When it comes to educational freedom, the Lone Star State stands alone, and not in a good way.
More than half the states offer one or more options when it comes to empowering parents to find the school that best fits their kids’ needs. Texas is not among them.
We have charter schools but lag well behind national leaders like Arizona and Colorado, even on that count.
But opportunity is knocking, and things may be about to change for the better.
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A measure to create education savings accounts won passage in the Texas Senate last year. ESAs allow parents to use a portion of what it would cost the state to educate their child and use it to fund tuition assistance, tutoring or homeschooling curricula – whatever is best suited to the child’s unique needs.
The measure died in the House without even receiving a vote in the Public Education Committee, despite dozens of families with special needs students coming to testify. Their pleas for help and expanded opportunities fell on deaf ears.
We are hopeful the next speaker of the House will be a supporter of educational freedom. That would be great news for Texas families.
The one-size-fits-all model for education is failing because, as any parent can tell you, children are not one size fits all. Each child has unique talents, needs and learning styles, and no hidebound system can serve them all well.
If your children were trapped in schools that weren’t meeting their needs, there is very little you wouldn’t do to get them out and into ones that worked for them.
Education savings accounts would allow you to do just that.
The first ESA program was established in Arizona in 2011 and focused on special-needs children, those in foster care or failing schools, and military families. Arizona’s program was expanded last year to include all students. The concept has spread to Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee. More than a dozen states considered ESA legislation last year and more still are taking a look this year.
The reasons for the growing popularity of ESAs are not hard to discern. They’re empowering. They provide options. They put parents in charge of their kids’ education. And ESAs, along with other educational freedom opportunities, yield results. The National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that Arizona, which has been at the head of the class in terms of reform, led the nation from 2009 to 2015 in student improvement in English, math and science.
One of those other options is tax credit scholarships.
These programs allow taxpayers to earn a tax credit for contributing to a scholarship-granting organization, which then provides money to parents to pay for private-school tuition.
In 2015, the state Senate passed a tax credit scholarship measure that would have served low-income students and those in foster care. As with ESAs, the bill died in the House.
Texas also remains the only Southern state with no private-school choice program, and ranks 30th on the Report Card on American Education, a ranking of overall achievement levels from the American Legislative Exchange Council.
But Texas has great potential to become a leader in educational freedom, argue researchers Inez Feltscher Stepman, director of ALEC’s Education and Workforce Task Force, and Lindsey M. Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation.
“By looking into offering every student an ESA option,” they write, “Texas has the opportunity, not just to catch up with its Southern neighbors, but to leap ahead into a world of individualized educational opportunities for every Texas family.”
That is an opportunity our state cannot afford to pass by.
Sam Sheetz is policy director of Americans for Prosperity-Texas.