Texas, being a passionate, liberty-minded state, should be a national leader in school choice efforts.
Indeed, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the Republican Party of Texas all have called for an expansion of private school choice in recent years. Additionally, four Texas Democrats were listed as “School Choice Champions” by the American Federation for Children (AFC) in 2020.
But not only is Texas not a leader in parental choice efforts, it lags. This year, seven states created new school choice programs, while another 11 expanded existing programs. Several more are primed to join them.
Texas is not among them.
For more than a decade, an odd coalition of rural Republicans and urban Democrats, led by Republican state Rep. Dan Huberty, has stymied efforts to expand private school choice. Many of these opponents are homeschool advocates who fear government regulation or are rural public-school supporters who see anything beyond charter schools (and sometimes even charter schools) as a threat to community integrity.
Indeed, Texas deserves praise for its high-quality charter school network, but that network is no longer sufficient. Thousands of children are on wait lists, and Texas families are hungry for more and better choices they can access now.
Adding to that problem is the fact that many legislators have been squeamish for far too long, insistent on prioritizing the needs of school districts over the needs of students. Furthermore, there is no reason that school choice would suddenly limit what homeschooling parents can teach their children. There is no better time to expand school choice in Texas than the present.
Private school choice is incredibly popular with Texas voters. In 2019, long before COVID-19 was a consideration, an AFC poll found that 74% of Texas voters favored education savings accounts, while 64% supported tax-credit scholarships. With the pandemic’s chaos and learning loss now in clear view, one can only imagine what the support levels are now.
But there is a broader philosophical argument at play. Texas’ political culture is both individualistic and traditional. We care deeply for our families, traditions, and culture (don’t mess with Texas y’all), and education is fundamental in cultivating the virtues that make Texas, well … Texas. Love us or hate us, those qualities matter.
There is nothing more traditional or liberty-minded than putting parents in control of their children’s education. The presumption that governments and bureaucrats are better suited than parents to serve the needs of children is both absurd and un-Texan. Texas families deserve the same level of choice that families in states like Florida, New Hampshire, and West Virginia have.
The regular legislative session (and all its tendrils) may be over, but opportunities remain, a vital lifeline for families who are unable to wait for the next regular session in 2023. A growing number of legislators are clamoring for a special session to statutorily ban vaccine mandates. Under Texas law, the governor has the sole authority to call a special session and also is the arbiter of what will and will not be included in said session. Were Abbott to call another special session, he easily could include school choice measures as a topic of discussion.
Regardless of how change takes shape, Texas families need it now. They deserve the same breadth of options that children and families in other states have. One may call me naive for hand-waving the politics of the last 20 years away, but anyone paying attention can see where the winds are blowing. The parental choice movement is winning, both morally and politically.
It’s time for Texas to join the fight and expand school choice.