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Texas flunks school-choice test

By   /   August 4, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

AP file photo

CHOOSING SIDES: Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels is a school-choice leader. But key House Republicans aren’t following.

By Kenric Ward | Texas Watchdog.org

Free marketer Milton Friedman would surely be perplexed by the state of education in Texas.

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist — who would have turned 103 this year — long advocated for school reform through the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

As one of the most conservative and entrepreneurial states in the nation, Texas has been a leading laboratory for Friedman’s market-driven formulas.

But while building the economic guru’s low-tax, low-regulation model, the Lone Star State sticks to business as usual with K-12 government schools.

Photo courtesy of Texas Legislature

EDUCATION CHAIRMAN: Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, vows to return to Austin with more school-choice legislation.

“Education is socialized,” says Larry Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “There’s no free market.”

Indeed, Texas’ “Robin Hood” funding system just spreads the money around, with dubious results. The law requires districts with high property values or energy revenue to turn over millions of dollars in property taxes to poorer districts.

Attempting to loosen the statist stranglehold, the Senate passed a modest tax-credit scholarship bill to empower parents. But the House – led by Speaker Joe Straus and backed by minority Democrats — blocked the legislation, leaving Texas a laggard in the national push for school choice.

Taylor and other advocates vow to keep trying. They frame parental choice as the civil-rights cause of the 21st century.

“It crosses all racial and economic groups,” says Robin Lennon, a co-founder of the Kingwood Tea Party.

Proponents say a choice law can begin to broaden opportunities for Texans.

“You have kids stuck with crummy school districts. You can have schools in the ‘failing’ category for five years,” Taylor notes. “Choice is the ultimate solution.”

Metrics undermine the conventional wisdom that more public spending translates into better education. Per-pupil allocations have risen steadily in Texas — growing five times faster than enrollment — while SAT scores have remained flat. Outlays for non-teaching positions have climbed 172 percent.

Texas’ $70 billion public-school complex consumes more than 40 percent of the state’s general fund and 55 percent of local property taxes.

Yet a Watchdog.org analysis of Texas’ top-rated five-star schools and their budgets revealed no correlation between academic performance and spending.

Select and compare school districts here.

“It’s not about bureaucrats. It should be about teaching students,” said Taylor, R-Friendswood.

Taking on the state teacher unions, Taylor says school choice would bust up the government-sponsored monopoly in public education and reward quality instructors.

“The best teachers will never get the salaries they deserve until there is free-market competition. It’s no wonder that there’s high turnover. The teachers union defends the worst of the worst,” Taylor said.

Peggy Venable, senior states policy adviser for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said Friedman would be eager for Texas to move forward on school choice.

“Choice is a way of life for Americans. Inexplicably, many who might reject a monopoly elsewhere accept it in education,” Venable said.

RELATED: In California, judge upholds “parent trigger” law for schools.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org Contact him at [email protected].

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Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.