This commentary originally appeared in The Tyler Morning Telegraph on March 7, 2017.
We Texans laud ourselves for demanding freedom in every aspect of our lives. We courageously fight for it. We faithfully defend it. It is a badge we wear with pride. But there is one critical area wherein many of the most in need have no option: education. There are more than 918,000 children stuck in failing schools in Texas, and 713,000 of them are economically disadvantaged.
East Texas is home to thousands of children who are being denied the best educational opportunities based on nothing more than their families’ zip codes. No child should be relegated to a failing school simply because of where they live. That is not freedom.
There are also thousands of children across Texas with special learning needs who are not getting the programmatic support, and subsequently, the public education to which they are constitutionally and morally entitled. This lack of opportunity has less to do with funding shortfalls than it does with the education bureaucracy run amok.
Of course, it is worth noting that many Texas families enjoy the freedom of school choice; however, they are typically families with the means to choose where they send their children to be educated. Among existing school options, there are private schools for those who can afford the tuition, and homeschools for those able to forego a salary and afford to purchase the curriculum. There are families who have the resources to move to a school district better suited to the educational needs of their children. And there are charter schools for those who are literally lucky enough to win the charter lottery. There are more than 140,000 kids waiting for that stroke of luck.
With more than 5 million children in Texas’ traditional public schools, many are perfectly happy and successful. And there are several highly successful districts that are “districts of choice.” A wonderful success story is Grand Prairie ISD, in which one does not have to live in Grand Prairie for their child to attend school there. It also offers numerous traditional schools, Schools of Choice, and Programs of Choice at all levels. And parent and teacher satisfaction are among the highest of any in the state. This is encouraging evidence that choice can exist successfully anywhere in the educational realm. No matter where you live, you deserve the right to pick the best school for your child.
Sadly, it is our most poor who have least access to school choice. An Education Savings Account (ESA) would help alleviate this crisis and increase substantially the number of educational opportunities available to the less privileged.
By issuing a “restricted” debit card to families, they can purchase approved educational offerings: tutoring, tuition for accredited private schools, curriculum, therapy for children with special needs, transportation, virtual courses-one or any number of combinations of these. Think of it as the education version of a Health Savings Account (HSA): the card provides school choice, but also accountability. It will reject non-education-related expenses. When necessary, fraud will be investigated and punished accordingly.
The 85th Legislature is poised to fight for education freedom. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are in full support of school choice for Texas children. And Governor Greg Abbott said in his State of the State address, “Parents, not government, are best positioned to make decisions about their child’s education. Parents should be empowered to choose the school that’s best for their child.”
The children of Texas crave the brightest futures possible. Now is the time to give each of them the educational choice they so richly deserve.