What's really at stake in the education reform debate

Photo by Todd Wiseman

Every two years, Texas legislators have the opportunity to make a difference through meaningful policy changes.

Already this session, a number of bills have been introduced that would impact the lives of our youngest learners through the creation of a high-quality pre-kindergarten program. Additional strides have been made to provide accountability with an A-through-F school rating system. Along with these reforms, we’ve also seen an increase in support for parental choice programs. Together, these efforts will strengthen our education system, better prepare our students and improve the future of Texas’ workforce.

As lawmakers debate Senate Bill 4, which would establish a parental choice program to assist our state’s most vulnerable students, it’s essential that the focus remain on children. Our state leaders have a responsibility to promote an education system that provides the best educational setting for every child, and that’s only possible when parents have the opportunity to choose that setting. Across the state, too many families aren’t empowered to choose the school that their children attend and instead are stuck in a system that isn’t meeting their needs. With more than 100,000 Texas students on the charter school waitlist, it’s clear that the time for expanded educational options is now.

Over the last decade, we’ve debated the merits of various education reform proposals and discussed their potential impact on students and the public education system. While our discussions continue, the sad reality is that many students continue to fall further behind. It’s time to stop talking about possible reforms and to take action that will provide parents with options and children with opportunities. 

With SB 4, we have the chance to change lives. Through educational choice we know that parents will take control of their children’s learning environment to ensure that their individual needs are being met. We recognize that no one knows a child better than his or her family. And, with the help of our legislators, parents will finally have the ability to send their children to the school of their choice.

The national effort to reform education has made major strides. In Florida, nearly 70,000 students participate in the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and 80 percent of parents are “very satisfied” with their children’s academic progress in their private schools, compared with 4 percent in their previous public schools. Also, a 2009 report commissioned by the Florida Department of Education found that students who choose the scholarships are the poorest and lowest-performing students in the public schools they leave behind. These students achieved the same academic gains after they moved to private schools as test-takers of all income levels nationally. These facts underscore the positive impact that a tax-credit scholarship program would bring to Texas. 

As our state’s population continues to grow and more businesses are in need of qualified workers, it’s time we put the focus back on educating our students to become better prepared for tomorrow. If we want Texas to remain globally competitive, we need a prepared and capable workforce. That’s only possible through quality education.

We can no longer afford to wait. And, more importantly, our students can’t afford to wait. Their future depends on a quality education.

Business leaders across Texas understand that it’s time for bold reforms to fix our education system. We urge legislators to pass meaningful education reform this session through the form of a tax credit scholarship. Our families deserve more, and better, choices. The time for school choice in Texas is now.

Justin Yancy

Executive director of the Texas Business Leadership Council