This commentary originally appeared in The Monitor on February 5, 2017.
For years, Texas public education has been riled with low graduation rates, low test scores, and failing schools; school choice offers a welcome answer. School choice is a conservative, liberty-loving, economically shrewd solution to our education system. Above all, this education reform would provide relief to Rio Grande Valley Texans.
Too many children in low-income families, many of whom are minorities, are stuck in failing public schools in underfunded school districts and are forced into subpar classrooms. Consider that out of the 918,651 students attending failing schools in Texas, 70 percent are Hispanic or African-American, and 79 percent are economically disadvantaged. In the Rio Grande Valley alone, there are 65 failing school districts. In Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, for example, there are 11 failing schools, according to the Texas Education Agency’s Public Education Grant List for 2017-18.
The numbers speak for themselves: Texas minorities and those in the Valley, in particular, are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to public education.
Worse, unless a family has the resources to move, homeschool their children, or send their children to private schools, they are often relegated to a failing public school and provided with no better option. One exception is to attend a public charter school. But with over 140,000 kids on charter school waiting lists in Texas and only about 40 charter schools throughout the Valley, their chances of attending one of these charter institutions are dismal.
Unless economically disadvantaged families have the means to move into a better school district or pay for costly tuition — which is often out of their financial reach — families are forced to send their children to a school near where they live, whether or not the school is meeting the needs of their children. Consequently, it is usually well-off families that can choose and find a good education for their children, while the disadvantaged students are left without school choice.
In the 2017 legislative session, however, Texas House and Senate members have the chance to embrace school choice and give parents the financial resources to find their children an adequate education. Our Texas elected officials have a rare opportunity this session: They can provide Education Savings Accounts or a tax credit scholarship to Texas parents, and empower them to choose private school, to homeschool, take online courses, provide tutoring or therapies — or any combination thereof, which will best suit their children’s unique educational needs.
As Gov. Greg Abbott said in his State of the State Address on Tuesday: “Parents, not government, are best positioned to make decisions about their child’s education. Parents should be empowered to choose the school that’s best for their child.”
The bottom line is that students in the Rio Grande Valley and across Texas who are stuck in poverty and failing public schools would have a way out of their trying circumstances.
Students in failing schools underperform in reading and math; this is the all-too-common narrative. It’s not that these students are incapable or lacking talent; rather, they deserve an opportunity to thrive in an environment that best suits their needs. Their potential is going untapped at numerous failing public schools across the state. School choice will give these students an opportunity to get a better education, whereby they can harness their academic and intellectual potential.
Gov. Abbott is right: “Every child should have a chance to succeed in life.”
School choice is proven to work by improving academic achievement among its participants. According to EdChoice (formerly the Friedman Foundation), out of 18 studies, 14 found that students benefit academically from school choice. These studies were conducted throughout the past 19 years, the earliest being published in 1998 and the latest in 2016. Time and again, this research — along with other studies — has shown school choice to increase scores in core subject areas.
School choice will help public schools all around. Another EdChoice report found that of 33 studies,
31 demonstrated a positive effect on academic outcomes at public schools. These studies were published throughout a 15-year period and have consistently provided the same positive conclusion.
It’s proven that school choice is truly a win-win solution. Students and families all over Texas will benefit from improved academic outcomes, not only school choice participants but also public school students. And as part of this opportunity to improve educational outcomes for Texas children, parents across the Valley will finally be able to choose the best education for their children.