Education Experts Explain Why Legislation On School Choice Would Be Bad For Texas

Dec 4, 2014

Texas State Capitol
Credit Ryan E. Poppe

An education nonprofit brought invited testimony from across the country to provide insight about school choice programs.  The Coalition For Public Schools anticipates another heated battle this session, when comes to allowing a voucher-system in Texas schools.

Setting up a school choice program in Texas has already been discussed, ahead of the 2015 legislative session. And with a favorable Republican-majority in the House and Senate, an attempt to pass legislation in this regard, seems inevitable.

Dr. Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, was one of the invited speakers at an education symposium in Austin this week on the subject. He said the success seen at schools in more affluent neighborhoods might have little to do with the school itself and more to do with student’s environment.

“The reason why is because, for the most part, those kids have richer opportunities to learn outside of school and that’s what’s driving those outcomes. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t better schools serving more disadvantaged communities than there are, in some cases, serving advantaged communities,” said Welner.

How does school choice work? There are a variety of ways, but many school choice programs are about access to vouchers, much like scholarships. Parents apply for a voucher and if approved, the state would provide your child with the funds to go to a private school of their choice, within or outside the public school district or zone they are in, instead of staying in a sub-standard or economically disadvantaged school in-district.

Critics hold that states should, instead, allocate resources to bring weaker schools up to standard, because when they allow students to move out of a local system, it further depresses lower-funded or failing schools — it either depletes their student population or removes the cream of the crop.

Proponents of school choice though, believe it to be a practical solution and one that would be acceptable to a community, with something like ‘neo-vouchers,’ a system that provides businesses tax incentives when they contribute resources for educational scholarships to private schools. Welner, though, stated that students in school choice programs have not generally been found to score higher on tests than students at public schools. So where’s the advantage?

“So if you want your child’s education to be grounded in religious teaching and you otherwise couldn’t afford to send your child to a school that does that, this would give you that option,” said Welner. 

He added that as far as the matter of raising the standard at economically disadvantaged schools went, that would require more state resources and focus. He believed that a voucher-system in Texas — incidentally, already among the bottom 10 states in the country in terms of spend per school student per year on education — would, in the end, only take money away from struggling school districts, as more families trade their child’s public education for a private one.