This commentary originally appeared in the Victoria Advocate on January 28, 2016.
Texas is the land of opportunity. We think big in Texas, are proud of our state and aren't hesitant to brag about it. Those who weren't born here are quick to say they got here as fast as they could.
I have had the privilege of traveling this great state for the past 20 years talking to Texans about issues they care about. I have headed two statewide grassroots organizations and traveled every corner of the Lone Star State speaking to hundreds of thousands of people.
We Texans still have a little of the frontier spirit in us – we think big, love competition and have a can-do attitude.
One distinguishing attribute Texans enjoy is independence. Freedom is a hallmark of Texans' values, and we want to pass that along to the next generation.
Texans know that what is taught in the classrooms today shapes tomorrow. Students who excel in school today will be tomorrow's leaders. The students who fail to get a good education or drop out are likely relegated to a life of limited opportunities and chronic unemployment, and some will enter that pipeline to prison.
Every 42 seconds, a student in the United States drops out of school. With 10 percent of K-12 students in the country going to Texas schools, we don't want Texas students to be part of that statistic, but they are.
We have 5.2 million K-12 students in Texas public schools and that number grows 80,000 a year. Unfortunately, 918,000 of those students are going to schools which have been deemed failing at least one of the last three years. Some schools have failed for multiple years.
They deserve a way out, and parents in good school systems realize that even the best school isn't the right school for every child and that children learn differently.
Texans have embraced competition and rejected monopolies. We have benefitted from the competition and innovation resulting from the breakup of the telephone company. Growing up, I loved my pink princess rotary phone and could not have envisioned that I could hold in my hand a mobile device that would serve as my phone, mailbox, calculator, radio, alarm clock, camera and more. Innovation brought us all that in one tiny device.
Thirty other states have passed more than 60 private school choice programs. Texas is behind, and our students don't enjoy the benefits of innovation that competition would bring to education.
Most students are doing fine in public schools, but the parents I talk to are saying that their schools are often more focused on the adults in the system than the students.
School boards are passing resolutions opposing transparency and accountability, demanding more funding and rejecting school choice. Citizens are realizing that school administrators and their associations are lobbying against the taxpayers' interests. And, to add insult to injury, they are using tax dollars to do that lobbying.
The people I talk to in Chambers of Commerce and civic clubs are interested in putting students' and families' interests first.
The Texas Constitution calls for a general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, and charges the Legislature of the State to establish an efficient system of public free schools.
Some Texans are concerned that students aren't getting civics education to help us preserve our liberties, others are realizing that our schools are not operating efficiently and still others want their education funds to follow their child to the school the parent chooses.
Public dollars can be used without undue burdens, and the GI Bill is a good example.
People I talk to also understand how a medical savings account works and compare that to an education savings account which would allow parents to customize their child's education, based on that individual child's needs.
Most students, given options, will continue to attend public schools. But to those who are being bullied, are struggling to keep up, or are not being challenged, they deserve options.
Parents with financial means are providing their kids with alternatives by homeschooling or sending them to a private school or even moving to another district. Too many parents don't have the funds or mobility. Their kids are too often trapped in failing schools.
I hear Texans wanting alternatives, wanting education freedom and looking forward to the innovation that will bring to education. We cannot wait to give students and families education options. The time to pass school choice in Texas is now.