In Texas, more than 2,000 students per week are dropping out of public schools—3 million students during the last two decades. This level of failure has occurred year after year, creating millions of underachieving adults, and incarcerated criminals, as a direct result of a poor public school experience. No other issue better illustrates the dark side of Texas politics than this problem.
Consider that almost half of Texas African-American, Latino, and low-income public school fourth-graders score “below basic” proficiency in reading. That is below the lowest level of achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test so well-regarded it’s often called “The Nation’s Report Card.”
Expensive, Ineffective Education
Among the 5 million Texas public school students, one-third of African-American and Latino students drop out before completing high school. In major urban areas, it approaches one-half.
But year after year, the Texas Legislature, with the help of rural Republican lawmakers, exclusively pursues more money, more regulations, and a bigger bureaucracy, instead of empowering parents with choices.
Over the last decade, student enrollment has increased by 19.7 percent while total education spending has increased by 95.3 percent, according to the Texas Comptroller. It is well documented that there is little to no correlation between aggregate spending and student achievement.
Republicans Kill Reforms
Each legislative session, urban Democrats and Republicans team up to pass legislation that will provide more choice to parents but are thwarted by rural Republicans and Democrats. Parents have no professional lobby.
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), the rural Republican chair of the state’s House Education Committee, was instrumental in killing most of the parent-empowering education reforms last session.
Among the least controversial of education reforms are charter schools. With 100,000 Texas children on the waiting list for a slot in a charter school, Aycock would allow only 10 new charter schools per year for the entire state. Other states—including California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and many others—have essentially no limits on charter schools.
School choice legislation—allowing students to escape bad schools and use the funds allocated to their education in a better private school—could not even get a hearing in Aycock’s committee. He also would not allow a vote in committee on a bill allowing “Home Rule” districts that would have freed good districts from regulations holding them back.
Refusing to Work with Democrats
Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) sponsored a bill to create “Achievement School Districts,” allowing the state to take over a district that was persistently low-performing and turn it around, doing what was necessary to raise performance (including firing bad teachers). After five years the state would return control of the school to the original school district after it had improved.
This bill seemed assured of passage after it passed the Senate 26-5. Even Sens. Wendy Davis (a Democrat running for governor) and Leticia Van de Putte (rumored to be running for lieutenant governor) voted “aye.”
Nevertheless, despite leadership from urban Democrat lawmakers in districts burdened with failing schools that needed it most, the bill was stopped on the floor of the House when the speaker upheld a point of order on a typographical error in the bill.
A “Parent Trigger” bill also passed the Senate 26-5 with bipartisan support but was stymied in the House by Aycock.
This legislation would have allowed parents of attending students to compel new school management by a majority vote if the school was low-performing for three consecutive years. The law, along with other school choice measures, has been implemented in other states in recent years thanks to a wave of bold Republicans and Democrats working together.
In Texas, however, parents and students endure the same failure year after year. Attorney General Greg Abbott has called school choice “the civil rights issue of our time.”
Indeed, it is.
This article is reprinted from the San Antonio Express-News, with permission. Image by the Texas Tribune.