Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) vows he will continue to encourage lawmakers to pass school choice legislation in his state.
“Texas is lagging in school choice options,” Patrick told a group of education and business leaders during a speech in October. “I intend to fight for school choice session after session after session.”
Texas state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) introduced Senate Bill 1178 in March 2015. It would have directed the Texas Education Agency “to conduct a study on implementing an education savings account (ESA) program” in the state, but the bill did not make it out of the House Public Education Committee after passing the state’s Senate.
‘We Have Done Nothing’
An ESA program allows parents to remove their child from the local public school and use the money allocated to the child for public schooling on approved education services such as private school tuition, textbooks, and tutoring. The House Public Education Committee heard presentations on ESAs in October.
“Around the nation, they’re ahead of us,” Patrick said in his speech. “We have done nothing. We passed a bill last session with bipartisan support on school choice. We didn’t even get a hearing in the House.”
Huffines says scholarly research shows ESAs would work in Texas.
“We’ve talked about the mechanics of education savings accounts and other methods of school choice,” Huffines said. “We had testimony from private school groups that told us how many seats were available in private schools across Texas. Right now, there are over 100,000 vacancies for private schools across the State of Texas. We heard testimonies from experts about the cost of private schools and if ESAs could handle that, and they could. ESAs would be more than adequate to satisfy the tuition requirements for those schools, and you can still have money left over to cover future costs.”
ESAs vs. Vouchers
Huffines says ESAs are the best choice for students and their families because they offer the most customization.
“ESAs are completely different from the voucher program,” Huffines said. “ESAs offer much more flexibility. It is an account that empowers the parent directly, because the money goes into an account for the students, and the parent controls [the funds] and can spend [them] on a variety of educational issues that the state legislature approves. It does not have to be spent on private education.”
State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) says ESAs increase educational opportunities.
“The future of Texas depends on a strong, well-educated workforce,” Campbell said. “The idea that some Texas children are getting shortchanged because we’ve put barriers in their paths and tied the hands of their parents is alarming to me. It’s concerning because a child who doesn’t graduate college-ready or with marketable skills won’t reach their income potential [and] is more likely to be trapped in poverty and is more likely to be incarcerated. Education is the great equalizer, but only when every child has access to a quality education.
“School choice multiplies success by adding more quality options for everyone,” Campbell said. “That’s a win for our families, a win for our schools, and a net positive for the Texas economy.”
‘Focused on the Student’
Huffines says the argument school choice programs will destroy public education is false.
“The argument that you’re taking money away from public schools with vouchers and ESAs is a lie, and people don’t understand the program because we can structure the ESA accounts so it’s a net positive financial benefit to the public schools, and it can be a net positive benefit to the State of Texas,” Huffines said. “[School districts] worried about losing students is a lie. They should never worry about losing students to this program. If they are doing a good job, there would be no reason for anyone to leave their school district.
“ESAs are about what’s best for the student, not what’s best for the school district or the campus or the bureaucrats,” Huffines said. “Our ESA program is focused on the student. A happy student is a good student. It doesn’t matter why the school district isn’t working for the student; what matters is that we give a choice to those students who want to leave the government-run schools and do something else for their education.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
Tim Benson, “Texas Education Savings Accounts,” Research & Commentary, October 21, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research–commentary-texas-education-savings-accounts