Parental choice can only improve the Texas education system. Empowering parents to choose which school their child will attend assures that the system recognizes every child as unique, with unique learning needs. It also harnesses the capacity of a market that has improved our lives in every other aspect to ensure every child has an opportunity to climb the ladder of opportunity.
Parents know the needs of their children better than anyone else and are best fitted to make an informed decision about which school will work best for their child and their family. And we’ve seen in other states that school choice creates a rising tide that lifts all boats. All children benefit because choice applies competitive pressure on public schools to improve their performance.
Texas policymakers are considering creating the state’s first private school choice option. This school choice measure would provide every school-aged Texan who had attended a Texas public school for the entire year prior, or who is in first grade or kindergarten, with a scholarship to cover the cost of private school tuition. The scholarships, which would likely be around $5,000, would be worth up to 60 percent of the average maintenance and operations costs that the state would have spent on the child in public school.
According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, this school choice option could yield substantial benefits for taxpayers — but even more for the children who are guaranteed a ticket to greater educational opportunity.
Based on current private school capacity, the Texas Education Agency projects that students who would use the proposed scholarship to switch from public to private school would save the state nearly $250 million in the first year alone. Over the long haul, according to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, it could add $4-10 trillion in present value GDP to Texas’ economy.
And quite frankly, Texas can’t afford to take a pass on school choice.
According to a new report by the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Texas’ K-12 population is growing rapidly, from 4.7 million students in 2010 to a projected 6.4 million students in 2030. It works out to roughly 90,000 additional students per year. The state’s public schools simply cannot accommodate a demographic boom of that magnitude. School choice would alleviate this crowding by making private schools a viable option for more families.
And the demand for alternatives to assigned public schools already outpaces supply. As of 2015, the only school choice option available to Texas families is charter schools. According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the public charter school sector has a waiting list of more than 100,000 students.
The experiences of students throughout the country who now have choice in education are illustrative.
For example, the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C., provides vouchers allowing low-income students in the nation’s capital to attend a private school of their own choosing and has shown impressive gains in educational attainment. A random assignment evaluation conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that more than 91 percent of OSP students graduated high school. That was 21 percentage points higher than the control group of students who applied for the scholarship but did not receive one. Additional program evaluations found that 98 percent of OSP students enroll in two- or four-year colleges; 95 percent of OSP families are satisfied with their child’s scholarship.
Because of results such as these, school choice is booming across America, with 41 programs operating in 24 states and the District of Columbia. And as school choice grows more expansive, it continues to grow more innovative. Education Savings Accounts, available in Arizona and Florida, are a refinement of the voucher concept because they enable parents to fully customize their child’s education with a portion of their per-pupil dollars.
School choice is going big across the country. And Texas, of all states, should go big, as well. The Lone Star State has an opportunity to become a leader in school choice this year. Parents of students trapped in underperforming schools are hoping lawmakers will make the most of that opportunity.
Corona is a researcher specializing in education policy at the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity.