On Friday, January 30, supporters of school choice gathered at the Texas Capitol steps in Austin to send a message — they want education reform and they want it now. That was the very sentiment voiced by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) when he participated in the 2014 Houston-held National School Choice Week rally.
“The importance of the pro-school choice rally was to demonstrate to the Texas state legislators what this movement looks like in terms of representation,” Michael Hasson, state director of Americans for Prosperity, told Breitbart Texas, speaking about this year’s Austin-held event.
The idea behind “school choice” is educational options that are decided upon by families in figuring out what are the best education avenues for their children whether it is public, public charter, private, parochial, or home school.
Breitbart Texas covered the recent rally outside the Capitol building. It was attended by a diverse crowd of at least 2,500 students, parents, teachers, elected officials and other school choice advocates. Many were K-12 aged students who spanned the spectrum from those on charter school wait lists to to those trying to transfer from one public school to another both in and out of their home districts. They came from all kinds of families and from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
Hasson noted that this was not about a few kids who wanted to switch schools. “We wanted to showcase how broad and diverse the movement is and we wanted to send a message — this is something greater than education. It is about treating every student like individuals “and empower us to pursue that education.”
The anti-school choice crowd often insists that the school choice movement is trying to dismantle public education. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Michael Keegan, President of the progressive People for the American Way, painted the stereotypical picture of pro-school choice advocates as trying to “privatize schooling, attack teachers and drain taxpayer funds from public schools.”
Not so, said Hasson who said the point of school choice “is to maximize educational opportunities.”
He added, “We want public schools to be as successful as possible. We want them to be the market leaders. Education is the gateway to the American Dream. It’s ridiculous to assume we can eradicate the system. We want to strengthen it.”
According to Hasson, the way to best shore things up “is to introduce the free market into the system.”
Not everyone agrees; yet, in Texas school choice is an issue that has brought political polar opposites like Cruz and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) together. Lee also strongly supports school choice.
The Lone Star pro-school choice movement has been championed by a grassroots Republican Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick. At the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) kick-off to the 84th Legislature, Patrick said that his passion and commitment during the session will be to pass a comprehensive school choice bill, which Breitbart Texas reported.
Previously, as a state senator, Patrick chaired the Senate Education committee. In January, as the newly elected Lt. Governor, he appointed a pro-school choice successor to chair the senate education committee, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Breitbart Texas reported. Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunsfels), who spoke at the Austin pro-school choice rally, also sits on the 84th Legislature’s Senate Education Committee.
Campbell filed Senate Bill 276, dubbed the Taxpayers Savings Grant Program, to “expand access” to private schools. They are also known as “vouchers.” Despite Keegan’s criticisms of tax credits aka “vouchers,” a recent study by the Journal of Public Economics showed the positive long-term benefits for low-income minority students.
“The study’s authors discovered that American-born minority students who received a school voucher enabling them to attend a private elementary school in 1997, were, later on in 2013, found to be 10 percent more likely to enroll in college and 35 percent more likely than their peers in public school to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree,” according to Breitbart News. The students who received vouchers were “18 percent more likely to enroll in college and 61 percent more likely to graduate from college.”
Anti-school choice activists often downplay that many of the movement’s choices are public education options such as inter- and intra-district transfers, public charters, and magnets schools. Instead, they play up the vouchers, which have been maligned for moving public taxpayer dollars into the private sector. Despite the criticism, the school choice movement has become a rally cry for families who are disenchanted with those failing public schools.
In 2o13, Breitbart News reported that 80 percent of college-bound New York City public high school graduates “could not read properly, write or do basic math” and these students had to re-learn these basic skills before they could even attempt higher education. The Big Apple had the lowest graduation rate for black and Hispanic male students in the nation — 37 percent.
Meanwhile, for four-year university bound students, Breitbart Texas reported that most college freshmen in America read only at a 6th or 7th grade level. Federal mandates from No Child Left Behind during the Bush Administration to the Common Core under the Obama administration and the cradle-to-career College and Career Readiness Standards appear to be netting a less educated, yet over-tested and data-tracked society.
Breitbart News reported that Cato, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute and other organizations agree that, when it comes to “school choice,” the generic concept is fine, but it is parental choice—the right and responsibility of parents to choose the best form of education for their children—that is the hallmark of a free society.
One of the disturbing issues nationally about school choice has been that some supporting organizations are supporters of the controversial federally led “one-size-fits-all” Common Core State Standards. That included some of the the school choice event “partners” such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Black Alliance for Education Options, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, according to Breitbart News.
It is a legitimate concern. However, if there is no school choice, there is only one choice — public education — and that may be no choice for far too many of the nation’s K-12 students.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.