Opinion: Time for School Choice in Texas

Private and public school sign | Image by Andy Dean Photography

School choice is surging in popularity: 74% of parents with school-aged children want control over their children’s education dollars. Here in Texas, a majority from across the political spectrum is on board. Now that state legislators have convened for the 2023 session, it’s time to make school choice a priority.

Several lawmakers have already filed promising bills. For example, Senate Bill 176, introduced by Mayes Middleton (R-11), allows parents to use public funds on approved educational expenses, such as private school tuition, distance learning, and tutoring. Allowing funding to follow the student can make Texas a national leader in family empowerment and educational effectiveness.

We know school choice is a winner for parents and students from its popularity in other states. For example, Arizona recently implemented a program similar to that in Middleton’s bill. Parents were so eager to sign their kids up that they crashed the website. In the recent midterm elections, governors and state legislators who support school choice walloped those who were opposed. Texas officials who work against school choice are likely to face significant political costs.

School choice has been extensively studied by researchers. Giving students transferable funding allows them to pick the education option that’s best for them, raising test scores and improving parent satisfaction. But that’s not all. School choice also improves student achievement in existing district schools! When families can use public funds to pursue outside options, district schools have to up their game to retain students. Competition is a tide that lifts all boats.

Defenders of the K-12 status quo sometimes claim school choice is bad for rural districts, which is frequently the largest regional employer. But in the very next breath, they claim school choice is unfair because rural students don’t have access to private schools and tutoring the way urban and suburban students do. These arguments can’t both be true.

They can both be false, however – and they are. Rural students have many more schooling options than you’d think. School choice can help them find the one that’s right for them. At the same time, there’s no evidence school choice harms rural districts. Arizona shows the way: the state’s rural schools are rapidly improving at the same time its students have more choices than ever.

We can implement school choice in ways that ensure political buy-in. For example, we can structure the program such that residentially assigned districts can keep some public funds (say, 20%) to cover overhead and other fixed costs. That still leaves roughly $8,000 in transferable funding per student, on average. Private school tuition in Texas averages $10,000. The resources are there. Let’s put them in parents’ hands, where they can do their best.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and students have learned the hard way that district schools don’t always have their best interests at heart. It’s time we used public resources to fund students, not systems. School choice is the family-empowerment approach we need. Let’s tell state lawmakers to bring it home.

Alexander William Salter is an associate professor of economics in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University, a research fellow at TTU’s Free Market Institute, and a community member of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal editorial board. The views in this column are solely his own.

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  1. Bret

    Let’s also defund the department of education. The wokeness coming from it is evil. It grieves me that Texas has not already passed school choice initiatives. Our education system is a nightmare and politicians (Abbott)???? have not pursued this????? Seems like the Texas legislators and politicians will not do anything until another state or states is first to react. This is putting your wet finger in the wind to test its direction. Where are the real conservatives.

    • Pap

      This is far from being the only thing Abbott has on his plate to consider. Amazes me how people complain that some issue or other hasn’t been addressed, as if the Governor only has one or two things going on. Between addressing this and keeping illegals and drugs from crossing our border, I’d have to go with the border thing. In the end, it also protects the young students.

    • Reason

      According to my homework, voucher programs are rooted in racism; promote segregation; will expose families to discrimination, corruption and fraud.  They will leave public schools underfunded and our children undereducated.   Arizona is already sounding the alarm on the high cost of their new program.

      As seen by Bret’s remarks, the radical Right operating under the veil of “parental freedom” may also use these programs as political fodder to promote the destruction of public schools and a child’s right to free public education.

  2. scott

    To base the amount of available money for students who opt out of the public school ignores reality. Some students cost much more than others, but the public schools MUST accept all. Private schools can refuse those with special needs and pick and choose their students. Unless all students are guaranteed proper accommodations at every educational option – the policy is grossly unfair. This isn’t competition when the playing field isn’t the same. Imagine 40 random kids trying out for basketball. A private school and a public school. The private school chooses the first 20 and the public school is obligated (by law) to field a team with everyone left.

    • scott

      There are students who require a full time teacher to go to each class with them, others are severely disabled, there are learning disabilities, non English speakers, deaf students, blind students, homeless students, children with parents who couldn’t care less about them. The public school must teach them all.

  3. Djea3

    originally, parents got together and paid a teacher and they hand built a one room school on donated property, sometimes that teacher was shared between alternate towns on alternate weeks. Much of the time that teacher was housed on a rotating basis in students homes. The parents were ALWAYS HEARD.

    Then came SMALL school districts all paid for through special ad valorem taxes. Parents were heard less but still had a LOT of input. Taxation base resulted in schools and small districts with huge sums of money and others with little money. Parents sued. Different racial suits happened.

    The Courts then ordered integration into districts with numbers of employees approaching the size of towns and NO PARENTAL INPUT. Degradation of the entire learning process began. Just as with anything that the government touches, the entire education system turned brown and is for all intent and purpose DEAD.

    Today any parent that attempts to give input is closed out of the system entirely. It does not matter if you are in Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, California, or Texas. It is all about MONEY and POWER, not education at all.

    Special needs children are NOT part of the equation for school choice, they have a completely different financial base even within the districts. The issue is that for EVERY X students that leave the district to home school or private school, the District MUST terminate a teacher and for every X teachers an administrator etc. Schools are top heavy in employees to begin with. This, the UNIONS and the District will not allow to happen no matter how many students they lose.

    Parents deserve the ENTIRE per student budget for education delivered to them for any home school or private school chosen. PERIOD.


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