Doom! That’s what Democrats and their allies in the media predict if Texas lawmakers empower parents to make the key decisions in their children’s educations. An “astroturf” group (that means fake grassroots) says parent empowerment is “morally unacceptable,” will replace Texas public education with “Christian Nationalism & Religious Fundamentalism,” and ultimately it’s all “designed to destroy public ed.”
But is any of this true? Nationwide, 31 states and the District of Columbia have some form of school choice. Surely, if the dire predictions are true, we’d see the results in states that have empowered parents for years. But that’s simply not the case. Here’s a summary of the common attacks on parent empowerment—and the real achievement results seen in other states.
Parent empowerment—through things such as Education Savings Accounts—defunds the public schools.
On the contrary, public schools have received increases in funding in states that have empowered parents.
“As a recent analysis from the Reason Foundation revealed, all but two states (Idaho and North Carolina) increased their inflation-adjusted average funding per-pupil since 2002,” a study from EdChoice reports. “In the five states with the most robust educational choice policies, inflation-adjusted funding per pupil increased between 1.2 percent (Arizona) to 12.7 percent (Ohio) since 2002, which is not long after four of the five states enacted their first educational choice policy.”
What’s more, “public spending on educational choice policies is a mere drop in the bucket compared to total K–12 public education spending,” the report adds.
Parent empowerment will hurt public schools by luring away students who are the “cream of the crop.”
Again, this is false. Once parents are empowered with real choices, schools respond with new programs, improved curriculum, and a renewed focus on the quality of the education they are providing students. School choice is the catalyst that encourages everyone to become better and more efficient. Let’s use Education Week’s Quality Counts measure of school performance, which measures states using the most prominent standardized assessments.
“If educational choice programs truly produced the catastrophic effects that many critics predict, then those effects should be visible in Quality Counts measures,” that EdChoice report notes. “That is not, however, what the report shows. Indeed, in the 2021 Quality Counts report, each of the states with robust educational choice policies are in the top or middle of the distribution of states.”
Arizona, Florida, and Indiana have America’s largest choice programs. Their rankings have gone up over the last decade: Arizona from 44th to 22nd, Florida from 7th to 3rd, Indiana from 25th to 15th. Texas ranks 33rd. And in 97% of states with choice programs, inflation-adjusted funding has gone up, not down.
“Not only is there is no clear pattern of negative effects in the five states with robust, longstanding choice programs, but the states in question generally improved their performance over the last two decades,” EdChoice adds.
Parent empowerment will adversely affect rural school districts.
In the past, opponents of parent empowerment in Texas have relied upon rural Republicans to help sink school choice—or anything they can misleadingly paint as “vouchers.” They portray it as all pain and no gain for districts that may lack the wider array of private, charter and magnet schools urban and suburban districts enjoy.
But Texas voters are wising up to this slight-of-hand. In March, Texas GOP voters weighed in on the question of parent empowerment. Even in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, an average of 88% of voters supported the proposition, “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”
Choice puts rural students on competitive ground with city kids because it results in more options. Florida started choice in 1999 and the number of private schools in Florida’s 30 rural counties has doubled over that time, from 62 to 119, as private school choice has expanded. They’ve grown by a third over the past 10 years.
And teachers have more opportunity because of parental choice. Liberty County has less than 2,000 students; in 2018, two district teachers established their own private school. The teachers continue to collaborate with the local district, which is now sharing special needs funding. The school serves 17 students, has a waitlist, and is planning to expand to a new location.
The left continues to ramp up the apocalyptic rhetoric about parent empowerment in Texas—as if it wasn’t successfully implemented in dozens of other states. But parents know better—and deserve better.