Texas isn’t free without freedom in education

Texas isn’t free without freedom in education
By JoAnn Fleming

For the past eight years, the Texas conservative grassroots movement has led the fight against federal failures on everything from Obamacare to lax border security and non-enforcement of immigration laws. Texas has been a champion for liberty and a leader in many arenas — but not in academic success — and certainly not in education choice.

Thirty states have passed some type of education choice, giving parents and students the best academic options available. Since every child should have access to a quality education, it’s high time the Texas Legislature set parents free to choose the very best education options for their own children.

Though time is running out, our lawmakers still have the opportunity to pass meaningful choice for the parents of students with special needs — children who are most in need options — by establishing Education Savings Accounts.

ESAs are an innovative form of school choice that gives parents an opportunity to take control of their children’s education. With it, participating parents can choose the best academic path for each child by taking portable funds to a private school or by opting out of the traditional school model to provide a customized education at home.

For those concerned about government strings, the proposal before our lawmakers is not a mandate — it offers consumer-centered options and contains protective language forbidding new regulations on private or homeschool students.

Those concerned about future regulations should remember that all liberty is at all times at risk. Enduring freedom relies on “we the people” being ever watchful over government, ever ready to hold it accountable.
School choice has proven positive effects on student achievement. A 2012 Brookings Institute and Harvard University study concluded that New York’s school choice program increased college enrollment rates among African American students by 25 percent.

A 1999 joint study by the University of Texas-Austin and Harvard concluded that students in Milwaukee’s choice program improved reading scores by 6 percentage points and math scores by 11 points. These studies represent a small sampling of the improved academic outcomes produced by school choice programs.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress scores show the average percentage of Texas 4th and 8th graders achieving at or above proficiency in math and reading is only 33.8 percent, and in 2016, only 27 percent of students met all four college readiness benchmarks. These stats prove parents need the freedom of school choice.

No government should tax parents to support an education system and then dictate parents keep children in schools that aren’t working for them. That’s not a government “instituted for their benefit,” as the Texas Constitution requires. It’s a government determined to maintain a near-monopoly on education, no matter its quality.

By placing school choice power directly in the hands of parents who know their children far better than any bureaucrat, real freedom comes when parents are able to shop education dollars for the very best academic program.

Gov. Greg Abbott named school choice among his top five priorities. The Texas Republican Executive Committee named it their top issue, and school choice is also a featured plank in the Texas Republican Party Platform. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz correctly calls school choice an opportunity to unleash exceptionalism in every schoolchild, and President Trump is also a school choice supporter.

I am grateful to both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for his leadership on education choice and to Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor for his steadfast support of parental rights.

State Representatives should vote to provide an escape for every special needs child whose local public school just doesn’t meet his or her needs.

Every day a child spends in a failing classroom, the future of that child grows dimmer. It’s time for the legislature to remove the shackles, setting these children free.