Will Texas Set the Standard for School Choice?
April 2, 2015
Lawmakers in Austin are now debating SB 276, a bill that would provide school choice and educational freedom to all Texas students. It would allow parents who opt out of public schools to take with them 60 percent of the money the state would otherwise spend on their child — about $5,200 — to pay private-school tuition.
The rest of the money, roughly $3,000 per student, would go back into the state treasury. This would be the most comprehensive school-choice plan in the nation, available to every Texas public-school student, more than five million in all. Similar programs in other states are usually limited to a certain subset of children, such as those in low-income homes.
Under this plan, everyone wins, but significant hurdles stand in the way. Some of these hurdles include:
- The Texas Constitution requires that schools be "efficient," and state courts are currently adjudicating whether the funding system meets this standard. The bottom line is that it is difficult to enact true education reform when it is unclear who is paying the bills.
- The contours of the debate are different. Much of the opposition to educational freedom comes from state legislators who hail from areas that are predominantly rural, suburban, exurban and Anglo — a constituency that overlaps heavily with the conservative base.
This year, lawmakers should seize the opportunity to leapfrog other states by enacting universal educational freedom, putting Texas in a position of leadership. Texas is a bellwether — it is, as the saying goes, where the future comes to be born. If it can succeed in giving all parents the freedom to choose what is best for their children, then reformers may be able to do the same elsewhere.
That is what is at stake in the Texas Legislature this year — and why education advocates across America should take note.
Source: Kent Grusendorf and Michael Barba, "How Texas Can Take the Lead on School Choice," Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2015.
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