This commentary originally appeared in the El Paso Times on September 22, 2014.
The battle to give our children a good education is very one-sided. We all agree: every child deserves an excellent education.
But who gets to decide whether an education is good for a specific child? We can talk all day about what an ideal education would look like, but we can't design a universal education that meets the needs of every student. At best, Texas law can—and does—provide a framework for an education.
This is the where teachers step in.
Teachers are the single most important person in a child's school experience. Teachers are the by far the most important component in successful schools. Teachers are the key to great education and should be compensated accordingly.
And teachers need flexibility in how they educate a student. Such flexibility exists in 39 private school choice programs nationwide. Each of these provides funding—one way or another—so that children can enroll in a private school of their parent's choice.
In Texas, there are two objections to such private school choice that need to be answered. First, since teachers are so critical to educational success, would universal school choice benefit teachers? Second, our state Constitution requires that the Legislature provide a public education. Do universal school choice programs fulfill this constitutional requirement?
The answer to both questions is yes.
The first answer was provided by a recent piece published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation titled "Teachers Win: A Case for School Choice."
According to that report, the current school finance trial answered the question. The school districts called to the witness stand a labor economist, Jacob Vigdor, who testified that increased competition would increase the amount that teachers would be paid.
Why? Well, imagine for a second that you employ 90 percent of all workers in El Paso. This would be good for you — workers wouldn't have too many employer options, so they'd need to accept whatever you're willing to pay them.
But this isn't so good for the workers. Even if one worker comes in early, stays late, and has great ideas for effective innovations, you don't need to worry about losing him to another employer. The worker's pay doesn't reflect his effort.
Yet this is exactly what's happening in education. Texas public schools buy 93 percent of all teaching services, so whatever the public schools offer is what a teacher will get.
Currently, the average teacher salary in El Paso is just over $50,000. With universal school choice, teachers would be able to look for work at a variety of schools. This increased diversity would drive pay upward as schools attract and retain good teachers. This already happens in many other industries, which is why many companies offer competitive salaries.
In addition, the second question is very simple because an answer was given by the Texas Supreme Court.
The Texas Constitution requires that the state "establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."
In 1995, Texas Supreme Court stated that public education could be "administered by a state agency, by the districts themselves, or by any other means."
They said explicitly that private school choice was a legislative decision.
In fact, as recently as 2005, the Supreme Court said that increased competition among schools would likely be good for universal public education.
School choice will improve public education, both for students and teachers.