A few days ago, I posed two questions to two of my young children.
The first question: “What would you think about the government telling us which pediatrician to go to, based on where we live?”
The second: “What if a hailstorm damaged our roof, but we had to choose from a list of government-approved roofers based on where our house is located?”
Both of my children appeared to feel strongly that such scenarios would be wrong. Those are pretty big decisions, and we should get to choose things like that for our own family, my 8-year-old said.
Then I got to the crux of the issue: “What if the government tells you where to go to school simply because of your ZIP code or neighborhood? And what if that school is a place where the students aren’t actually learning how to read, write, or do math well? Or if that school isn’t safe? What if those kids aren’t being prepared for college or employment?”
The point is, even young children innately know that is wrong.
With education reforms being implemented all over the nation, chances are strong that you’re at least somewhat aware of the debate in Texas regarding education choice.
A variety of terms are used in this debate—ESAs, vouchers, school choice, and so on. But Facebook memes can’t capture the essence of this issue, and neither can the one-sided, politically motivated emails recently sent out by the Fort Worth Independent School District, one of the largest school districts in Texas.
On Oct. 17, the Fort Worth school district sent out a supposedly impartial email, “to share some insights.” Sadly, the insights were simply political activists’ talking points designed to advocate preserving this failing public school system.
Let me preface my position by sharing that I’m a mother to two children, ages 6 and 8, who attend schools in the Fort Worth district. We also have a 3-year-old. My husband and I mostly have been happy with our school and have no intention of removing our older children regardless of the outcome of the Texas Legislature’s current special session.
Although we are fortunate to be zoned for a good public elementary school, that is sadly not the reality for most Fort Worth families (see school-based student outcomes). That being said, I’m a staunch advocate of education choice and am represented among the 73% of Texas school parents who support education savings accounts, or ESAs.
Although the Fort Worth district’s email proudly asserts that its public schools are held to “high standards of accountability,” the evidence for these standards is lacking. In fact, the most recent data reveals that, districtwide, only 24% of students meet grade-level standards in math, 31% in reading, and a mere 19% in science.
Anyone who sees this data knows that these outcomes are unacceptable and that fundamental change is needed.
The story that we’ve been told for years is that Texas public schools simply need more funding. But a look at the data proves that increased funding hasn’t improved student outcomes.
Statewide, a 166% increase in funding per student, adjusted for inflation, occurred between 1970 and 2020. However, student outcomes continue declining, and the state of our public schools worsens.
According to the Nation’s Report Card, the proficiency of students in the Fort Worth district has steadily dropped in both math and reading between 2017 and 2022, and that was with higher annual budgets. The solution can’t be to continue increasing funding for another decade or two in the hopes that things eventually will improve.
What our public schools need is not an injection of even more hard-earned cash from taxpayers. They need a shake-up of this failing system to make it better. That shake-up is called education choice.
Some of the more common arguments made by opponents of education savings accounts is that ESAs will “take money away from the public schools,” “only benefit the rich,” or “hurt public school education.”
The problem with these either/or fallacies is the availability of research and data from 31 states with some form of school choice, many for 20 years or more.
So, what does years’ worth of data from numerous states show happens when parents are given a choice in how to educate their child? Public schools improve and students across all socioeconomic levels achieve substantial gains in academic success, both in the short and long term.
Here are a few examples.
When Florida implemented school choice in 2002, the state ranked 33rd in the nation for outcomes among low-income students. By 2019, Florida had risen to first in the nation.
Similarly, when Indiana implemented school choice in 2002, it was No. 22 in the nation for educating low-income students. By 2019, Indiana had risen to No. 3.
In Washington, D.C., a school choice program resulted in high school graduation rates improving from 70% to 82% of students, according to a 2010 study by the Department of Education.
Other examples abound, and the research is clear: Giving parents the opportunity to choose the educational path that is the best fit for their own child has positive, meaningful, and measurable effects.
The Fort Worth school district’s email assailing education choice encouraged parents by saying that our “voice is crucial in shaping the future of our community’s education system.”
So let my voice be clear as well: Our kids deserve better. We have the opportunity to support legislation that will give children in Texas better opportunities to learn and succeed. Your voice matters, too.
Now is the time to stand up and speak out on behalf of our children and for the sake of the future of the great city of Fort Worth and the great state of Texas.
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