School choice debate ensues in Texas gubernatorial race

A female student sits at her desk while she writes on a piece of paper. |

The ongoing debate over school choice has become an emerging topic in the Texas gubernatorial race as thousands of students across the country have left public schools, citing discussions of how such policies could have an impact on student outcomes and school districts.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott expressed support for school vouchers in May, arguing that parents should be allowed to use taxpayers’ money to send their children to the school of their choice.

However, Abbott’s Democratic challenger, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, is expressing concern that such policies could cripple traditional public education in some areas.

As the Texas Tribune reported last month, O’Rourke’s campaign spent about $40,000 on newspaper ads warning voters that they shouldn’t “let Greg Abbott privatize public education in Abilene”.

In July, O’Rourke claimed in a speech to rural Texans that the current governor had “left behind” some rural communities.

“For our rural communities, where there’s only one school district and one public school option, he wants to pay that back through vouchers, take your taxes out of your classroom and send them to a private school. in Dallas or Austin or wherever at your expense,” O’Rourke said.

The Houston-based KHOU-11 reported in August that Abbott was seeking to motivate his conservative base on education issues with a heavy emphasis on school choice and vouchers.

The race’s focus on school choice comes as U.S. public school systems have hemorrhaged students since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. According to a report by the research group No According to Education Next supporter, 2 million fewer students have been enrolled in public schools without a charter since the spring of 2020, when many states and localities closed in-person instruction in public schools.

Arizona passed one of the most sweeping school choice laws in the nation in July, a choice that law school supporters hope will serve as a model for other states.

The law ensures that all K-12 students in the state are eligible for scholarship funds, with families participating in the program receiving $6,500 per year per child for private school, education at home, tutoring or micro-schools.

Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank, argued in a statement Thursday to the Christian Post that O’Rourke focused on systems rather than students.

The researcher also said Abbott’s challenger comments showed a lack of trust in public schools because the only way to lose money was for parents to move their children elsewhere.

“The reality is that most people are happy with their local district school, so school choice policies have not produced a mass exodus,” Bedrick wrote. “However, no school can better meet the needs of all students. When a student’s assigned school is simply not the right one, school choice can be a boon.”

Bedrick claimed that school choice is one of the most studied educational policies and that the results are “overwhelmingly positive.”

Citing research from EdChoice, a nonprofit that advocates for school choice, Bedrick argued that some benefits of school choice policies include higher test scores and increased racial integration. According to EdChoice, there were at least 76 private school choice programs operating in 32 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico with over 600,000 student participants as of April 2022.

“School choice policies even have a positive effect on the performance of traditional public schools due to the healthy competition resulting from a much wider selection of education providers,” he wrote.

“Choice policies are also associated with significantly higher levels of parental satisfaction and save taxpayers money.”

EdChoice reports that in 17 random assignment studies of the effects of school choice on student test scores, 11 found positive results for the entire sample or at least one.
subsample of students studied. Four found no visible effect and three found negative results for all or some of the students.

In seven studies of the effect of school choice on academic achievement, five found positive effects, two found no visible effects, and no studies found negative effects.

EdChoice also listed 28 studies on the effects of school choice on public school performance. Twenty-five studies found it had a positive outcome for schools, one found no visible effect, and two studies found negative effects.

In 11 studies assessing the effect of school choice on students’ tolerance of others and civic knowledge, six studies found that school choice policies were associated with positive outcomes in this regard. Reportedly, no studies provided by EdChoice have found that school choice negatively impacts students’ values ​​and civic practices.

The American Federation of Teachers argues that the vouchers will primarily serve as tax relief for wealthy families who can afford to send their children to private schools.

Zeph Capo of the Texas American Federation of Teachers told KHOU-11 in August that voucher programs “really haven’t worked well.”

“In fact, most of the evidence shows that it’s actually a waste of money and hasn’t actually improved education,” Capo said.

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