Osmond said he has received hundreds of emails, both in support and opposition to his proposal, and that he is grateful for the feedback. He said simply ending compulsory education is insufficient without establishing some type of safety net for students who fall through the cracks and he is now working with stakeholders to address how to best proceed.
"I had always planned to come out with a more detailed plan of what I’m actually going to propose," he said. "My next step is to meet with education leaders across the state, talk about the feedback we’ve received, talk about their concerns and propose solutions."
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who also serves as chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said he was "bewildered" and "stupefied" that even a minority of survey participants support ending compulsory education. He described Osmond's proposal as indefensible and compared it to repealing child labor laws.
"This is so basic. That there's even a discussion about it, should we be discussing whether cancer is good or bad?" Dabakis said. "This is a preposterous discussion, but it shows just how far to the extreme important elements of the Utah governing class have gone."
Dabakis said the choice of whether to attend school — and the consequences that follow that decision — should not be left up to a 13- or 14-year-old child, even in the name of greater liberty. He also said ending compulsory education would have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged children and Utah's at-risk populations.
"To portray this as freedom and not freedom is simply to confuse the issue," he said. "Nobody is against freedom. Nobody is against choice. What we are against is turning the clock back 150 years to the demise of public education."
But Paul Mero, president of the conservative public policy think tank the Sutherland Institute, said the argument over compulsory school attendance comes down to whether the state or a parent holds the primary responsibility for the education of a child. He said that despite the opposition to Osmond's proposal, very few people have made an argument why compulsory attendance laws are necessary in Utah.
"There’s implications and there’s assumptions in all of these comments about how crazy the idea is, but none of the comments make a real argument as to why you need compulsory attendance," he said. "The culture of education in Utah is vibrant and strong and there’s no reason to believe that ending compulsory education would change that culture."
When asked about the children who would fail to receive an education if the requirement to attend school was lifted, Mero said there will always be irresponsible, neglectful parents but those instances would be few and far between.
"I think when you start making laws on the exceptions, you get into trouble," he said. "The reality is nearly every parent in this state is not neglectful and actually cares about their child."
Osmond reiterated the need for a paradigm shift in regards to education, in that schooling should be seen as an opportunity instead of an obligation. Should his proposal become law, Utah would be the only state in the nation without compulsory attendance laws, which has resulted in interest from national media outlets.
"When we’re talking about something that is so significant a change from a social norm we’ve had for 130 years, it’s not surprising to me that across the country this would be a interesting topic and one of substantial divisiveness as well," Osmond said.
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