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Editorial: Give parents the choice: quality education
By James Golsan
Attempts to expand access to private schools are often viewed as an assault on public education. The reality is that private choice programs benefit both participating students and the surrounding public schools as well.
This can be seen in the privately funded Edgewood Horizon Scholarship Program that offered scholarships to students living within San Antonio’s Edgewood school district from 1998 to 2008.
During the first six years of the program’s operation, math test scores of participating students jumped 28 percent, and reading scores improved by 21 percent. Ninety one percent of scholarship recipients attended some college.
What is more impressive is the positive impact competition had on the district’s public schools. From 1998 to 2004, Edgewood’s graduation rate jumped from 57 percent to 80 percent. According to a University of Texas at San Antonio study, more than half of those gains were directly attributable to the scholarship program.
Additionally, the district’s dropout rate fell by more than 30 percent during the run of the program, and in a competitive environment teacher pay in Edgewood ISD’s public schools rose by 37 percent, far out-stripping salary gains made in surrounding districts. When you couple those elements with the increasing property values and local revenues experienced during this time frame, the broad potential benefits of school choice are apparent.
These results are not unique to Texas. A recent study by the Florida Department of Education determined the education scholarship program running in their state had been of benefit to their public education system, and saved the state $38.9 million in 2008 alone.
As the Texas Legislature prepares to kick off for the 83rd time, it must keep in mind that strengthening Texas education is not achieved by pouring more money into the system. From 1999 to 2009, Texas increased its public school spending by 95 percent. During that stretch, the state did not experience meaningful academic gains at either the 4th or 8th grade levels, per the National Assessment for Education Progress. We also failed to improve our ACT or SAT scoring for our secondary level students. A new approach is needed.
The revised approach should be one that empowers parents to choose an education pathway that most appropriately fits the needs of their child. The best way to achieve that is comprehensive choice reform that addresses both public and private education.
We must remove the hard cap of 215 on our open enrollment charter schools. We must bring private education scholarships to Texas so that lower income families and families of students with special needs have access to quality private schools. And we must expand learning technologies in this state so that these reforms can positively impact families and students in both urban and rural Texas.
Providing these options for parents is not an attack on our public schools, but is rather an attempt to make Texas education, as a whole, stronger. That is ultimately what both sides in this debate want. The more education advocates and lawmakers keep this in mind, the better our chances are of bringing concrete, meaningful reform and improvement to Texas education.
James Golsan is policy analyst for the Center for Education Policy with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market research institute based in Austin. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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