Empowering Education on Texas Time: The Battle for School Choice in the Lone Star State

While most news junkies will have their attention drawn to the Presidential election this year, those who follow local politics in the state of Texas will be focusing on a policy fight that is no less, if not more so, controversial: school choice. 


Fresh off the heels of the recent GOP primary in which school choice supporters achieved significant victory, many voters and politicians have voiced their opinions regarding the results, either in praise or lamentation.  


Chief among those celebrating the victory is Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whose support for school choice remains questionable given his promotion of mediocre legislation that does not allow for universal access. However, to keep up appearances, he remarked at a recent event that “we are on the brink of giving Texas parents what they have been asking for: school choice.” He continued elaborating on the support that Texas voters have put forward for the policy as of late:


“A resounding number of Texans support educational freedom for every Texas family because they know that no child should be trapped in a failing school just because of their zip code. This next legislative session will be known as the school choice session, where we finally pass a much-needed law to ensure that every Texas parent has the right to choose the best educational pathway for their child.”


In concurrence, Mandy Drogin, a campaign director at the prominent conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, stated that Texas “is closer than ever to delivering on the promise that every parent be in control of their child’s education,” and that empowering parents “with more and better educational options will continue to be one of the top issues in Texas until it gets passed.” 


Indeed, with two primary elections heading to a runoff scheduled for May 28, Abbott may gain the necessary 76 votes to pass some form of school choice at the next legislative session in Texas, watered down as it may be. However, some within the Lone Star State do not share the enthusiasm the Governor and his supporters exhibited regarding the possibility of the contentious policy becoming law. 


Kate Johanns, a spokesperson for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, has decried that out-of-state donors and groups have colluded with state leadership to defame and punish honorable public servants from their own party who went to Austin to vote their districts and their consciences,” but reassures that opponents of the legislation are “disheartened but not dissuaded. Our state’s 5.4 million public schoolchildren deserve better from the leaders of Texas, and we’ll continue fighting for them.” 


Opponents of school choice have often opened their arguments with emotional appeals, painting vivid pictures of rural life relying on sporting events, club programs, and other aspects of public schools to provide a necessary sense of community contingent on their continued existence. This is usually followed with claims that public schools are “barely scraping by on lean operating budgets,” which rely on their local representatives in the Republican-led state legislature to fend off school voucher programs.” These very representatives, claiming that their constituents are satisfied with their local public schools, also make the contradictory argument that transferable funding for education will eviscerate these same schools that they claim their voters unequivocally support. 


Texas Tech University professor Alexander William Salter, writing for The Hill, was quick to point out the flaw in their logic:


“Of course, these arguments can’t both be true. If parents are happy with their schools — and in rural districts, it seems they are — then they won’t take their funding elsewhere. It’s illogical to argue that no one wants education freedom and also that giving people education freedom will result in drastic change.”


In states where school choice has been enacted, parents are allotted a set amount of funds, usually in the form of a voucher program or an education savings account, from which they can utilize the funds and choose how they facilitate their children’s education. Under a universal school choice model, this could come in the form of paying for private/religious school tuition, moving their child to another school within the public system, tutoring programs, or instructional materials that parents would not be able to afford without access to the funding that they are forced to pay to the state via taxation. This is opposed to more incremental school choice policies that limit the options for how the money is spent, which, unfortunately, has been the type of legislation Abbott has pushed in recent years. In essence, under the universal model, parents would be free to use their education tax dollars however they see fit for the benefit of their children, which would also include the option to keep them enrolled in a public school they already attend. 


Professor Salter sees this policy as a remedy for many parents, specifically those who live in cities, who feel that the public school system as it stands is failing their children:

“The benefits of school choice are greatest in failing urban districts, especially those with large minority populations. These students, often struggling due to socioeconomic disadvantage, also suffer through inadequate schooling that doesn’t prepare them for the rigors of the modern job market. We have mountains of evidence showing that school choice improves educational outcomes such as test scores and graduation rates. Other measures — such as parental satisfaction, civic participation and costs to taxpayers — also improve. School choice can be the solution for these students, finally delivering true equality of opportunity.”


Texas parents may receive access to transferable funding for their children’s education if the May primary runoffs yield success for Abbott’s school choice coalition. However, given that Abbott’s support of school choice is ultimately disingenuous, it is up to constituents to hold their elected officials accountable to ensure they live up to the promises of their campaigns. 

Eric Madden, Copywriter & Editor

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