Compromise is common, but consensus is rare in the world of politics. With public education, however, consensus is less than rare, it simply does not exist. But things may be changing in Texas.

Dave McNeeley, the well-read and very liberal columnist, recently proposed the Texas Legislature solve the school finance conundrum by distributing vouchers for students to use at public or private schools. Yes, this was said by Dave McNeeley and yes, he did propose vouchers to “bridge the razor-edged divide between those who think Texas’ public schools need more money and those who think the education answer is vouchers.”

What Mr. McNeeley calls the “sticking point” is his suggestion that the legislature write a check of roughly $24,000 a year to each child as a voucher. This is the amount of tuition now charged by Andover, the exclusive East Coast prep school once attended by President George Bush, and an amount, according to the columnist, that’s “apparently necessary to achieve a good education.” Perhaps he spoke tongue-in-cheek.

Notwithstanding, we think this proposal should be seriously considered by the state legislature. Here is solid, common ground on which to begin answering difficult questions related to funding education and improving student success. The state should provide sufficient money for schools to do their job well and the money should be channeled through the parents.

As long-time advocates of eliminating the government monopoly in public education, we welcome Mr. McNeeley’s proposal. Trading sufficient funding for government-operated schools with universal school choice offers great promise for breaking the political gridlock on school finance and meeting public demand for educational excellence.

So, to paraphrase the punch-line of a tawdry joke – now that we’ve agreed to deal, it’s time to haggle about the price.

In keeping with the spirit of the proposal – using Texas as a guide – Mr. McNeely should use Texas-based equivalents to Andover. Texans attending private “Ivy League” prep schools in the Southwestern Prep Conference pay, on the average, $13,500 a year. However, we would argue this number is far higher than the average tuition for private schools in Texas that send graduates to the nation’s “Ivy League” colleges. Texans can get excellent quality from private schools without the high-end price tags – average private school tuition in Houston costs about $7,000. Clearly, students can get – and schools can provide – a high quality, education in Texas for substantially less than $13,500.

Averaging out actual private school costs in Texas, we suggest the price for vouchers and per pupil funding for schools should be in the range of $8,000 annually. Depending on whose numbers you use, this amount is close to what we are spending per pupil now on public education. If we try this market-based system, and there is insufficient increase in excellence, then we can talk about more money. Let’s talk about funding real change since we know that putting more money into the same monopoly-controlled system has not improved public schools.

While we can afford to haggle over price, we cannot afford to ignore this opportunity to create a system of school finance that adequately funds education, establishes incentives to improve public schools, and places the ultimate accountability for the success of schools where it belongs, with parents.

We challenge policymakers to make children the primary beneficiaries of education reform and to create a system of public education that serves all children equally well.

Mr. McNeeley is right. Let’s link adequate education funding with educational freedom. We can haggle over the price. By increasing freedom, and letting academic results serve as the measure for success, every child in Texas will benefit. There can – or should – be no haggling over the value of that.

Tim Dunn is a Midland businessman and the vice chairman of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Board of Directors. The Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute based in Austin (