Three facts about Texas expose a massive contradiction in the state’s governance: Texas has been controlled by Republicans for decades; the Republican Party has made school choice a top policy priority; and yet Texas Republicans have long failed to bring school choice to the families of their state, and have in some cases actively blocked it.
They have the opportunity this week to correct that mistake.
After weeks of back-and-forth between the state House and Senate, lawmakers are set to vote on a bill that would provide families in need with education savings accounts worth up to $10,500 annually. The bill would prioritize low- and middle-income students with disabilities, low-income students in general, middle-income students in general, and then all other students. It would also provide additional resources and funding for public school districts and increase teacher pay.
In other words, public school officials and their teachers union bosses get the extra cash they’re after, and parents get the financial freedom to send their children to a school that best fits their needs.
There are a few key improvements lawmakers should include to make the bill better — the most important being removing a provision that would remove eligibility for students who fail to perform satisfactorily on standardized exams two years in a row. Education freedom shouldn’t be based on merit, especially since Texas taxpayers are still expected to bankroll all public school students regardless of how well they perform academically. One of the purposes of school choice is to level the playing field completely. Raising standards for some students while removing them for others does the exact opposite.
But overall, the bill is a welcome step toward education freedom in the Lone Star State. Democrats are, of course, expected to oppose it, but Republicans have no excuse. Even the rural Republicans who have historically opposed efforts to bring school choice to Texas families cannot argue with the bill’s accommodations for public school districts, which, to be frank, are far more generous than many districts deserve.
The choice before Texas Republicans is simple: If you want to bill yourselves as the party of the family, then start acting like one.