This commentary originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News on April 9, 2015.
Why should Texas continue to deny parents the right and freedom to select the very best schools for their children? Nothing is more important. Why should the status quo continue to be protected at the expense of Texas children?
Facts are troublesome things. The simple fact is: School choice would be good for everyone in society other than a few lawyers and bureaucrats who thrive on the gross inefficiencies of the current system. Let’s review some other facts.
First, the state’s future depends on providing the very best education for every child in the state. State District Judge John Dietz recently ruled that the current system is failing to meet the needs of “hundreds of thousands” of Texas students. Every child deserves the best. We can and must do better.
Second, school choice is constitutional. The Texas Supreme Court in its Edgewood IV decision indicated that school choice is a legislative decision. Justices said, in effect, that although the Legislature has chosen to use school districts, independent school districts are just one delivery option for public education. I laid out these historical and constitutional requirements last year in a paper titled “Texas Education: Original Intent of the Texas Constitution.”
Third, although lawyers and bureaucrats might not fare as well if school choice were a reality, rank-and-file teachers would benefit immensely. The ISDs that are suing the state for more money hired an expert economist to testify at trial regarding school choice. His conclusion: If Texas adopted school choice, it would force ISDs to pay their teachers higher salaries. Other experts agreed with that conclusion, including an expert economist for the state. During trial, no expert disagreed. More schools competing for teacher talent would increase pay. Economists cite this as a textbook example of how monopoly power keeps current teacher pay below what it would be in a more competitive market.
In Texas we spend over a quarter-million dollars for a classroom of 25 students, yet average teacher pay is only $48,000. Where does the rest go? School choice will direct greater resources to the classroom, where they belong.
Fourth, school-choice programs such as that proposed in state Sen. Donna Campbell’s Taxpayer Savings Grants bill (SB 276) would actually save the state billions of dollars. The Legislative Budget Board estimates savings at over $1 billion in just five years. The Texas Education Agency estimates the savings even higher. Documents from both these agencies were entered into evidence during the school finance trial, yet the lawyers opposed to choice ignore them and instead point to outdated estimates based on different bill language.
We have a very highly segregated school system in many parts of the state. Whereas school choice has been used by the federal courts to improve racial balance, opponents often claim that school choice would lead to segregation. Just the opposite is true. Those with wealth have choices; they can move to another neighborhood.
Today, we have in place a system where hundreds of thousands of kids are trapped in schools that fail to meet their individual needs. School choice would provide additional choices for many families who now have no choice. Many of them are minority children.
As Gov. Greg Abbott said in his State of the State speech, the ultimate in local control is parental choice. It is time for Texas to move forward in the public interest rather than protect the status quo and private interests. Everyone wins with school choice, with the exception of those few who thrive on the bureaucracy. Our children and our future deserve educational freedom.
Kent Grusendorf is senior fellow and director of the Center for Education Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Reach him at [email protected].