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Texans Support School Choice




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April 26, 2013 | 2,007 views | Post a comment

By Robert Enlow and Brooke Rollins

The fate of real school choice in the Lone Star State remains in question in the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature. A new poll showing that Texans favor school choice in large numbers may significantly affect that debate.

In a statistically representative sample of Texas voters--released by both our organizations, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Texas Public Policy Foundation--a supermajority of about two-thirds favor vouchers. When asked about tax-credit scholarships, the number in favor went even higher, to 72 percent.

Private school choice programs give parents the freedom to use government education funding reserved for their children to access the schools, public or private, that work best for them. That opportunity currently exists, in various forms, in 22 states and Washington, D.C. Among the programs providing vouchers and tax-credit scholarships--a policy that provides tax credits to those who donate to scholarship-giving nonprofits--more than 250,000 students are participating.

Moreover, 80 percent of Hispanic voters and 71 percent of black voters support vouchers. Those numbers are especially pertinent for a Republican party that political pundits say must reach black and Hispanic constituencies to remain relevant.

It’s no wonder all Texans want options. Fifty-five percent of voters believe the K-12 education system is on the wrong track, while only 33 percent think it’s going in the right direction. Today, the default in Texas is that parents’ ZIP codes determine the schools where they must send their kids. That’s why nearly 93 percent of students are in traditional public schools--regardless of those schools’ quality--and only 3 percent are able to choose charter schools and just 4 percent are able to access private schools.

However, according to our survey, if voters could select any type of school to obtain the best education for their children, just 34 percent would choose traditional public schools, whereas 47 percent would select private schools, 8 percent would opt for charters, and 8 percent would home school their kids.

Importantly, the availability of such options would encourage improvement among all Texas students and schools. Of the 12 random-assignment studies--considered the “gold standard” of social science research--conducted on voucher programs, 11 concluded school choice improves student outcomes (six found all students benefit, five showed some benefit and some aren't affected) and one found no visible impact. No empirical study on vouchers has ever found a negative impact.

As for vouchers’ effects on public schools, 22 of 23 empirical studies found school choice improves public schools, with one showing no visible impact. No empirical study has concluded school choice harms public schools. Empirical research also has found school choice saves taxpayers money, increases diversity in schools, and improves students’ commitment to democratic principles and values.

And public schools could use some incentives to get better--not only academically, but financially as well. From 1992 to 2009, student enrollment in Texas public schools grew 37 percent. But over that same period, the number of administrators and other non-teaching staff grew a whopping 172 percent.

Had those increases among adults simply kept pace with children, Texas would have saved more than $6.3 billion each year. That money could have been used to give each teacher an annual raise of more than $19,000, reduce class sizes, or provide private school scholarships, among other worthy purposes.

For Texas, a state known for its residents’ love of liberty and warranted fear of big government, to allow a monopoly to control families’ schooling opportunities is surprising. In the past year alone, Republican governors in Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia have taken executive action approving school choice. What is Texas leadership waiting for?

Any delays mean prolonging frustration for parents and struggles for students. As a Texas parent told the Friedman Foundation, “My kids need options now, not in two or four more years. I’m stunned that Republican majorities aren’t taking a stand for freedom.”

Texas voters agree.

Robert Enlow is the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the school choice legacy foundation of Milton and Rose D. Friedman. Brooke Rollins is the president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The “Texas K-12 & School Choice Survey” is available at www.edchoice.org/TXpoll.
 
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