Trailing other states, Texas’ bid for school choice gets another chance at the Legislature this year. Will it be déjà vu all over again?
“There are over 120,000 students on charter school wait lists and there are roughly 30,000 open and available seats in private, accredited schools throughout the state,” says Randan Steinhauser, Texas adviser to EdChoice.
“The demand is there. The supply is there. The only thing standing in the way is government. It’s time for government to get out of the way of education opportunities,” she told Watchdog.org.
As the nation marks School Choice Week, Texas remains a laggard. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia offer various forms of parental choice tools, including vouchers, education savings accounts and tax-credit scholarships, according to EdChoice.
Proving that private choice programs have appeal across ethnic and partisan lines, a Democratic Party memo last year cited strong support among African-Americans in Wisconsin, which offers vouchers.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — both Republicans — have called for expanding school-choice options in the Lone Star State.
“We want to see our state leaders pass legislation to equally fund our charters and create a robust school choice program to serve all Texas families,” Steinhauser told Watchdog.
Choice efforts have foundered in the state House of Representatives, where Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has aligned with rural Republicans and big-city Democrats to kill previous legislation.
Steinhauser believes momentum is building for choice this session. More than 4,000 pro-choice educators, parents and students rallied at the Capitol in Austin on Tuesday.
Some 1,500 school-choice events are scheduled this week throughout Texas. (See map here.)
Peggy Venable, senior visiting fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Education Freedom, said, “I believe we will get a good bill out of the Senate. The challenge will be the House. The educrat lobby is putting its money and efforts there.”
Venable says H-E-B grocery magnate Charles Butt, a Straus ally, is again bankrolling the rear-guard action.
“The Butt-funded Raise Your Hand Texas is fighting [choice], as are superintendents and their organizations. They’re also fighting A-F school ratings, demanding more funding and opposing parents having options,” Venable told Watchdog.
Education reform bills introduced so far include:
SB 457 to equalize charter-school funding.
SB 452 and HB 1184 to create a tax-credit scholarship program.
Sen. Larry Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, predicts his chamber will again pass a school-choice bill this session.
“Texas is an outlier. We’re way behind the rest of the country on this, surrounded by states that have some form of [private] school choice,” the Friendswood Republican said in an interview last year.
As for Butt & Co., Taylor noted that the billionaire grocer is “doing well in a competitive environment with his stores [but] he doesn’t make the connection to competition in education.”
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward