills he is proposing were simply lifted from ALEC. “[It is]Simply not true. I have not attended any ALEC events, looked at or used any ALEC model legislation, nor have I discussed any of these ideas with anyone associated with ALEC. These ideas are mine and based on many hours of talking with parents, teachers, administrators, and other education leaders in the state.” Locally, conservative organizations hostile to the public education system, such as the Sutherland Institute, have praised Osmond’s efforts to overturn compulsory education.
Currently, Osmond’s bills are still formally in process and specific bill language will not be released for public inspection until the state draws closer to the start of the legislative session.
Editors Note: Senator Osmond is scheduled to appear on Saturday’s UPC Show to further explain his proposed legislation. Readers are encouraged to tune in to K-Talk AM 630 between 2-3 to listen live and participate in the discussion. The podcast will also be available the following Monday.