Texas is poised to join the growing list of states that have embraced school choice this legislative session. The list includes Arkansas, Iowa, and Utah, with Georgia and Florida also waiting in the wings.
Families of the 5.3 million students in the state could soon be allowed to access up to $8,000 per year, to use for education as their families see fit, as part of new legislation establishing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). The money could be used for private school tuition, private tutoring, transportation to and from school, and textbooks, among other education-related expenses.
Although school choice is discussed most often in the context of urban areas, where high population density means there are relatively many schools in a small geographical area, school choice also benefits students who live in rural areas. In fact, the need to access other school options is particularly salient when options are few and literally far between: If there are only a handful of schools in a 20-mile radius, a family should be able to take their child’s education dollars to every single one of them.
For families who live closer to a private school than a public one, ESAs would allow them to choose a school even closer to home. ESAs would help them physically get to that school by allowing them to pay for transportation, opening up options that aren’t currently served by a public school bus route or public transportation. Though how a child gets to school may seem relatively inconsequential to their overall learning, a study of DC parents demonstrated that distance has a huge influence on the school a family chooses for that child. If distance is a hurdle even in a city of 100 square miles, how much more of an obstacle must it be in rural areas? ESAs help parents and students clear the hurdle to get to the school that best fits their needs.
For the very few who live so far from other schools that choosing another school is not feasible, ESAs can still make a world of difference. Microschools and homeschools both boomed in the wake of the pandemic, and there is no logical reason for the education dollars allocated for a child to flow to a building that the child never sets foot in.
The bill allows parents additional flexibility by including tutoring services in eligible uses of the funds. Families know their children best, and they will be able to use the funding to get their children help tailored to the subjects in which they currently struggle.
One major criticism of school choice in rural areas is that it could potentially wither away public schools, often the centers of spread-out communities, if a great many families choose to leave. A Heritage Foundation study found that this was not the case; public schools do not disappear when families have options.
To the contrary, public schools can even benefit when families who want to leave are allowed to do so. A study of Florida schools found that test scores improved in public schools when school choice was made available. In other words, students did better when school choice was instated, even if they remained in their government-assigned schools. Competition between schools fosters quality in them.
In the unlikely event that a public school is forced to close up shop because so many people have headed for the exits, it bears asking why so many families wanted out. An institution has no business being the center of a community if it’s a black hole instead of a pillar, letting the people down it’s supposed to be lifting up.
Every parent deserves the chance to put their child’s education dollars to work in the way they see fit. The school choice debate has often centered on failing public schools in inner cities, but families deserve options no matter where they live.