PARKER: Is Texas Legislature Closer to Passing More School Choice Than Ever Before?

This is an opportunity for real education reform for low-income children in Texas

By Allan E. Parker, Jr., J.D.

AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Insider Report) — We are closer than ever to more school choice, which the majority of all Texans support. I am extremely excited and encouraged to support Senator Paul Bettencourt’s SB 1968,The Family Educational Relief Program.”

The dirty little secret in education is that poor children do get stuck with lower quality public schools and the educational establishment sadly blocks true reform. Affluent parents can exercise some school choice by choosing where they live, often seeking better schools.
 
This is an opportunity for real education reform for low-income children in Texas. We need to be on the side of children, parents, and families.

Its fair to start with the children who need help the most.

SB 1968 would create Family Education Relief Accounts for parents and students who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program.  The bill would allow the parent or guardian to receive 90% of their child’s state spending each year per student in the form of a Family Education Relief Account.

The money would follow the child to the school of the parents’ choice. The funds could only be spent on approved education-related expenses such as tuition at an accredited private school, educational therapies or virtual academics, etc.

These funds would be distributed quarterly, and accessed through up to three non-profit scholarship organizations to ensure integrity of the program. All programs must be approved by the Texas Comptroller.
 
  • Since all money for debt service, federal funds, and a portion of the rest of the student’s general funds stays with the leaving school, per pupil spending automatically rises there.
  • The scholarship is funded by businesses who allocate a portion of their insurance premium tax to the scholarship organizations.
  • The business gets a tax credit, and
  • Low-income children get freedom
Under this plan, good schools will flourish. Schools that cannot do a good job for that particular child, but generally do a good job, will suffer no harm. Poorly performing schools will feel gently pressured to improve gradually over time as more students leave to get a better education, especially those who need it most. 

Texas has public school and charter school choice. The sky did not fall when those reforms were instituted. Now we can expand even more.

This bill protects against additional unnecessary government regulation on private schools. No current school will be forced to alter its creed, practices, admissions policies, curriculum, performance standards, or assessments to receive money under the program. But every free lunch eligible child could get more expanded choices.

There will be no excessive state control or supervision of a private school, parent, or student, not currently necessary or to prevent financial fraud.

I support Family Educational Relief Accounts for all children in Texas, but especially the poor, because each child is entitled to their share of public education dollars as a sacred trust for the child. That is why we call our elected school officials "trustees" rather than directors.

This would be a great start, a real breakthrough for children who need it most.

Allan E. Parker, Jr. is President of the Justice Foundation, is a former Professor of Education Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. Parker was chosen by the Texas State Board of Education as a Hero for Children for his efforts to reform public education.
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