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Compulsory Education Should Be Axed, Utah Lawmaker Says

It's exceedingly easy to find fierce debates about the best way to change, or not change, the nation's schools. But what if you think the whole idea of compulsory K-12 education is wrong-headed? Then talk to Sen. Aaron Osmond, a Republican in the Utah legislature, who thinks parents shouldn't be forced to send their kids to school.

"In a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under threat of fines and jail time," he wrote, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Osmond's reasoning is that parents aren't served by public schools unable to meet the specific needs of each student, while teachers in turn often don't get the support of parents of children in their classrooms. So why not, he reasons, get rid of the faulty relationship altogether, at least for those parents who don't want to be forced into any educational system? Osmond first raised the issue on his legislative blog, apparently towards the end of June.

"Public schools would also be required to enable parents and their children to complete school from home, complete classes or assignments via self-study, and graduate early if students get their assignments, projects, and tests completed," Osmond wrote on his blog. "Attendance in a classroom would no longer be mandatory (much like college classes in post-secondary)."

Interestingly, if you look at Osmond's personal website, the first copy you encounter about his legislative priorities is this: "Our state constitution requires that we provide a free public education for every child in the state. As such education is and should continue to be a top policy and funding priority for the Utah state legislature." He also takes a stand for a tax policy that gets government "out of the way of small businesses," so that state tax revenues from private industry will be sufficient to provide K-12 the financial aid it needs.

That doesn't necessarily sound like someone who wants to squelch compulsory education, but Osmond's very clear about his desire to end the requirement. And he doesn't seem to be proposing any concrete alternative either for what parents must, or even should, do with their children as an alternative to public education.

But Michael Clara, a school board member for Salt Lake City, dismissed the idea as a "publicity stunt," according to The Tribune. "He's trying to make a point: let's have students volunteer [to attend] because parents are not taking education seriously," Clara said of Osmond. "But the cure would be worse than the disease."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove said parents already have lots of options, including online courses, for educating their children.

For a contrasting approach, look no further than Kentucky, which recently raised its compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. The increase in the "dropout age" was officially triggered statewide after 55 percent of districts each agreed to the change and will go into effect in Kentucky in 2017. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, supported raising the compulsory age.

In case you're wondering, Osmond is apparently related to the singing Osmond family.

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