The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 3, which would create a program to provide parents with educational choices to best meet their children’s needs. Given the overwhelming research showing that this would benefit Texans, legislators should strongly consider passing SB 3 into law.
SB 3 would provide education savings accounts (ESA) and tax-credit scholarships for families to purchase tuition and educational services. Families with income less than 175 percent of the national free and reduced price lunch program and those in urban areas with children who have special needs would be eligible.
Parents could apply for an ESA and access the funds online to customize their child’s education based on a portion of taxpayer dollars that the state would have spent on their child’s assigned public school district. ESAs could be used to pay private school tuition or access several approved products and services for education, such as textbooks, tutoring, online courses, and therapy.
Research finds numerous benefits from school choice programs that include raising student achievement, increasing graduation rates, and improving college matriculation.
A “study of studies” conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas on school choice worldwide indicates that students who participate in these programs benefit academically. School choice also benefits students who remain in public schools, reduces segregation, provides fiscal savings for taxpayers, and enhances civic values.
Education is important for growing the state’s economy.
Economist Eric Hanushek estimated that if Texas boosted its student achievement to the level of Minnesota, which is the top-ranking state in average test scores over the last two decades, then it could grow its GDP over the next 80 years by 199 percent over its current level (worth about $3.2 trillion in present value terms).
Expanding educational options for Texan families will likely have other long-term economic benefits, such as raising property values and reducing crime. Based on work by economist Arthur Laffer, a universal school choice program would likely be associated with property values increasing between 5 and 20 percent.
Good schools matter, but good matches between students and the type of education they receive also matter.
The current “one size fits all” public school model of educating students simply doesn’t work for all students. Texas would benefit from a model of education that facilitates better matches for students, as well as a model that incentivizes the expansion of quality education options.
Education choice also provides a proven mechanism not only for the state to invest in K-12 education, but it does so in a fiscally responsible manner.
Economist Milton Friedman provided valuable insight related to how money is spent. Simply, you can spend your money or other people’s money, and you can spend money on yourself or on other people.
People who spend their own money on themselves face strong incentives to both economize and maximize value. ESAs afford this arrangement—allowing people to have more control over how their money is spent on their children’s education.
However, this isn’t the current arrangement for how we fund public school districts, whereby the government spends other people’s money on someone else’s behalf. This situation leaves little to no incentive to spend responsibly.
ESAs provide a vehicle not only to control costs, but they also empower parents to hold schools directly accountable to parents.
Private schools and service providers face a strong incentive to meet parents’ needs for their children. If they don’t, then parents can easily go elsewhere and take their funds with them. This is not necessarily so for parents with children in public schools, which aren’t usually directly accountable to parents.
If a parent wants to change a policy in the public school system, a school board must be willing to vote for it. If unsuccessful, then a political campaign may be the next step. That requires considerable time and effort, with no guarantee of success.
Education choice is about empowering parents rather than favoring one system or type of delivery over another and would be a win-win endeavor for Texans.