Texas School Choice Special Session to Come

school choice
Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, with the flag of Texas and the USA. | Image by Martina Birnbaum/Shutterstock

With the reinstatement of Attorney General Ken Paxton to his office and September’s historic impeachment trial in the rearview, the Texas Legislature will likely be preparing for another important piece of business: school choice legislation.

As reported by The Dallas Express, a third special session has been said to be in the cards this fall, with Abbott’s chief political strategist, Dave Carney, suggesting the administration was eyeing October to convene state lawmakers.

“The governor, the team, and our allies continue to work on this,” said Carney, according to The Dallas Morning News. “We’re getting closer every week. When we have the trial and everything else behind us, then the governor will call a special session, probably in October, and we’ll get everything done.”

Polling conducted by the University of Texas at Austin suggests there is plenty of support in the state for school choice legislation, with most respondents registering support for some kind of taxpayer-funded mechanism to help families pay for private school or homeschooling.

Abbott has voiced his intention to sign school choice legislation this year, even after the Texas House and Senate failed to agree on the scope of any potential law during the regular session.

“Every parent deserves choices about where they will send their child to school. All these parents know this isn’t a Republican issue, it’s not a Democrat issue. This is a civil rights issue,” Abbott previously said, according to the Texas Observer.

The school choice debate has not been limited to Texas, however, as reform initiatives in other states have further transformed the education landscape amid calls for alternatives to traditional public schools.

“[T]here’s every indication that the initial public school enrollment shocks from the pandemic won’t rebound any time soon. Educators need to be prepared for a new normal where school choice programs are widespread, families are increasingly choosing options outside of traditional public schools, and public school spending has to be reined in to serve smaller student populations,” wrote Reason Foundation senior policy analyst Christian Barnard.

“Several factors explain why public school student populations are shrinking. Parents were dissatisfied with the prolonged periods of online learning and forced masking at their schools during the pandemic, and the negative effects on students of keeping schools closed have been well-documented,” Barnard added.

James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation previously told The Dallas Express that support for school choice in the state was due to flagging student achievement outcomes and the perception that school systems were politicizing curricula.

“This steep decline [in public school enrollment] is evidence that parents are ready for something different, something better,” Quintero said.

Dallas ISD, for instance, underperformed in student achievement outcomes during the 2021-2022 school year, with only 41% of students scoring at grade level on their STAAR exams. The district also logged an on-time graduation rate of only 81.1% that school year, according to a Texas Education Agency accountability report.

The district’s superintendent, Stephanie Elizalde, has voiced her opposition to school choice, arguing that mechanisms like education savings accounts would divert money from traditional public schools and undermine their operations.

At a school board meeting in May, Elizalde pointed to the Texas Senate’s proposal to give families $8,000 in taxpayer money per child to help defray the costs of private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.

“I kind of find it upsetting that the Texas Senate would pay people more to take their kids out of public schools than it pays to educate them in our own schools,” Elizalde claimed, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

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