Is school choice bad for rural school districts? Joy Hofmeister certainly thinks so, going so far as to call vouchers and related programs “rural district killer[s].” In case you aren’t familiar with Ms. Hofmeister, she’s the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Education and was recently the Democratic candidate for governor. Election night didn’t go well for her: Incumbent Gov. Kevin Stitt, who supports school choice, cruised to a 55.5-41.8 victory. Ms. Hofmeister won only three counties, two of which contain Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Mr. Stitt won 63.2 percent of the vote outside these counties. Evidently, rural parents are just fine with school choice. They don’t appreciate the efforts of Ms. Hofmeister and her ilk to restrict the educational options of Oklahoma’s children.
Texas politicians, take note: parents aren’t fooled by the false narrative on school choice anymore. School choice doesn’t hurt rural districts. If anything, it strengthens them by giving families additional options. Public education dollars should fund students, not systems. It’s time to make school choice a reality here in Texas.
School choice refers to a group of programs that give parents direct control over their children’s education funding. One example is vouchers: state-provided funds can be used for tuition at a school of the family’s choice. A better example—one just implemented to great success in Arizona—is education savings accounts. Families can use state funds on a host of approved educational expenses, including homeschooling co-ops, “learning pods,” supplemental materials and activities, and mental health resources. It’s a transformative approach to education that puts students’ needs first.
Needless to say, the government-school monopoly hates school choice. Its defenders are fighting back with scare tactics. They claim school choice will hurt rural districts by depriving them of funding. Baloney. While some families in rural districts may take advantage of private or homeschooling options, most are going to stick with the school they already have. That’s fine. School choice isn’t about ending government schools. It’s about complementing government schools with options that can improve outcomes for underserved families.
Opponents of school choice implicitly recognize this point. After warning about the threat to rural districts, they’ll turn around and say school choice only benefits urban students, because rural students don’t have many private schools as exit options. Well, which is it? You can’t have it both ways. In truth, school choice won’t result in a flood of new private schools in rural districts. Small regions with one high school will do just fine. Urban students in Dallas, Houston, and other big cities currently trapped in failing schools will happily leave for better options. Rural students have nothing to fear from this.
2023 promises to be a particularly important legislative session in Texas history. Influential politicians, including Gov. Abbott, support school choice. The Texas GOP calls for school choice in its platform. And it’s entirely possible that Democratic state representatives and senators will get on-board, since their urban constituents stand to benefit immensely. This is already happening in other states. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats, came out in support of greater educational freedom just before the recent election. Democrats know parents are fed up with sclerotic schools. Choice is a winning issue on both sides of the political aisle.
Commentators will argue for months about who “really won” the midterm elections. But the truth has nothing to do with Republican vs. Democrat. As Corey DeAngelis, a leading scholar and advocate of school choice, put it, “There may not have been a red wave or a blue wave, but there was a nationwide school-choice wave.” School choice is a winner for both urban and rural communities. It’s time for the public officials who represent us to get on board.