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‘School Choice’ Remains High Priority for Top Texas Lawmakers

The call for school choice remains a high priority for top Texas lawmakers Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick during National School Choice Week (NSCW).

January 24-30 marks this year’s annual series of events held nationwide to raise awareness for school choice. In Texas, more than 1,200 events are planned by advocates including a Friday, Jan. 29 rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin.

Gov. Abbott declared it 2016 “School Choice Week” in a proclamation issued earlier in January. He encouraged Texas families to learn more about available education options, writing: “Every student should have access to the best possible education. Across the Lone Star State, Texans agree that continuing to improve the quality of education is an issue of great importance, and we recognize the critical role that effective and accountable instruction plays in preparing all children in Texas to be successful adults.”

Often associated with charter schools, school choice also includes other education options such as traditional public schools, magnet schools, private and home schools, as well as public education options in those parts of the state where open enrollment policies allow parents to select public schools, regardless of where they reside.

In his proclamation, Abbott voiced support for families’ ability to choose the “educational environment that best suits their children’s needs.” He wrote: “Texans are blessed to have many high-quality, dedicated teaching professionals in all types of education environments. No matter where they decide to send their children, it is important for parents in Texas to explore and identify the best education options available to their sons and daughters, as research demonstrates that providing children with multiple education options improves academic performance.”

Like Abbott, more than two dozen governors and 210 mayors and county leaders nationwide issued proclamations as did Texas mayors from Allen, Amarillo, Arlington, Denton, Irving, Killeen, League City, Lewisville, Midland, Pharr, Richardson and Wichita Falls, plus county leaders from Fort Bend and Smith counties.

On Monday, Jan. 25, Lt. Gov. Patrick released a statement calling school choice one of his top priorities. Since joining the Texas Senate in 2007, Patrick pushed for more school choice. “Giving our children the flexibility of attending a better school, for a better future, is about giving them opportunity. No parent or student should ever feel trapped in a failing school,” he stated.

In December, the Texas Education Agency released its 2016-17 Public Education Grant (PEG) list, a barometer on low performing schools based on poor test scores or unacceptable ratings. The most recent list accounted for 1,532 failing public school and public charter campuses statewide, up from 1,199 the year before, Breitbart Texas reported.

During the 84th legislative session, the state senate tried to pass Senate Bill 4, an education tax credit scholarship modeled after a 2010 Florida program and designed to allow low income and special needs families in failing public schools the assistance to pay for private tuition, but it was stopped in the less enthusiastic Texas House. More recently, Patrick charged the Senate Education Committee with studying school choice programs enacted in other states during the interim period between legislative sessions. “I want Texas to have the best schools in the country and in order to get there, we must empower parents to seek the best school for their children,” he noted in the statement, sharing that the 85th Legislature will see a more school choice comprehensive bill.

Patrick called school choice a victory “for our parents, students and Texas.” On Sun., Jan. 24, Patrick told Dallas ABC-TV affiliate WFAA that school choice is one of his highest priorities elaborating on how Nevada “just passed the most sweeping school choice bill in America,” which he hopes Texans will learn from and implement something similar.

He also echoed sentiments shared by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who, in 2014, called school choice “the civil rights issue of the 21st century” in a speech where he also expressed opposition to the Common Core State Standards. Patrick tweeted: “Happy National School Choice Week! This is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Last year, Abbott and Patrick called for more public charter schools in Texas.

For the fifth year, National School Choice Week spotlights education options for children. Nationwide, a total of 16,140 events are scheduled to take place. Advocates promote the gamut of learning environment such as traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling. In Texas, approximately 2,000-3,000 pro-school choice Texas families, educators and supporters are expected to rally in Austin Friday.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

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