Customized educations on the table for Texas students

FILE - Texas classroom (NEXSTAR File Photo)
FILE - Texas classroom (NEXSTAR File Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Parents could soon see more choices — outside of public school — when it comes to their children’s education.

State lawmakers discussed the value of letting Texas parents pick where their kids go to school, Monday.

Former member of the Texas House, Kent Grusendorf presented plans for what’s called an “education savings account” to the Public Education Committee he once chaired Monday.

Now the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Grusendorf detailed the “cafeteria style” program that would allow parents to pick out a customized education plan for their kids. “The only way we fix our public schools is to provide a choice,” Grusendorf said.

The proposed education savings account would give parents the option to use a portion of their local property taxes to help pay for tuition at private schools, tutoring and services for students with special needs.

“It’s a mechanism to provide those families with access to private schools that they may not be able to afford,” said Randan Steinhauser, Texas adviser for EdChoice and executive director of Texans for Education Opportunity.

“My concern is we don’t do something with good intentions that causes great damage,” said Representative Marsha Farney. The Georgetown republican called said the choice initiative comes across as a “social experiment at the cost of the children and the taxpayers.”

Ed Martin with the Texas State Teachers Association said, “That’s what these so-called choice voucher programs do, they put a price on what a kid’s worth.”

Critics, like TSTA, argue the choice movement would take tax money away from local school districts and cripple the already underfunded public school system. “We simply can’t afford to fund two separate school systems — one public, one private,” Martin said.

As he sees it, the solution is to invest in public schools, not reduce funds from local taxpayers. “Our public schools have been struggling in some cases to do a lot more with less,” Martin said the public school system has done “a pretty darn good job” but he fears the choice movement will undermine local school districts.

Proponents of the choice program said this is not a battle between public and private schools. “What we don’t want to see is children basically being forced or condemned to go to a failing school when there could be other options,” said Rafa Bejar, Texas State Director of The Libre Initiative.

Choice supporters said nearly one million Texas kids attend “failing schools” statewide and currently more than 120,000 children on wait lists for charter schools.

Bejar believes the competition from private and charter schools would actually help public schools. “That’s what we are looking for,” Bejar said, “better education for all of our children.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has long argued all Texas children should have the right to go to the school of their choice, calling it a “civil rights issue.”

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