Houston students, parents deserve education choice

Houston students, parents deserve education choice
By Paul Simpson

From the oil industry to aerospace, Houston is a national economic leader. We are the fourth largest city in the nation and we attract the most talented workforce from around the world. We have many things to be proud of, but sadly, our progress in public education is not one of them.

When the Texas Education Agency unveiled its new grading system at the beginning of this year, Houston came up lacking. Of the five largest school districts in the greater Houston area, all of them received either a C or a D in post-secondary readiness. The Aldine school district received Ds in both student achievement and student progress. The Houston Independent School District — the largest school system in Texas — received a D in post-secondary readiness and a C for student achievement on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.

Our schools are not performing at the level one would expect from a top-five U.S. city. We must do something about it. Rather than continuing to throw money at the problem, we need a solution that can deliver tangible results. That solution is education choice.

The bottom line is that education choice works. Study after study has found that choice improves student outcomes — from New York, where college enrollment for African American students increased 25 percent, to Milwaukee, where math scores went up 11 points.

That’s because education choice empowers families stuck in failing school districts to send their children to superior schools. Our current system of school districting often punishes economically disadvantaged families because, if they cannot afford to move to a more affluent neighborhood, their children can be stuck in underperforming or failing schools.

Education choice not only lets families deploy their tax dollars at better schools, it also helps improve underperforming school districts. By letting families choose where their children are educated, all schools have to work harder to attract students. This improves educational options across the board.

In fact, in over 30 studies, school choice was shown to improve student outcomes for those who participated in a choice program. School choice is also shown to have a positive academic impact on students who chose not to take advantage of such programs because everyone’s experience is enhanced when you introduce competition.

The more we give our schools the opportunity to compete with one another, the more access our children will have to the better education that they so clearly deserve.

Education choice continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and families. Choice programs have been established in 30 other states, some of which have adopted a new and innovative method of putting choice back into the hands of parents — Education Savings Accounts (ESA) programs.

ESA programs put a majority of the funds allocated for each student into a savings account for parents to then spend at a private school, on materials to educate children at home or on supplemental tutoring and educational therapies for students with special needs. The Texas Legislature is currently considering bringing ESAs to our great state.

I applaud our state and national leaders who support education choice. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, and Rep. Ron Simmons have all championed the cause to bring education choice to Texas. On the national stage, President Trump and our own U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have called for education choice for all families.

America was founded on the idea that every individual can rise up out of poverty and improve his or her station in life. Without a good education, this is next to impossible.

We need to do everything we can to improve education for the children of Houston and all of Texas. That means embracing the best chance we have at fixing our broken school system. It means embracing school choice.