has the opportunity this legislative session to change the trajectory of thousands of students’ lives by passing school choice legislation. Yet opponents of choice policies are wrongly arguing that they would hurt rural communities, with several state Republicans using this as an excuse to vote against the necessary reforms.

A bill introduced in the Texas Senate last week would create education savings accounts of up to $8,000, which families could use to pay for education-related expenses, such as home schooling materials, private school tuition, and more. In other words, the bill puts power back in the hands of parents and gives them the financial freedom to find an education system that works best for their family.

West Texas Republicans, however, have declined to commit to the bill, arguing that it’s unnecessary and could harm small rural communities in which public schools play a big role.

“Proponents of expanding school choice options often say the money should follow the student,” state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, a Republican who represents 30 rural school districts, said. “Current Texas law already does that if a student transfers to another public school, including a charter school.”

Republican state Rep. Drew Darby agreed, pointing out that public schools in rural areas are often one of the biggest employers.

“If that school district goes away, the identity of that community goes away,” Darby said. “I am supportive of that institution in these communities, and I want to make sure they have all the resources they need to certainly maintain the support of that efficient system of public free schools, which our constitution requires. Anything that takes away from that, I will oppose.”

It’s good these lawmakers are concerned about the needs and well-being of their constituents, but their concerns are misplaced. School choice policies, such as ESAs, would help rather than hurt Texas’s rural communities.

Arizona is a great example of how school choice can better rural students’ academic achievement and even help those who remain within the public education system. The state first passed tax credit scholarships in 1997 and has been expanding education freedom ever since. Far from shriveling up under the weight of choice-oriented policies, Arizona’s rural communities have thrived. From 2007 to 2019, for example, Arizona rural students’ fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress increased by a combined 21 points. Rural schools nationally, however, decreased by 2 points, according to the Heritage Foundation.

The claim that school choice in rural areas isn’t necessary because there are fewer educational options of which to take advantage is also false. About 7 in 10 rural families live within 10 miles of a private elementary school, according to the Heritage Foundation. To use Arizona as an example again, 8 in 10 rural families live in a ZIP code with at least one charter school.

Moreover, increased demand for educational options will inevitably lead to a greater supply. In Florida, another state that has been pro-school choice for years, the number of private schools in rural communities has almost doubled in the past 20 years. When families begin to look outside of the public educational system, the market will rush to fill in the gaps.

There is also no evidence to support critics’ claim that school choice will result in a mass exodus from public schools. In Florida, where more than 70% of students are eligible for choice scholarships, private schools in the state’s rural areas have grown by only 2.4 percentage points since 2012, according to Corey DeAngelis.

And even if this claim were true, and public school students in Florida, Arizona, and other rural states, such as West Virginia, were fleeing the state’s education system in droves, the better question lawmakers ought to consider is: Why are they leaving? Why should so many families feel the need to look elsewhere if the state’s public system is so great?

The facts speak for themselves. Texas’s students, both rural and urban, will greatly benefit from the state’s proposed ESA bill. Lawmakers must not let misinformation — or, more likely, teachers union donations — stand in families’ way.