Since the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 states started or extended school choice programs. Sadly, Texas is not one of them. While the Lone Star State is one of the country’s economically freest, it lags others in important areas, including parental control over children’s education. That must change.
The 2023 legislative session presents a golden opportunity. It’s time to make a major push to fund students, not systems.
School choice takes a family empowerment approach to education policy. Instead of funding school districts, we should give resources directly to parents. The current model of education financing is a top-down, one-size-fits-all “solution” that primarily benefits vested interests. Parents should be confident their children are getting the knowledge and skills to succeed in life. We need to shake things up. School choice puts students first.
Opponents claim the Texas Constitution makes school choice illegal. The key passage says the Legislature must “establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” Fortunately for family empowerment advocates, this doesn’t mean the government must produce education. Instead, it only has to finance education. The state of Texas is required to ensure all children receive an adequate education, regardless of their families’ economic circumstances. But the state doesn’t have to build and run schools itself.
Don’t take my word for it. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Texas stated in an important ruling, “[T]he Legislature may decide whether the [education] regime should be administered by a state agency, by the districts themselves, or by any other means.” In other words, the state can meet its legal obligation by empowering families to access a great school in their community. That’s welcome news for kids and parents, who stand to benefit enormously through increased educational options.
Opponents also claim school choice primarily benefits the rich. This argument is flat-out wrong. In truth, we already have school choice—but for the upper class, not the middle and lower classes. Wealthy families, even after paying their property taxes, can afford private school tuition. Other families can’t. Furthermore, wealthy families already live in decent school districts, meaning their next-best option to private school is pretty good. Not so for the less fortunate.
School choice is a game-changer for ordinary families. Instead of having their education dollars siphoned off to underperforming schools and districts, families get direct control over spending. As a result, they’ll be able to afford effective schooling. This is especially important at the K-12 level, when students learn the basic literary and arithmetical skills required to flourish. Additionally, we can make funding contingent on open access to all curricular and instructional materials, through online posting or similar methods. Parents stand to win big.
Another bizarre argument is that school choice “defunds” public schools. First, whose money is it, anyways? It doesn’t belong to the school districts. It belongs to the people of the state of Texas and our children. The peoples’ representatives chose to finance school districts generations ago because at the time they believed that was the best way to promote education. But families and children are the true beneficiaries. Education programs are ultimately for them. We should ensure the public is getting the most bang for their buck. Right now, they aren’t.
Second, competition doesn’t “defund” anybody. Suppose a Costco opens in a city that already has a Sam’s Club. Some customers will probably switch from Sam’s Club to Costco. Has Costco “defunded” Sam’s Club? That’s a silly way of putting it. People switched because the new option gave them better value for their money. School choice works the same. It’s a good thing if high-quality schools can attract students and funding.
Lastly, opponents insist school choice doesn’t work. Wrong again. There have been many scientific papers on how school choice affects educational outcomes. Most studies find modest improvements in student accomplishment. Some find no effect. Very few find a negative effect. The evidence says school choice works.
We have everything we need to push for family empowerment here in Texas. Average private school tuition in the state is just over $10,000. In contrast, Texas public schools spend more than $14,000 per student, per year. The resources are there. Let’s get that funding in the hands of parents, who know better than bureaucrats what their children need to thrive.
Parents should be treated with respect by school administrators, school board officials, and all other school employees, and parents’ concerns with school policies should be respectfully considered. Alas, the current system falls short in that regard. That’s why we need to give Texans more education options. If we want fair, efficient, non-partisan schooling, we should demand our representatives empower families. Let’s make it happen in 2023.