NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Texas School Choice Gives Schools, Not Students, A Choice

February 6, 2002

Parents in Texas have the right to transfer their children from a low-performing school district to one of their choosing. But this interdistrict choice is seldom exercised. That is because school districts aren't required to allow transfers from outside their boundaries, and few do.

A state program called the Public Education Grant (PEG), created in 1995, is supposed to let children in schools designated low-performing (based on student scores on state-mandated tests) transfer to a better campus in another district.

  • However, the vast majority of school districts don't accept transfers through the PEG program -- even if they have empty seats.
  • Last year, more than 141,000 Texas students were eligible to transfer to a better school -- but fewer than 200 students did, often because no nearby school districts would take them.
  • Only 46 of the more than 1,000 school districts in Texas enrolled PEG transfers.

Districts that accept such children get the state education funding that would have gone to their home district, plus a 10 percent incentive bonus. However, net state funding varies by school district, with local property taxes making up the difference under the state's complex school finance equalization law.

"As long as you give school districts the choice of whether or not to serve children in need, you're not going to make much progress," said Allan Parker, of the Texas Justice Foundation, which has been involved in a handful of PEG-related lawsuits against school districts.

Some districts claim they don't have room, but critics suspect they are concerned that transfer students will lower the average test scores used to rate schools.

There is real school choice in Texas, Parker said. "That choice is called moving."

Source: Joshua Benton, "Getting a Choice with Few Options," Dallas Morning News, February 4, 2002.

 

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