In 1910, my great grandfather and namesake, Rabbi A.D. Rosenblatt, arrived in Galveston. But he didn’t stay long; he and his family moved out of Texas in 1923 because A.D. felt that the available educational options did not meet the needs of his children.
My grandfather repeated this cycle in the 1950’s, settling in Galveston as a newlywed, but leaving a few years later once he had two children of his own.
Now, 70 years later, my daughter has just married a lifelong Texan and they will soon have to decide where to settle and where to educate their future children. That decision, for them and other families, may depend on what happens during the current special legislative session in Austin focused on school choice.
When it comes to education, Texas stands at a crossroads. Gov. Greg Abbott has called for state legislators to pass a school choice bill. The bill’s precise language will have to be negotiated among lawmakers, but the Education Savings Account (ESA) proposals discussed in the Legislature earlier this year would increase public school funding while also empowering parents to choose educational settings that works best for their children. In Austin, they call this controversial, but everywhere else in Texas this is considered common sense.
In 2022, nearly 90% of Republicans voted in favor of a primary ballot question supporting school choice. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since school choice and educational freedom are integral parts of the Texas Republican Party platform. It is an issue that also transcends party politics. A June poll by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Politics Project found that 58% of Texans supported starting a “voucher,” educational savings account or other “school choice” program in Texas. Among the GOP respondents, 77% backed the idea compared to the 36% of Democrats and 56% of Independents.
School choice also has support of Texans from across the religious spectrum. Earlier this year I joined more than 100 members of the Jewish community on the steps of the State Capitol in Austin as part of a large school choice rally. Our group included parents, spiritual leaders and community representatives from cities across the state, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. During legislative committee hearings, several rabbis testified in support of ESAs, continuing a long tradition of Texas faith leaders supporting parental choice. My first visit to Austin was back in 2007 when Agudath Israel of America, the national grassroots organization I help lead, co-sponsored a school choice rally that brought together more than 5,000 people and featured a Dallas rabbi as one of several faith leaders addressing the crowd.
One of the reasons faith leaders support school choice is because it strengthens their communities. School choice allows families to remain in the neighborhood where they grew up or move into cities even if they don’t feel that their assigned public school is the best fit for their child. The overwhelming majority of families will remain in their public schools. That’s why many of them have chosen to live in that town or neighborhood in the first place. However, some children—even within the same family—need something different. Whether it’s because they want an education for their children that matches their values or because they need a program tailored to a specific child’s unique learning needs, parents want the freedom and opportunity that comes with school choice.
I don’t know where my future grandchildren will attend school, but, along with all education-minded Texas families, parents and grandparents in my community will be closely watching what happens during this special session. It is an opportunity for lawmakers to send the important message that Texas is making children their priority. Passing a robust ESA program will reinforce the notion that parents should be trusted to direct their own child’s education. We’ve waited long enough.
I have an image in my mind of my grandfather and great-grandfather looking down on Austin to see if their great state has finally decided to embrace the importance of parents’ role in their children’s education. I hope that they will be smiling.