Texas lawmakers face another round of school choice bills

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s an ongoing and hot topic: Should families be able to move their kids — with property tax dollars — to private schools or other school districts?

“School choice gives every child, regardless of his or her background, a chance to dream big,” Sen.Ted Cruz said in an online video supporting National School Choice Week.

Over the years, more and more families have voiced the opinion that one size of school doesn’t fit all. Many look to the state government in Austin to shake up the way we educate our kids.

Jose Toscano immigrated here years ago, wanting to give his three kids the education he never had.

“We moved 11 times, looking for a better school,” he said.

They moved from Austin to Round Rock, so if the money ran out for St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, they had a backup.

“We were always thinking, ‘What if some day we couldn’t afford the private school?” said Toscano.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the new conservative Senate plan to find an answer to that question.

“If you’re a parent working in the inner cities who doesn’t have the money for private school and has to take the bus to work and can’t move to the suburbs, that parent, that grandparent, that guardian does not have choice,” Patrick said. “I’m going to fight to give that parent choice for their children because they deserve it.”

Sen. Donna Campbell has filed a number of bills to change the barriers parents have in picking schools. One of them, called the Taxpayer Saving Grants Program, would take 60 percent of the tax dollars spent on each child’s education and move it to another district or a private school — along with the student. The other 40 percent would go back to the state and its general revenue fund. The idea is commonly called a voucher program.

“It would have helped tremendously,” said Toscano, who explained he wouldn’t mind if his property tax dollars in Round Rock paid for a family to send their kid to school in Austin or another district.

That idea could be hard to shake this session. Texas school districts have been in place for decades

AISD has done a lot of work to try to diversify its schools, programs and courses. First, they have the neighborhood schools. For many years, they’ve had individual and specialized magnet programs which draw kids from neighborhoods across the city. Recently, they’ve added the Ann Richards School of Young Women Leaders. Families can apply to transfer to schools within the district to fit their learning environment.

“For Austin, we have an all-time high of graduation rates,” said AISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz. “We continue to perform better every single year. So for us, we do think that it’s important to provide an array of programs and opportunities for our students.”

The rub will come if students are able to leave their assigned districts with state money. Schools in the country could fight it because there may not be private schools or other districts nearby. Many think this would hurt inner-city schools as people flee to the suburbs.

The coming debate in Texas will go down in the education committees.

Sen. Larry Taylor (R – Friendswood) serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee. There’s a lot of talk about how conservative the Senate is, so Texans will have to wait and see which ideas get through.

Last week, Jimmie Don Aycock, who chaired the House Public Education Committee last session, said we need to be careful about where these vouchers go. He told the Texas Tribune lawmakers should make sure state dollars go to accredited schools. He also says lawmakers need to make sure they’re OK with state dollars going to religious schools — Christian, Muslim, Jewish and otherwise.

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