In late April, the Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a budget amendment designed to stop private school choice from coming to Texas. It was a clear referendum from the House: private school choice will not make it through this body. But does that position reflect the will of Texas voters?
A recent bipartisan poll conducted by the Friedman Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation seconds what a voter referendum put before Republican primary voters during the previous election cycle- Texas voters feel exactly the opposite.There is an overwhelming desire to bring choice and parental freedom to Texas’ public school system.
What really jumps out about the results, gathered from a bipartisan group of voters across the state, is the overwhelming support for private school choice. Two-thirds of those polled favored bringing statewide education scholarships to Texas, and no fewer than 72 percent of voters favored a business tax credit scholarship option for students wishing to attend private school.
Support for such measures was particularly high amongst minority voters, as well as amongst young voters, and indicates beyond reproach that most Texans want a more flexible education system.
Part of this desire among Texas voters likely stems from how utterly inflexible ourcurrent education system is. For the most part, students here—particularly low- and middle-income students—are restricted to attending the public school for which they are districted.
There are a few options, like our open-enrollment charter school system, but even that is limited. Our open-enrollment charter schools are capped at 215. Though a charter operator may run more than one campus once a charter is authorized,there are still more than 100,000 students waiting to attend charter schools in Texas. How many of those 100,000 would attend a private school if as much were a viable financial option?
Texas voters get it. It is not fair that a student should be forced to attend a school just because they live near it, or because they do not have the financial means to send their child to a school that better suits their needs.
What Texas needs is comprehensive reform so that school choice is available to all Texas students. This means bringing choice and competition into the education system on both the public and private side. On the former, that starts with uncapping the open-enrollment charter schools to directly address our ever-growing list of waitlisted students.
But it shouldn’t stop there. Texas should also take steps to improve online and blended learning in the state, so more content providers can participate and more students can have access to high quality courses. We should also remove barriers to the creation of home-rule district charters, and grant such charters greater flexibility so districts are incentivized to exercise local control and give parents and voters a means to affect change in their localschool district.
Texas also needs private school choice. As of today, no such programs exist in Texas, despite the strong support they have amongst Texas voters. Statewide education scholarships, tax credit scholarship programs, and scholarships for specialneeds students would address the needs of our most vulnerable populations, and make our education system as a whole stronger and more competitive. Most importantly, it would make the system more fair and effective for all Texasstudents, regardless of socioeconomic status.
The overwhelming support amongst Texas voters for school choice should be significant to our lawmakers. We have a populace that understands the value of opportunity for all students, not just those fortunate enough to live in a good neighborhood or who have parents that can send them to a school of choice. How long will it take Texas leadership to reflect the wisdom of Texans?