Educational Reform on the Horizon in Texas?

In an exciting development for parents and children across the Lone Star State, school choice has emerged as a major education initiative among Texas lawmakers. With Texas Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick (R-Houston) announcing plans to introduce legislation that would make several major changes to the education system in Texas, parents are hopeful at the prospect of having more options when it comes to the education of their children.

One proposed change is to lift an existing limitation on the number of charter schools allowed to operate at any given time (the current limit is a seemingly-arbitrary 215), in hopes of giving more students the option to attend a charter school. “We have 100,000 kids on the wait list for charters,” said Patrick. “These are parents that want their kids to do better, who are willing to make the sacrifice if they have the option.”

Another initiative is a plan to offer a business tax credit to private institutions that donate to private school scholarship funds for low-income students. This plan would create an incentive for businesses to offset franchise taxes while at the same time helping to expand school options for parents.

Finally, there is also talk of cutting the red tape on restrictions that make it almost impossible for parents to choose the best school for their child—like one that may be in the same public school district or in a neighboring school district. Senator Patrick laid out the simple rationale underlying these planned reforms, emphasizing that “you should have a right to send your child to the school that you think can best help that child. It’s about their life.”

Unfortunately, this simple rationale of freedom of choice is apparently not so simple to all weighing in on the issue. As might be expected, there has already been a pitifully predictable opposition from public education organizations. Arguing that the real issue is a (debatable) lack of appropriate funding for public education, James Moore, Director of Progress Texas PAC argues that “what benefits the future of Texas…is a broadly supported and adequately funded public school system that delivers an equal and quality education for every student.”

If throwing more money into the public education coffer would actually improve the public education system, then perhaps Mr. Moore would have a point. Unfortunately for him and the children whose futures are at stake, there is no such guarantee that increased funds would ever make it to actual classrooms or actually improve the learning experience of schoolchildren. Perhaps these opponents are just worried that with increased school choice options, more competition in the education industry might render their positions a little less inert, and a little more…well, competitive.

-- Robert Fountain

Robert Fountain is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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