Parental Choice in Education: What are the facts?
In Texas we are proud of our freedom. We tend to believe that Texas is the “last best hope of man on Earth,” to quote President Reagan. One notable thing about Texans is that we often assume that the status quo in Texas must be conservative because, well, it’s Texas. But is that really true?
Take, for example, parental choice in education. On the surface, Texas has a seemingly free and open system of education. Any parent can choose public school, private school, charter school, home school or even a hybrid of those options.
So what’s the problem?
The facade of freedom suddenly crumbles when you critically examine how the status quo hampers liberty. Families who choose home school and private school essentially pay for education twice: once for their own kids and once for everyone else’s kids through taxes. So, yes, parents are free to choose private or home schooling, but only after they manage to support public education as well.
Parents shouldn’t have to pay for other children’s education at the expense of being able to afford the best for their own children. That’s not freedom. For those who can manage it financially, the rules still force parents to pay for a public education their kids don’t use.
But… this is Texas. We’re free, right? Not in this case. The government, not parents, is making education decisions for Texas kids. As things stand now, parents have no control over the use of their education tax dollars. The government does.
What’s the solution?
When you consider that tax dollars are funneled into a public education system that is failing countless students, the cost of most private schools is prohibitive, and most families choosing to home school face cutting back to one stream of income, it’s no wonder that the discussion of freedom in education with school choice options has taken the country by storm.
Empowering parents to control their own education dollars is good for families. It’s good for kids. It’s a step toward giving individual liberty back to the taxpayer. It’s a move away from government control. It’s about freedom for families.
While Texas may have been behind the curve on this issue, now that we have gotten around to proposing a solution, it’s a really good solution.
Conservative leaders in Texas and nationwide are proposing various school choice options including Education Savings Accounts (ESA).
What is an ESA?
Stephanie Matthews, Senior Policy Advisor for conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, explains:
“ESAs (in the form of a restricted debit card) can be used for distance learning courses, tutoring services, educational therapies and related aid from accredited and licensed therapists, limited transportation services, tests, books, curricula, tuition and fees for public schools or any accredited private school. Funds not used in one year will be rolled over and can even be used for higher education.”
The rules for ESAs would work the same for home school parents as for other parents. While home schoolers don’t have tuition expenses like a public or private school, ESA funds would still apply to curriculum and other related educational expenses.
Right now, a parent’s education tax dollars go right into the public school system. With an ESA, a portion of those tax dollars would be deposited into a special savings account when the parent chooses this option. The funds would then be managed by the parent.
How does it work and why should we be involved?
ESAs and school choice are popular issues in today’s political climate. Although this is not priority legislation for THSC, we are actively participating in the conversation about how these things will be determined in order to protect home school freedom. The specifics of the bill are underway and home schoolers need to be a part of the conversation.
One of the first things to know about ESAs is that they are optional. If you want to use the funds, you opt in and use the account for educational purposes. All Texas families can take advantage of this opportunity to use their tax dollars for their children’s education. The proposed wording of the bill includes specific statements forbidding any regulation on educational programs, which means ESA eligibility would not be linked to student performance or curriculum in any way.
Funds in the ESAs would roll over from year to year, unlike education tax credits that are forfeited if not claimed in the same tax year.
History shows advances in home school freedom
In 1994, THSC helped establish the liberty Texas home schoolers enjoy today through the Leeper case. During that fight, many in Texas were afraid to draw attention to the home school community by fighting the state’s discriminatory policies. Home school pioneers boldly led the way and by the grace of God saw victory in that case. Once again, THSC is not afraid to stand up for freedom for Texas parents.
To us, it’s simple: Parents, not the government, should have the freedom to make schooling decisions for their own kids.
Through the years, we have seen similar legislative victories and the freedom to home school continues because of these advances in liberty.
- Until 2007, home school students did not have access to the PSAT (the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test). For some home school students, this placed a significant limitation on their options. Now, those who wish to can take the PSAT as home school students and those who do not wish to enjoy the same freedom as before.
- In 2003, THSC helped pass the General Standards law which prevented colleges from discriminating against home school students. Now home school students have the choice to attend state colleges.
- Prior to 2001, home school students were being excluded from dual credit classes at community colleges. THSC won in the fight to gain home school students access to this resource. Now home schoolers have the choice of whether to take dual credit classes or not.
- In 1995, THSC fought to pass parent taught drivers education. Now parents have the choice of whether to teach their kids to drive themselves, and those who don’t wish to, don’t have to.
Stephanie Matthews, summarized the philosophy behind ESA accounts by saying:
“For more than a century, a fundamental question regarding learning has been: who should decide what is best for my child: the government or me? . . . The answer to the question is simple and clear: me. . . . ESAs are managed by parents and used for the exclusive individual benefit of their child.”
What are the facts about school choice and ESAs?
Who supports ESAs?
In Texas, nearly every major conservative group and conservative lawmaker supports school choice. The list of conservative groups and leaders who support ESAs is long. Very long. A few prominent names are:
- U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
- Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
- Senator (and home school dad) Don Huffines
- Texas Public Policy Foundation
- The Cato Institute
- Americans For Prosperity
- The Heritage Foundation
- Texans for Education Opportunity
10/13/16 UPDATE: Home School Legal Defense Association was previously included in the list of ESA supporters. THSC sought and received clarification from HSLDA that the ESAs discussed in this post are different from those discussed in the HSLDA article originally linked.
In Texas, 84 percent of Republican voters said that they would support school choice —giving the parent more control over the use of their own education dollars —but Texas currently has no form of school choice.
Have these types of programs been successful in other states?
With 61 programs in 30 different states, you might expect that each state has adopted slightly various solutions. However, two things have been fairly universal:
- Parents are given more control over the use of their education dollars.
- Parents overwhelmingly support the programs.
In New Hampshire, 78.6 percent of parents who used the Scholarship Tax Credit (STC) program said that they were more satisfied with their new options as compared to their former options.
The colossal amount of data showing the positive effects of giving parents more control is so overwhelming that Harvard professor Paul Peterson summarized the data by saying that if the parent’s satisfaction was the only thing that mattered then, “school choice is a clear winner.”
So what are the downsides to school choice and ESAs?
Well, according to a survey of 100 studies on school choice by both opponents and supporters, there really are none.
Not only has the impact been incredibly positive across the board, but parents have voiced overwhelming approval in states that have passed school choice programs. And Texas home school freedom has never been hindered by the expansion of liberty. Not in 1994, 1995, 2001, 2003, or 2007.
The undeniable message of the overwhelmingly positive data from all over the country shows exactly what supporters of parental choice have argued all along; parents can control their child’s education more effectively, more economically, and with better results than the government can ever hope to do.
So will parents lose their current freedoms by taking control of their education tax dollars? History and the facts say: No.
If we were keeping score, the scoreboard would show:
Parental Control: 1
Government bureaucracy: Out cold
The Bottom Line
The government controls the educational funding paid by every Texas family. Parents of more than an estimated 600,000 students in Texas are paying twice for their kids’ education, and others are stuck without options. It is time for Texas to step up and be the beacon of freedom we pride ourselves in being. Let’s put control back into the hands of parents and raise up another generation of leaders who can keep the liberty they’ll inherit.
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