“Don’t want school choice” #SaidNoKidEver

Photo by Laura Skelding

Americans demand customization and choices among service providers in most aspects of their lives but, strangely, are stuck with a one-size-fits-all model of public education. A Choice Media parody on YouTube called “We Don’t Want School Choice (`Options are Bad)” advertised on Twitter with the hashtag “#SaidNoKidEver” to make the point: Things are changing.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia permit charter schools to operate as independent public schools. Texas was one of the first states to allow charters; today, 718 charters educate over a quarter million Texan students.

Although charter schools are popular and the latest rigorous research from Stanford University indicates they tend to produce outcomes that are better than traditional public schools, nearly half of parents tell pollsters that they want their children to attend private schools. Only 10 percent of all K-12 students in the U.S. are enrolled in private schools, however, as tuitions have been beyond the reach of many families. That also is changing.

Thirty U.S. states are home to 61 government programs that provide financial assistance to parents who choose private schools for their children. Texas is not one of them. That also could be changing.

Several legislative bills would provide financial aid for private school tuition in Texas. The most ambitious of the school choice proposals is Senate Bill 3, authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. His bill would create an education savings account (ESA) and a tax-credit scholarship program.

Under SB 3, the state would set aside a portion of the per-pupil “maintenance and operation” dollars it would otherwise spend on public education, allowing families to use those accounts for private, parochial or home school expenses. All students would be eligible. Families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level would receive ESAs worth 75 percent of their children’s public school costs. Students with family incomes above that level would receive 60 percent. Senate Bill 3 also would establish a scholarship program, funded by insurance premium tax credits, to direct even more educational resources to students with disabilities, children in poverty and students in foster care.

Parents direct ESA funds towards private school tuition, school fees, tutoring, educational therapies, online courses, books, or educational software — whatever they think will help their child learn. ESAs empower parents to customize the education of each of their children, as only parents can. Unused funds in a specific year roll over to the next year and could even be used for future college tuition.

An ESA program would save the state a Texas-sized bundle. In a study I authored for the Texas Public Policy Foundation I drew from existing research on private school choice to forecast that an ESA with universal eligibility would result in nearly 12,000 additional high school graduates in Texas by 2022. In research I conducted with San Antonio native Corey DeAngelis we concluded that Texas would save $194 million by 2035 due to reduced criminal behavior by Texans who participate in a universal ESA program.

Texas is late to the school choice party. With the exception of New Mexico, every state that borders the Lone Star State already has at least one private school choice program. Louisiana has four.

We know a lot about private school choice initiatives. Parents love them because they open up more schooling options for their children. More students are likely to graduate high school and attend college with the help of school choice. School choice alums are less likely to commit crimes as young adults.

Look for a YouTube video soon entitled “We Want School Choice (Options are Good)” #SaidAllKidsAlways.

Patrick Wolf

Professor of education policy, University of Arkansas