The Texas state legislature has another chance to make things right for school-aged Texans and their families. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called a special legislative session, that began on October 9th, for the legislature to address an education savings account (ESA) bill that has the potential to radically change the lives of thousands of students and teachers in the state.
Historically, ESA bills have not had success in the Texas state legislature. This month’s attempt is the second this year already. Despite school choice being a stated value of the Texas Republican party, education freedom opponents have continuously failed or thwarted ESA bill attempts for a decade. Most recently, Republicans in the House could not gather enough votes this spring for an ESA bill to pass.
However, this time around, some are hopeful that with the combined support of the Governor and Texas parents, it has a better chance of succeeding. Governor Abbot spoke at a parent empowerment rally this week where he assured supporters that school choice efforts are on the brink of long-awaited success.
“I am here to tell you that, contrary to what you may be reading in the newspaper, we are closer than we’ve ever been on a deal that will deliver school choice for you, your families, and all Texans,” said Governor Abbott. “The time for school choice is now in the great state of Texas. As I’ve traveled across the state, I have talked to so many parents and one thing I repeatedly hear in every location I’ve been in is that parents know what is best for their child. Working together, we will deliver school choice and a brighter future for every child across Texas.”
An ESA bill passed by the Texas Senate last week would grant Texas families access to accounts worth $8,000 which can be used for educational expenses such as private school tuition, school supplies, tutoring services, and transportation. The proposal will be considered in the state House, where school choice proposals often fail to pass. Opposition to ESAs in Texas comes from the state’s Democrat representatives, as well as rural House Republicans who falsely assert that school choice will hurt rural communities and Texas public schools.
Funding of alternative educational options like ESAs that aim to fit the needs of individual Texans will have no impact on the funding of Texas public schools. In fact, the state budget passed by the state legislature earlier this year includes $500 million in ESA program funding from the state’s general fund—NOT the Texas public school accounts. Alarmist claims that school choice funding will kill public schools are untrue. As a school choice supporter wrote recently in the San Antonio Express-News, “Texas spends approximately $85 billion every year on K-12 public education. The Legislature is discussing $500 million going toward an ESA program. That’s less than 1% of the K-12 public education budget.”
Rural communities will not be hurt by expanded school choice. Rather, they too will reap the benefits of the opportunities and innovation that follow school choice expansion. ESAs will empower families, no matter where they live, with educational options. That could mean choosing a private school closer to home than their public school, opting for a microschool or homeschool, or using funds for transportation to a school that is further from home than a family can manage on their own.
Regardless of which state a child lives in or the neighborhood in which they reside, all children deserve an education that suits them and supports their individual learning needs. If the Texas state legislature finally passes a comprehensive school choice bill, all Texas students will finally experience the lifelong benefits of high-quality educational opportunities.