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Rolly: Voluntary education, an attack on schools
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I have written critically of Sen. Aaron Osmond's suggestion recently on the Senate website blog that Utah do away with compulsory education because forcing parents under threat of criminal prosecution to send their children to school belies the principles of a country founded on liberty and freedom.

I've since read quotes from Osmond acknowledging that he wants to sit down with all sides in the education debate and listen to proposals for reform from teachers, their unions and other public education advocates as well as parents, charter and home school advocates and private sector interests.

So I should give Osmond the benefit of the doubt and allow that ending compulsory education was an idea thrown out to foster more discussion toward a comprehensive solution.

What piqued my suspicion, though, was an earlier essay Osmond wrote with Oak Norton, a noisy critic of public education who has long pushed an agenda toward more parental choice like home schooling and who has publicly suggested Alpine School District is trying to turn its students into socialists.

Norton is aligned with the Utah Eagle Forum-based crowd that has never gotten over the ballot referendum in 2007 in which voters overwhelmingly rejected the law passed that year in the Legislature that created a voucher system so parents could apply tax credits toward their child's tuition in a private school.

The pro-voucher crowd has been trying ever since to push more education money to the private sector and to chip away at the public school system's ability to develop its own policies.

It's not surprising that after Osmond posted his blog suggesting an end to compulsory education, two Senate colleagues, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, said it was a good idea.

Both strong voucher advocates, Stephenson and Madsen have been leading the way in the Senate toward more micro-managing of education by the Legislature and more education money going to private firms, in the form of vendors providing certain Legislature-mandated programs under contract.

One such firm was Digital Bridge, which after winning a contract to provide software designed to measure certain performance, declared bankruptcy, stiffing the state out of about $3 million.

It's the same group that decries Common Core standards developed by officials from several dozen states as some kind of Obama socialist plot, even though most educators praise Common Core as a way to present greater challenges to students in core subjects like language arts and math.

The Eagle Forum staple of homophobia event crept into that debate, with some Common Core opponents hinting that it promoted a "homosexual agenda," despite having no evidence to back up that claim.

It's the same group that tried to eliminate sex education in the schools, again with behind-the-scenes whispers it, too, was promoting homosexuality.

It's the same group that has tried to eliminate the popular International Baccalaureate program in high schools, claiming it advances a socialistic "U.N. agenda," which it doesn't.

And it's the same group that stridently defends Utah's unique caucus-convention system of selecting candidates, which keeps power in the hands of groups like the Eagle Forum adept at getting their own elected as delegates and nominating candidates that support their agenda, even in opposition to the wishes of the state's majority.

Osmond, R-South Jordan, represents an extremely conservative area in southwest Salt Lake County that has a strong Eagle Forum influence.

So he's in a tricky position. If he truly does reach out to all stakeholders in education and listens to the concerns of, say, the Utah Education Association, before proposing any radical reforms, then more power to him. —

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