School Choice Weeks Begins in Texas
Monday marked the beginning of National School Choice week, with 1,593 events planned across Texas to raise awareness of K-12 education options.
The event expected to get the most media coverage is a rally at the state capitol building in Austin Tuesday morning. Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and several parents, students, teachers, and elected officials are scheduled to speak on the south steps of the capitol in support of allowing tax payers to choose which schools may receive funding from public dollars, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online learning, and homeschooling.
School choice is a divisive issue in Texas and across the nation, but seems to be growing in popularity. Donald Trump's education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, is an advocate of vouchers and for-profit charter schools.
The Texas Senate is expected to file a bill that would create education savings accounts (ESAs) similar to health savings accounts. Families would receive a $5,000 debit card (the state spends an estimated $5,000 per student each year) with which to pay private school tuition or buy education materials.
The Texas House has opposed similar school choice proposals in recent years, citing accountability concerns. One such proposal would have given businesses tax breaks for donating to private school scholarships, which the House rejected.
Some House members have expressed a willingness to work with pro-school choice lawmakers if accountability concerns are addressed, but many opponents worry that public schools would take on the burden of students with special needs and behavioral problems, as well as under-performing students, while struggling with drastically lowered budgets in the face of increasing costs. (Proponents argue that parents of special-needs students would be able to choose schools better equipped to help their children learn.)
A proposed accountability measure in the Senate's ESA bill would reportedly make it a crime to spend money on non-essential supplies, and would require money spent on private tuition go to accredited schools.