Last week, Texas House members unveiled their first attempt at a compromise with Gov. Greg Abbott on a bill to promote school choice in the Lone Star State.
Upfront, it should be stated that it is encouraging to see Texas House Republicans coming to the negotiating table on something so important. However, with a first-year enrollment cap of only 25,000 students — further delaying an opportunity for so many to receive a quality education — and total per-student funding equating to only roughly half the cost of private school tuition, the House bill doesn’t cut it.
But it’s a start.
It’s curious what objections rural Republican holdouts in the legislature have remaining, given that many of their concerns were addressed in the Senate-passed school choice legislation.
For rural districts concerned about a loss of funding (leading to potentially a loss of employment), the Senate-passed bill included Amendment 22, which would give small school districts that experience a decline in enrollment $10,000 per student for a period of three years. This $10,000 per pupil allocation is significantly more than the roughly $6,000 the state spends per-student in the first place.
While this funding would phase out, public school districts are more than made whole upfront, while benefiting from smaller class sizes. Enabling greater competition in education will inevitably create more opportunities for new schools — and new employment — even in rural districts.
A more peculiar argument made by opponents of school choice is that rural districts do not stand to gain from it. Regardless of how many current private school options exist in any given district (which, again, inevitably increases if you level the educational playing field) — and regardless of the popularity of the local public school district — basic economics tells us why this is still so important for rural Texans.
As famed supply-side economist Robert Mundell would tell his followers, “the only closed economy is the world economy.” Or, as John F. Kennedy expressed in a similar sentiment, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Rural districts are not closed off from the rest of the state. All Texans benefit from a state with greater access to education geared toward a child’s own individual success.
Make no mistake, the economic benefits of passing school choice in Texas are tremendous. This is a promise of school choice, and this is what the Texas House is dragging its feet on.
While the Abbott administration has stated the House-passed bill differs from what the governor’s office had negotiated, a spokesman for the administration did note, “Speaker Phelan agreed to continue to work with Gov. Abbott on the agreed-upon principles of school choice.”
All eyes are on House Speaker Dade Phelan to keep this pledge, negotiate in good faith, and find a compromise that gives all children in Texas access to a quality education best tailored to their individual needs.
House Speaker Dade Phelan — seize the opportunity. Etch your name in history as a politician who delivered a true education transformation in the Lone Star State, while turbocharging the state’s economy for generations.
The House bill was a step forward. Now let’s get real school choice over the finish line.
Sarah Jane Allen is the co-founder of the Viante Foundation, which promotes school choice