Texas Failing to Offer Private School Choice
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has released the 19th edition of its annual Report Card on American Education, where it ranks states’ education policy based on six areas: state academic standards, charter school laws, home-school regulations, private school choice programs, overall teacher quality and policies, and digital learning opportunities.
One notable finding of the Report Card is that Texas does not encourage private school choice in a particularly robust manner. Drawing on research conducted by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the report gave Texas an “F” grade for failing to offer a private school voucher program.
In a 2013 survey conducted by the Friedman Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texans said they would support such a voucher program by a two-to-one margin, or by 66 to 27 percent. The group most strongly supportive was Latinos, of whom 80 percent said they supported vouchers, and younger voters, of whom 74 percent said they were supportive.
It is an area in need of critical improvement given the growth of the state’s student population. Enrollment in the state’s public schools surpassed five million in the 2012-13 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency, representing growth of nearly 20 percent in the last decade.
State law caps the number of charter schools at 225.The result is that more than 100,000 students are on charter school waiting lists. Many of them may never have the opportunity to attend a charter school.
At the same time students’ needs are left unmet, the state’s spending on education has been increasing. Between 1998 and a high in 2010, spending on public education increased by 50 percent – in spite of the fact that enrollment only increased by 20 percent in the last decade. Lawmakers have been able to rein in spending in the years to follow, but the state still has room to strengthen its school choice laws.
To that effect, Texans could look to neighboring Oklahoma for examples of more efficient education policy. Oklahoma is one of 13 states with a voucher program allowing students to use a portion of the funding allocated for them to attend a traditional public school to instead attend a private school of their choice.
Similarly, Oklahoma is one of 14 states to offer a tax credit scholarship program. Under the program, taxpayers may receive tax credits to donate to nonprofits that provide scholarships to students wishing to attend private schools. In Oklahoma’s case, the program is capped at a total annual amount of $5 million in credits, of which $3.5 million is dedicated to private school scholarships and $1.5 million to organizations that distribute “educational improvement grants” to public schools.
Regardless of which solutions Texans find to be best fit, it is clear that the state’s students would benefit from a greater effort to aid in their educational achievement.