You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Mackowiak: School choice returns power to parents


Conservatives support school choice. However, rural elected officials, many of whom are also conservative, generally do not.

There’s an inherent conflict in this that partly explains why the broad issue of education reform has made some progress in Texas in recent years but the narrower issue of school choice has not.

School choice offers a fundamental question: Should there be competition in public education? The only serious answer to that question is “yes.”

Asked another way, who would oppose competition? The answer is the opponents of school choice, who are generally made up of liberals, school districts, teachers’ unions and some rural Republicans who do not believe school choice options currently exist in rural areas.

What will happen during the biennial legislative session that begins Jan. 10? I fully expect education to be a big issue in two separate — but perhaps related — ways.

Democrats and their allies want to increase funding for public education. They cite a Texas Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that declared the state’s current school finance system as “unconstitutional” and criticized the current level of funding in our public education system. The court chose not to remedy the system in the belief that setting education funding levels is the job of the Texas Legislature.

In that ruling the court stated: “Our Constitution endows the people’s elected representatives with vast discretion in fulfilling their constitutional duty to fashion a school system fit for our dynamic and fast-growing state’s unique characteristics. We hope lawmakers will seize this urgent challenge and upend an ossified regime ill-suited for 21st century Texas.”

Conservative Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and several stalwart Texas Senate conservatives, are pushing school choice legislation to create education savings accounts (or ESAs), modeled after the successful program in Nevada, which their own Supreme Court upheld earlier this year.

Let us first make sure we understand how ESAs work, as many opponents will pejoratively, falsely and reflexively deem them “vouchers.”

As the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute’s John Colyandro and State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) jointly wrote for the Dallas Morning News: “Five states have enacted ESA education choice, wherein parents apply for the program and un-enroll their child from public school. Next, the state funds an account that parents can use to pay for numerous services related to their child’s education. Parents could pay private school tuition or a tutor, purchase curriculum for homeschooling or a digital learning class, or save some money for college tuition, for example. If parents don’t use all of their ESA dollars in one year, they can roll over to the remainder to the next school year. The opportunities for customization would empower parents to craft an education to meet a child’s unique learning needs, using only those services the child needs and seeking out both quality and value. This would be especially powerful for parents of special needs students. There would be financial and academic accountability, as well, to guarantee that this program works for parents, students and taxpayers alike.”

ESAs offer choice, flexibility and ease of use. They put the spending power back in the hands of the parents, not the bureaucrat.

I foresee a trade that could be made, perhaps at the end of the legislative session or in a special session: Democrats get increased funding for public education, and conservatives get ESAs and more competition in education. Parents win both ways, as their public schools are better funded and they can save dollars — tax-free — to ensure that every child has public education options.

ESAs answer a fundamental question: Are public education dollars the state’s money, or are they effectively each individual parent’s money?

Undoubtedly the state has a responsibility to ensure that our children are educated through 12th grade. But they also have a responsibility to make sure that every child is educated.

Trapping poor kids in failing schools, whether they be public schools, charter schools, or private schools, should be entirely unacceptable.

We know our public education system in Texas needs improvement. Competition improves all things in life. It will do so for educating our kids.

Why would any parent want to trust their child’s future to a monopoly?

Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant and a former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Supporting refugees a Jewish, American and Texas tradition
Commentary: Supporting refugees a Jewish, American and Texas tradition

The United States was founded on the principles of religious freedom by refugees fleeing religious persecution. Closing our doors to refugees based on religion denies this historical legacy. Considering our current administration’s desire to limit the refugee resettlement program, faith communities across the United States — including members...
Commentary: How liberals created the double murder of Otto Warmbier
Commentary: How liberals created the double murder of Otto Warmbier

We may never know what brutal torture and malign neglect American student Otto Warmbier suffered at the hands of North Korea’s dictatorship before losing his life at the age of 22. But it wasn’t the first time the free-spirited Ohio native died. More than a year before succumbing to the unknown illness or injury that left him in a coma...
Medicaid’s rise symbolic of liberals’ welfare state run amok

The number of Americans enrolled in Medicaid has increased from 29 million in 1990 to 73 million today — an increase of 252 percent over a period when the nation’s population increased 30 percent. Total spending on Medicaid today is $574 billion, 275 percent above the $209 billion of 2000. Medicaid amounts to about 40 percent of the total...
Herman: Energy Secretary Rick Perry energetic in White House spotlight
Herman: Energy Secretary Rick Perry energetic in White House spotlight

Our current governor might be decidedly down on Austin, but, bless his heart, our most recent former governor on Tuesday put in a high-profile tourism pitch for his former longtime hometown. During a half-hour guest appearance at Tuesday’s White House briefing (back on camera this time!), Energy Secretary Rick Perry turned a somewhat-awkward...
Herman: Boys State kick-starts its own Texas secession movement
Herman: Boys State kick-starts its own Texas secession movement

Looks like some boys who fancy themselves as future leaders of the state of Texas actually think it would be even fancier to be future leaders of the nation of Texas. In a move that’s drawn attention around the U.S., the 1,100 rising high school seniors who proudly wear the Boys State T-shirt voted overwhelmingly at the Capitol on June 15 for...
More Stories