The Texas public school system is overcrowded and prepares only a minority of students for success in college.
The Census Bureau reveals that Texas has one of the lowest rates of degree attainment among young adults.
Enrollment growth shows no sign of slowing, and the population of the state is rapidly aging as an increasing percentage of Baby Boomers reach retirement age.
Texas needs better education results at a lower overall cost. Improving upon the efforts of other states in thinking outside the box can help to secure the future of the Lone State State as an opportunity society.
Texas public schools enroll as many students as the 20 smallest states combined.
The system has been adding a student population the size of the Wyoming public school system every year.
Texas public school enrollment has grown from approximately 3.3 million students in 1990 to well over 5 million today.
The resulting financial strain has required a steadily decrease in the percentage of funds going into the classroom and a steady increase in those needed for facilities.
Since 2000 the total expenditure per child has increased from $6,638 per pupil to $11,146.
Debt service and capital outlay costs nearly doubled as a percentage of the total Texas public school budget.
Today less than half of all funds go to pay for instruction as teachers have been squeezed in district budgets to keep up with facility needs.
Taxpayers feel the pain as their property taxes continue to spiral, but academic outcomes show a rate of improvement far slower than revenue growth, with a lower share of it reaching the classroom.
Simply throwing more money at school districts will not solve the problem and likely won’t be possible.
Texas has plenty of competing demands for public spending in health, transportation, pensions, public safety and higher education.
What Texas needs, sooner rather than later, are methods to improve the bang for the education buck.
Parental choice policies could relieve the enrollment pressure on Texas public schools and broaden the options available to parents in order to fund an education that is a great fit, a key to academic success.
Since 2011, five states have adopted Education Savings Accounts to expand the menu of schooling options for parents.
Texas could benefit enormously from such a program.
ESA programs provide parents with a state-funded account with multiple uses for providing their child’s K-12 education.
Parents can choose between paying tuition at community colleges and private schools, online education programs, individual public school courses, certified private tutors or other uses.
Parents can customize an education for their child with multiple providers under a system of state oversight to maintain the integrity of the program.
ESA programs also allow parents to make limited contributions from account funds to programs sponsored by the federal government to build funds to pay for higher education expenses.
The students getting the least out of the overcrowded and uneven public school system would have the most to gain from ESAs.
Facing nearly Texas-sized overcrowding problems of their own, Nevada lawmakers passed a statewide ESA program in 2015.
If Texas lawmakers did likewise and participation rates mirrored those of Nevada, the rate of enrollment growth in the Texas public school system would slow considerably, giving the districts badly needed room to focus resources on instruction.
An ESA program could expand opportunity, relieve overcrowding and provide more Texas children with the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
Matthew Ladner is the senior adviser for policy and research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education.