Legislation making its way through the Texas Legislature would establish a universal education savings account (ESA) program open to all children in the Lone Star State.
These accounts would cover tuition, fees, and curricula for eligible children at private and parochial schools, as well as textbooks and uniforms, private tutoring services, transportation costs, and educational therapies. Funds could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT, CLT, ACT, or AP examinations.
If demand outpaces budgetary supply for the program, applicants would be prioritized first by those with a disability, then by those students from families with households with incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, then by students from families with household incomes between 186 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, and then all other children. Each account would be worth roughly $10,500.
Copious empirical research on school choice programs such as ESAs makes clear these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools.
Additionally, education choice benefits public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.
Further, Texas public schools are habitually failing the state’s children. In 2022, only 38 percent of public school fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders tested “proficient” to grade level in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) examination, colloquially known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Just 30 percent of fourth-graders and 23 percent of eighth-graders tested “proficient” in reading. Essentially, and embarrassingly, the state’s public schools are failing to educate roughly seven out of 10 Texas children to grade-level proficiency in reading and math.
It is probably these dismal results, and also because teacher unions have repeatedly played politics with school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic in direct conflict with students’ best interests, that education choice programs like ESAs are more popular with parents than ever before. Polling on this issue in Texas from EdChoice’s “Public Opinion Tracker,” last updated on November 8, finds 68 percent of all Texas adults and 73 of parents with school-aged children are in favor of ESA programs.
The goal of public education in Texas today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school that best fits their unique needs and circumstances. There has not been a time when providing these opportunities has been more urgent and more needed than right now.
Unfortunately, the school choice wave is threatening to pass Texas by, and the Lone Star State now trails Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and a host of other states when it comes to providing education freedom to its residents. Texas placed only 30th in the school choice rankings on The Heritage Foundation’s Education Freedom Report Card published in 2023.
Simply put, states with robust and expansive school choice programs will be more attractive to families who have the ability to migrate to the state of their choosing. How many will decide against moving to Texas because it doesn’t offer their children the opportunity to attend the school that best suits their educational needs? Legislators should recognize this and enact ESAs, allowing all current and future Texans as many options as possible to get their children the education they need and deserve. The following documents provide more information about ESAs and education choice.
Fiscal Effects of School Choice
This EdChoice analysis of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states plus D.C. summarizes the facts and evidence on the fiscal effects of educational choice programs across the United States and finds they have provided up to $28.3 billion in net fiscal savings to state and local taxpayers through Fiscal Year 2018. The programs in the analysis include three education savings accounts programs (ESAs), 19 school voucher programs, and 18 tax-credit scholarship programs.
The 123s of School Choice (2023 Edition)
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.
The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.
The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.
Economic Effects of a Universal ESA Program in Texas
This report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues expanding school choice in the Lone Star State will improve the quality of education for Texas children, lead to higher property values, and spur job creation.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.
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