State-funded “school choice” fails to introduce proper education reform

G. Elliott Morris

In the United States, Texas has consistently ranked among the lowest in education quality and finance, and it’s not looking to change any time soon. Instead of fixing the broken funding mechanisms of Texas public schools, Capitol Hill lawmakers seek to pass new “school choice” legislation that provides tuition vouchers for students to attend charter and private schools on the government’s dime. This idea for charter and private school vouchers has also reached the national stage recently as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Department of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a funding voucher crusader

But our state officials shouldn’t be pedaling a non-fix for our public school system. Should we be prioritizing freedom of school choice over the failing quality of public education? I think not.

Let’s not mince words — this is an argument against states subsidizing charter and private school education. A state, might I add, that has a crippled public education funding mechanism. Just last year, the Texas Supreme Court — known for its conservative justices — called the funding system “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect,” and said that it satisfies only the minimum constitutional requirements. This is largely a criticism of the State’s “Robin Hood” funding apparatus which redistributes funds from the richer school districts to those in need. It remains true that the Texas Government is failing to provide adequate funding for its public school system. 

Yet, instead of finding a fix to the hallmark of government — Thomas Jefferson once said that “light and liberty” go hand-in-hand — the Legislature would like to divert funds to charter and private schools. Although one could argue that this is a classic case of government failing to prioritize a problem, I disagree. The Texas Government is fully focused on the failed funding mechanism of its public school system, but its solution is simply foolhardy. 

According to data from the 2015 American Community Survey (an arm of the U.S. Census), states with charter school laws are more likely to graduate students from high school and send them to college, albeit only by about 5 percent. Comparing no-charter states with Texas, however, the deficit grows to about 12 percent.

Should Texans really be forced to subsidize a government-led charter school initiative that could very well depress current levels of high school and college graduation? Or are these cross-sectional comparisons falling victim to demographic and financial differences? To be sure, let’s peer into the success of a demographically, financially similar state’s voucher program — that of Louisiana. 

A study released earlier this year by the Education Research Alliance found that a similar “school choice” voucher program decreased student’s statewide test scores by 9 percent in English language arts and a whopping 27 percent in mathematics. The study also found that Louisiana’s program had absolutely zero non-educational benefits, like political tolerance or “non-academic skills.”

It’s safe to say that charter schools and voucher programs do not have a proven track record in increasing the quality of public education. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise. If Texans want the government to follow up on their responsibility to provide light and ensure liberty, they should demand a fix for the public school system — lest the conservative wing of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Texas GOP can hijack our children’s future in the name of “freedom of choice.”

Morris is a computer science, government and history junior from Port Aransas. Follow him on Twitter @GElliottMorris.