Education is one of the most important responsibilities of the family. From Solomon´s admonishment in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” the importance of a good education is clear. And, as Moses instructs in Deuteronomy 4:9, the teaching of the law is parental responsibility. Naturally, parents or guardians are best equipped to make educational decisions for their children, including when and where their child should attend school. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, a landmark decision in 1925 regarding parental freedom of choice in schools, the Supreme Court stated, “the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Parents have the primary responsibility, and privilege, of ensuring that their child is well educated.
A majority of Oregon families send their children to one of the state´s 1,239 local public schools. As taxpayers, all Oregonians have the responsibility to ensure that schools are providing the best possible education for the children of our state while using resources wisely. In the 2011-2012 school year, taxpayers paid an average of $9,500 dollars for each student in Oregon´s public school system. Studies have consistently shown a connection between student achievement and parent involvement. According to the National Education Association, “A home environment that encourages learning is more important to student achievement than income, education level or cultural background.” Parents should not only support schools, but should also have options in deciding which school their child will attend. Liberal school transfer policies should give parents as much leeway as possible in allowing them to choose which public school best meets their child’s needs
In September 1999, laws allowing the creation of charter schools in Oregon took effect and opened a new door in Oregon education. Charter schools in Oregon are paid for through public funding and are exempt from regulation with the stipulation of meeting certain academic standards. Approval, oversight, and funding for each charter school stems from the school district in which the school is located. Many of these schools employ innovative educational methods and focus on specific skill training in the high school levels. There are currently over 120 charter schools in Oregon.
Private schools — both secular and religious — offer high quality education alternatives to public schools. But, many families have difficulty raising funds to pay for private school tuition. School vouchers, such as those tested in Milwaukee, WI, provide parents with greater educational options. The vouchers, a scholarship of sorts, allow lower income families in failing school districts a choice in where their children are educated. Further, vouchers provide parents the opportunity to enroll their children in an institution that best suits their specific educational needs.
Many Oregon families decide to educate their children at home. Some reasons for homeschooling, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, are to “teach a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldview; accomplish more academically than in schools; and customize or individualize the curriculum and learning environment for each child…” Currently, Oregon homeschoolers are required to notify the state, and then to submit standardized test scores after the 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades. There are no testing or notification requirements for students who are enrolled in private schools, and according to National Home Education Research Institute, state control and regulation of homeschooling has no relationship to academic achievement. Home education should be treated as private education, and the same standards should be applied to both school options.
Prayer in Public Schools
This issue is one of the most controversial issues in public education today. Stories are constantly hitting the headlines of valedictorians being censored from praying during ceremonies or a ruckus arising from a team praying before a ballgame. The federal government´s official policy on prayer in public schools offers helpful guidance. If a public school receives funds from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESEA”) of 1965, it must “certify in writing… that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools…” In summary, schools, with the authority of the first amendment, are required to remain neutral regarding religious expression. Prayer cannot be promoted or prohibited by schools or school officials, and if a student wishes to pray, or organize a prayer group, or express beliefs in class assignments, he is protected by the freedom of speech clause of the first amendment. As the Supreme Court has expressed, “… the Constitution mandates neutrality rather than hostility toward privately initiated religious expression.”