School choice a bad choice

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One of the cornerstones of this Texas Legislative session is pushing through school choice legislation in what Republicans call an effort to improve education in Texas.

This is nothing more than an assault on the public school system and an opportunity to allow wealthier Texans to ease their own burden when it comes to paying for private school.

The plan introduced this week, Senate Bill 3, would establish Education Savings Accounts, allocating a percentage of the money the state provides to the local school district to families to spend on private school enrollment.

Dozens of unanswered questions are swirling around this plan, many of them questions opponents have asked for years. But the most important question is how will Texans living on a tight family budget take advantage of this program?

Republicans in the legislature want you to believe it benefits all families by allowing them to escape poor-performing schools. 

In a simplified example, SB3 states families earning above the poverty line – roughly $24,000 annually for a family of four – would receive 60 percent of the funds previously allocated to the local school district. Those below the poverty line would receive 75 percent.

Based on maintenance and operations spending per student in Leander ISD, which is $8,258, those above the poverty line in this area would receive somewhere around $5,000 annually to put toward their school of choice. The problem is the average annual cost of private school in Texas is $8,522. That leaves families looking at a $3,500 bill for what was once a free education. Supporters will say there are scholarships available, and most private schools do offer some, but this is not guaranteed and it is selective. 

The old argument that competition creates better schools is a myth that will destroy our public education system. Telling all Texas families they will have a choice is dishonest and a slap in the face to those who rely on public schools for a better opportunity.

There are other issues of great concern such as accountability ratings for private schools, the loss of economies of scale in public schools when funds are taken away, and transportation issues for those wanting to attend other schools. But the first question legislators should have to answer is how that gap will be bridged to truly create freedom of choice for all students. For most Texas families, coming up with an additional $3,500 per child for a “better” education is not a choice they can even consider and is no different than telling them they too can

be rich.

The public education system is designed to be everything but selective. It is not perfect, but it is all-inclusive and is intended to be equal for every student. Texas doesn’t need to call the public school system a failure and walk away from it. Texas needs to focus on how to fund it properly and maintain the promise of a free and equal educational opportunity for all.

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