Research & Commentary: Strike Voucher Would Help Keep Oklahoma Children in Classrooms during Teacher Walkouts

Published March 20, 2018

A planned, illegal, statewide strike by the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) – an affiliate of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union and special interest group – will remove the union’s roughly 40,000 members from of their schools beginning on April 2.

Naturally, students suffer when teachers are out of their classrooms. A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows 10 days of teacher absences over the course of a school year can significantly reduce student achievement in mathematics. Teacher absences, the study found, “radically reduced … instructional intensity” by creating “discontinuities of instruction [and] the disruption of regular routines and procedures of the classroom.” (Roughly 20 percent of teachers in traditional public schools in Oklahoma are also chronically absentee, according to a brief from the Fordham Institute, meaning they miss at least 10 days of school a year.)

In addition, time children spend out of the classroom is time in which previous gains in achievement begin to atrophy, and this is especially true of low-income students. Whereas most students come into a new school year having lost some of the gains made in mathematics and reading during the previous school year, research has shown low-income students tend to lose more ground over summer break than their higher-income peers. (Over 60 percent of Oklahoma students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics.)

Parents should not have to watch their children be used as pawns in a struggle over money. To shift the focus back to the students, Oklahoma policymakers consider creating a “strike voucher” and “student opportunity scholarship (SOS) accounts” to help students during and after a teachers strike.

Starting on the first day of a teacher walkout, the strike voucher would give any student currently enrolled in a public school in a district where teachers are on strike access to a safe place where learning could continue. Any charter, private, or parochial school in the district with the room to enroll additional students would be given a stipend of $50 per day for each strike-displaced student it takes in. Other non-school institutions, such as libraries, museums, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and similar private organizations, also could participate and apply for the strike vouchers.

The second stage of protecting students in the event of an extended strike is allowing parents to transition from strike vouchers to education savings accounts (ESAs) if the strike extends beyond nine days. The student opportunity scholarship account would be a mechanism to encourage independent schools to take in as many strike voucher students as possible. Families could convert temporary strike vouchers into SOS accounts on the tenth school day of a strike. SOS accounts would allow parents to turn their children’s temporary placement at independent schools into actual enrollment at those schools.

[For information on how strike vouchers and SOS accounts would be funded, please consult the Heartland Policy Brief linked here.]

Strikes are a part of the natural order in the collective bargaining process. When teachers strike, however, the children are always the losers. Teachers unions currently face no significant repercussions for walking out of their classrooms. For union members, a strike is a mild interruption, but for students and parents, it is a massive disruption. Teachers unions have made a habit of using children as pawns. Under this strike voucher plan, the unions would be charged daily for each of the thousands of students it abandoned who takes advantage of the strike voucher, giving them an incentive to reconsider their penchant for walking off the job.

The very existence of the strike voucher and SOS accounts may make teachers strikes less likely. Knowing their students could use strike vouchers to leave their public schools and never come back might be enough to make unions like OEA think twice about locking students out of their schools in the first place.

The goal of strike vouchers and SOS accounts is to make sure as many children as possible will be freed from forces outside of their control standing in the way of their continuing education. All parents, no matter their income, would be allowed to ensure their children have the opportunity to attend a safe and effective school, free from the continual tug-of-war between school districts and teachers unions, of which they are frequently caught in the middle.

The following documents provide more information about strike vouchers and school choice.

Saving Chicago Students: Strike Vouchers and SOS Accounts
This Heartland Policy Brief examines why teachers are threatening to strike, the history of teacher strikes in Illinois, and the performance and financial challenges faced by students, their parents, and the taxpayers of Illinois. A three-part plan to save Chicago students is presented. It consists of: (a) “strike vouchers” – payments of $50 per student per day to organizations willing to open their doors to students locked out of public schools; (b) “student opportunity scholarship (SOS) accounts” – parent-controlled savings accounts into which public funds raised for schools are deposited and from which disbursements to alternative education providers are allowed; and (c) the expansion of Illinois’ current individual education tax credit program, by raising the maximum amount of the allowable credit and extending eligibility to include corporations and individuals who contribute to scholarship management organizations.  

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This Heartland Institute booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

2017 Schooling in America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent Experiences, School Choice, and the Role of the Federal Government
This annual EdChoice survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examined the effect that increased access to private schooling has on international student test scores in 52 countries around the world, finding that a 1 percentage point increase in the private share of total primary schooling enrollment would lead to moderate increases in student math, reading, and science achievement within nations.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

Recalibrating Accountability: Education Savings Accounts as Vehicles of Choice and Innovation
This Special Report from The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation explores how education savings accounts expand educational opportunities and hold education providers directly accountable to parents. The report also identifies several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.

Personalizing Education: How Florida Families Use Education Savings Accounts
This report by Jason Bedrick of EdChoice and Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation examines how parents in Florida used their education savings account funds during the first two school years of the Gardiner Scholarship Program, which is now utilized by more than 10,000 students with special needs. Bedrick and Burke found more than 42 percent of families used their ESA to customize their child’s education in 2015–16, and 55 percent of these customizers did so without using a brick-and-mortar private school.

The Education Debit Card II: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts
This follow-up EdChoice report by Jonathan Butcher and Lindsey Burke examines additional data from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. Butcher and Burke reveal what ESA families’ expenditures are now and how spending trends have changed since their previous report.

School Choice: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About State Constitutions’ Religion Clauses
This resource, authored by Richard D. Komer of the Institute for Justice, serves as an excellent primer on Blaine amendments, compelled support clauses, and other state constitutional religious clauses.

The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
This report by Jeff Spalding of EdChoice provides a program-for-program breakdown of school voucher costs and savings. On the whole, Spalding says these programs have provided a cumulative savings of $1.3 billion since 2007, or roughly $3,400 per pupil.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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