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Guest Column

Out of touch on school choice


In his January 16 opinion article, State Representative Glenn Rogers argues against school choice policies by leaning on fallacious assertions and uncited evidence. Not only is Rogers’s anti-school choice position built on rhetorical quicksand, he also stands against school choice programs despite the majority of his constituents supporting them. 

In Texas, like the rest of the country, students are assigned to a public school based on where they live. For many students, that system works great, and we should celebrate it. However, as evidenced by state performance data, residentially assigned schools aren’t working for every student. When a student’s assigned school does not meet their needs, they usually have limited options. For affluent families, it’s easy to pay for a private school out of pocket or geographically move to a new school district. - but those opportunities often remain out of reach for low-income and working-class families. 

School choice programs, sometimes referred to as “vouchers,” allow families to use the dollars allocated for their child’s education at their chosen school. That could be their residentially assigned public school, or they could choose to enroll in a private school. Legislation proposed in Texas last year, House Bill 1, would have made $10,500 available to families with low-income and students with special needs at the front of the line. The bill was supported by Governor Gregg Abbott, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, and passed the State Senate by a comfortable margin. Unfortunately, Rep. Rogers and others in the House struck down the bill. 

Rep. Rogers stood with powerful public-sector unions (they endorsed him in his last election)* and other members of the education establishment to stop school choice.  They believe the only way to support students is by exclusively funding public schools — at the expense of giving parents school choice. But HB1 not only included school choice, it also attempted to send $7 billion additional dollars to public schools and give $4,000 raises to teachers – a true “all of the above” proposal to improve education across Texas. Rogers and his anti-school choice colleagues decided to scuttle the entire bill entirely.

Why? He claims that school choice will hurt public schools. But powerful evidence shows that school choice makes public schools better. Twenty-six out of twenty-nine academic studies indicate that public schools improve when exposed to private school choice programs because the competitive effect forces them to up their game. 

Shoppers aren’t taking money from Walmart when they choose to shop at HEB (though Walmart might claim they are). Empirical evidence shows that it’s the same with education; the forces of competition result in a more enjoyable shopping experience for the consumer. 

Public schools are essential but cannot serve every kid’s unique needs. Our goal shouldn’t be to prop up a system of schools; it should be to support the education of students. 

I know firsthand how school choice can impact a student’s life. Before making Texas my home, I received a school choice scholarship while growing up in Florida. It was imperative to my parents that I obtain a high-quality education that met our academic expectations and aligned with our family values. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford private education on our own. A school choice scholarship made my education possible and led me to become the first in my family to graduate college. 

As I remarked before the Texas Senate Education Committee, I attended one of the best public schools in Florida, but that school was not right for me. While other kids thrived, I struggled emotionally, morally, and academically. I needed the smaller, more personal environment of a private school to make my education successful, and that was only possible for my family because of school choice.

Texans should ask Rep. Rogers and others who oppose school voucher proposals: if the only way to protect public schools is to deny families like mine a choice, isn’t it time to rethink the system?  

HB1 would not have created a perfect program, and school choice policies are not blanket solutions to all the problems facing our education system. For instance, the Texas legislature should consider increasing the ESA amount so that more families can afford private school education – which would directly address one of Rep. Roger’s alleged concerns. 

But instead of working with his colleagues to strengthen the proposal, Rep. Rogers joined all House Democrats and sided with liberal teachers’ unions* to kill school choice and prevent families from having a choice in their education. It doesn’t get less “conservative” than that.

It’s unlikely that Rep. Rogers’s failure to support his constituents will fare well for him during his re-election campaign. During the 2022 midterm elections, Texas Republican primary voters were asked for their stance on school choice. In each of Texas’ ten-most rural counties, at least 75% of voters indicated support for school choice policies. In Rep. Rogers’s district, 88% of voters supported the statement, “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.” Thankfully, the voters have the opportunity to have their voice heard in the primary election on March 5th.

Texas has a long history interwoven with the values of personal freedom, choice, and competition. Texans should ensure that our children’s future includes those virtues when they go to the ballot box this year. 

Nathan Cunneen is the Director of Strategic Analysis at the American Federation for Children in Columbia, Maryland. He resides in Dallas, Texas. 

*EDITOR’S NOTE: There are no teachers’ unions in Texas.
In our fact checking, we could find no endorsements of Rogers
from unions of any kind.


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