Texas Keeps Falling Behind Without School Choice

February 26, 2024
Vance Ginn
ESAs, School Choice, Texas Legislature

This commentary was originally published at The Dallas Express here. It is being republished with permission from the author.

National School Choice Week was last month, a time when all states should be celebrating the educational freedom they provide to teachers, parents, and, most of all, students. Sadly, only about 20% of states have embraced universal school choice, with Texas being among the 80% failing to partake in the school choice revolution. 

Texas leads the nation in many respects, but our educational landscape continues to lag behind. Without universal school choice, we will continue regressing, compelling families to seek superior educational options elsewhere. The consequences of this regression are already evident, making it imperative for Texas to act.

School choice through education savings accounts (ESAs) would allow families to direct their money for their children’s education to approved schooling providers. These include traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, virtual learning, co-ops, and homeschooling. ESAs are the gold standard for school choice, and 13 states have already adopted them.

ESAs put the power in the hands of parents, where it should be, by giving them the funds for education to choose which schooling best meets their kids’ unique needs. It’s essential to distinguish ESAs from controversial “vouchers,” as ESAs offer a more comprehensive range of educational choices. 

Rather than funding following the child from a government school to a private school with vouchers, the funding goes to the parents, who decide how to use it with ESAs. This also helps break the connection between dollars going directly to an institution where politicians and bureaucrats can regulate. Instead, ESAs give freedom for different types of schooling to compete in a market without the many rules that hamper government schools today.

While there was a glimmer of hope in late 2023 for Texas to pass ESAs, the legislation, which had many problems, failed due to insufficient support from Democrats and rural Republicans. This setback carries considerable weight, particularly when other states embrace the competition and innovation accompanying universal school choice. 

Texas can’t afford to be left in the shadows. The consequences of our state’s hesitancy in progressing toward educational freedom are evident. 

According to The Heritage Foundation, between 2007 and 2022, rural Texans, a group purportedly opposed to school choice, witnessed a 20-point decline in 8th-grade math scores and a 12-point decrease in 8th-grade reading. Regarding 8th-grade reading scores across the state, we are four points below the national average. The subpar results are disturbing, with Texas spending an average of nearly $15,000 per student.

Moreover, the pandemic has underscored the need for flexible and diverse learning options. Families faced unprecedented challenges during school closures, revealing the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all educational approach that left substantial learning loss. Universal school choice can serve as a crucial buffer, ensuring students have access to adequate and adaptable learning environments, whether in-person, virtual, or a combination.

The heart of the matter lies in the freedom of educational options. 

School choice makes diverse educational opportunities accessible to families, dismantling the notion that quality education is a privilege reserved for the affluent. Every parent deserves the freedom to choose the best path for their child’s education. 

As it stands, taxpayers fund schools that may not benefit their children. Redirecting these dollars back into the hands of parents creates a system where informed choices determine the efficacy of schools. This fosters competition, improving the educational landscape for teachers and students. And entrepreneurs will have many more opportunities to open new schools not available today in a market dominated by government schools and destructive regulations.

Texas must also consider the long-term economic impact of educational choices. The state is cultivating a skilled and adaptable workforce by fostering an environment where students can access tailored educational experiences. This, in turn, attracts businesses and ensures the state remains competitive in an ever-evolving global economy.

The Lone Star State stands at a crucial crossroads. Embracing universal school choice is not just a necessity: it is an investment in the future, unlocking the potential of our students and helping every child receive the education they deserve. 

The time for choice is now. Texas must lead the charge in providing its citizens with the educational freedom they need to thrive in the 21st century or risk getting left behind.

This commentary was originally published at The Dallas Express here. It is being republished with permission from the author.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility relies on the support of private donors across the Lone Star State in order to promote fiscal responsibility and pro-taxpayer government in Texas. Please consider supporting our efforts! Thank you!

Get The Fiscal Note, our free weekly roll-up on all the current events that could impact your wallet. Subscribe today!