March 7, 2017 Print

Photo credit: Zurijeta/Shutterstock

A school choice bill filed in the Texas Legislature in February would create both an education savings account (ESA) program and a tax credit scholarship program, which would provide students stuck in failing public schools with crucial educational alternatives. Unfortunately, state Rep. Dan Huberty, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, declared on Feb. 28 that he wouldn’t allow any school choice bill through his committee this session — effectively dooming reform until 2019, because Texas legislative sessions meet every other year.

“He’s indicated that he will put his political ambitions ahead of the school children in Texas,” said Randan Steinhauser, executive director of Texans for Education Opportunity and adviser to both National School Choice Week and Atlas Network partner EdChoice, in an article published by Watchdog.org. “By giving in to the superintendents and teachers’ unions in Texas and refusing to hold a vote on school choice, Rep. Huberty has insulted the thousands of families in Texas that would benefit from having another education option.”

The Watchdog.org article, written by reporter Kenric Ward, was picked up on the morning of March 1 by the Tribune, the local newspaper for Huberty’s hometown of Humble, appearing as the top article on the newspaper’s front page, bringing much-needed public attention to the importance of school choice in Texas and providing the media with an immediate rebuttal to Huberty’s statements. Watchdog.org is published by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, an Atlas Network partner based in Alexandria, Va., that trains investigative journalists to advance transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in local governments throughout the United States. The Watchdog.org investigative journalism program is funded in part by a grant from Atlas Network.

“ESAs provide an exciting opportunity for Texas children and the quality of life for future Texans,” said Dr. Vance Ginn, an economist with the Center for Fiscal Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an Atlas Network partner based in Austin, during his testimony before Huberty’s House Public Education Committee on Feb. 28. “ESAs will allow parents to customize educational services for the specific needs of each of their children. Participating parents would agree to accept less than the cost to the state for public school education, and in doing so, would receive an account that could only be used to purchase educational services such as accredited private school tuition, online educational services, books, tutors, therapists, public school services, testing, etc. The account would be accessed either online or through a limited-use debit card and be subject to audit to avoid fraud and abuse. Funds not used in one year would be rolled over for use in future years and could be used for college tuition upon graduation from high school. This ability for parents to shop for better services would dramatically change and improve the delivery of all educational services.”

Although Huberty claims he will block school choice because he wants to focus on reforming public school financing, research shows that ESAs would have a tremendous positive fiscal impact for Texas by saving taxpayer money in multiple ways. Not only would ESAs decrease the direct costs of funding schools, a TPPF study estimates that ESAs would increase the high school graduation rate and decrease the long-term crime rate associated with dropouts, leading to an additional overall taxpayer savings of $194 million by 2035.

“School choice reform continues to be a major issue across the country, and is of particular concern in states like Texas where no choice programs exist at all,” said Nicole Neily, president of the Franklin Center.