National School Choice Week is almost over, but Texas lawmakers needs to keep this important piece of the state’s education reform agenda in mind throughout the year as we prepare for the 83rd Texas Legislature in 2013. We have a long way to go before our state’s choice laws are on par with national leaders like Indiana (statewide voucher program), Arizona (multiple education scholarship programs), and Florida (the best virtual education system in the country).
There are a number of reasons for bringing more school choice to Texas, not least of which is demand. There are 56,000 students on wait lists for charter schools, a list that has grown steadily over the last 5 years, yet we still have a hard cap of 215 open enrollment in the state. We don’t have any form of education scholarship or voucher program at the K-12 level in Texas, despite the successes of San Antonio’s Edgewood voucher program, which ran from 1998 to 2008. During that stretch, participating schools saw their academic performance improve, and the district as a whole saw home values in the area rise substantially. As for virtual education, the Texas Virtual School Network maintains a monopoly on the state’s digital learning; Texas does not allow for qualified, competitive private online providers to operate freely in the state.
However, with four school finance lawsuits currently working their way through the state’s courts, perhaps the most compelling reasons to bring more choice into the mix are fiscal ones. What Texas is constitutionally obligated to provide its students is an efficient system of public education. What school choice provides is competition for our public schools, and as former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister stated in 2005, “Today, we know that one thing above all else makes service providers efficient: competition.”
There’s still a year to go before the next Texas Legislature, but National School Choice Week is as good a time as any to start thinking about reforms our state still desperately needs to make, both for the sake of our students and the fiscal future of Texas education.
For more on school choice issues in Texas, please view our panel on the subject, entitled “Choosing Your Child’s Educational Future”, from TPPF’s 2012 Policy Orientation here.