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Texas needs universal school choice ​now​
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Texas needs universal school choice ​now​

So why are Republican Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and two dozen rural representatives standing in the way?

Our rights as parents come from God, not government.

Unfortunately, Texas is one of only 18 states where parents do not have the final say on their child’s education, even though school choice is sweeping the country and 32 states have already passed some form of it — with more to follow.

Yes, big, deep-red Texas doesn’t have school choice.

The abysmal education statistics here are staggering. Texas children deserve better.

Just this year alone, seven states have already established new school choice programs or expanded existing ones. Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa are among the states that went from no program at all to a universal one in 2023.

Texas needs to be next.

Governor Greg Abbott (R) called a special legislative session so that legislators could enact school choice. He’s aggressively pushing them to make this happen. He’s even gone so far as to threaten those Republicans who oppose school choice with primary opponents if legislation doesn’t pass. He is willing to campaign against incumbent Republicans if they stand in the way of school choice — or, perhaps better said, if they stand in the way of parental empowerment.

Good for Governor Abbott. He’s following in the courageous footsteps of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R), who did the same. She demanded school choice, but Republican legislators kept it from happening. She pummeled them politically, and now Iowa is a leader in school choice, with one of the best programs in the nation.

And we have similarly seen some fantastic universal school choice programs signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in Florida, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) in Arkansas, and numbers of other states.

What is so maddening about Texas is that it has just one chamber in its legislature. And just one leader in that chamber is standing in the way. That leader is Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan (R).

Phelan has empowered 24 rural Republicans who oppose school choice to control the fate of school choice in all of Texas. In the special session just called by Abbott, Phelan stacked the Education Committee with a majority of anti-school-choice Republicans, and they refused to approve or pass any type of robust universal school choice program.

Abbott will likely need to call the legislators back for another special session on school choice, but with Phelan in charge of the House, it is not likely it will pass in that session either. Or the one after that — or the next one.

Dade Phelan is the only major Republican figure in Texas who is on the wrong side of this issue. Both of the Lone Star State’s U.S. senators support universal school choice. So do the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the rest of the statewide elected officials.

Look for the RINO label

The term RINO — “Republican in name only” — is often thrown around too casually. Many fine conservatives get unfairly tagged with the label. But in the case of Dade Phelan, the label fits.

The Texas House under Phelan’s speakership has killed many good conservative measures. In the general session, Phelan not blocked not only school choice but also border security measures as well as tax reduction and tax reform bills. Phelan also decided to keep alive COVID masking for Texas universities.

Phelan actually appointed a liberal Democrat to chair the criminal jurisprudence committee, so our pro-law-enforcement measures in Texas were killed. One of Phelan’s chief House officials is a liberal Democrat who was an Obama White House attorney and who now works for a law firm hired to kill conservative priorities.

No wonder Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R) has called on Phelan to resign.

Republican House members need to get a backbone and get themselves a different speaker, someone who is not a certified RINO. In Texas, Phelan is the primary roadblock to parental empowerment and universal school choice.

And think about how he is protecting and promoting socialism in Texas.

Rotten results in Texas

Socialism is based on government monopolies and government control. It holds the big-government view that one size fits all. Socialism hates competition.

The free market is based on competition, and the more robust the competition and the more choices someone has, the better the final product tends to be.

Without a doubt, this is true for school choice.

Of the 73 independent studies done on school choice programs across the country, 93% found they not only resulted in taxpayer savings but also produced higher academic outcomes. And not a single study found any negative effects on racial or ethnic diversity.

Children's education should not be determined by their economic status and by the zip code their parents can afford. How discriminatory! Parents should also have the choice of what school they send their children to.

The real problem is our philosophy of education that excludes competition, better ideas, better content, and more efficient and effective teaching methods.

The results of socialism are never good, especially when they occur in Texas.

Let me tell you, it is not good in Texas. The abysmal education statistics here are staggering. Texas children deserve better.

The results of what Texas calls the STAAR test tell you everything you need to know.

This is the official state assessment test to determine how well students in grades 3 through 8 are performing academically. It measures the percentage of students performing at grade level to see if they are where they should be educationally.

According to the most recent testing results, the average percentage of students performing at grade level in Texas in the following subjects is only:

  • 39.5% for reading;
  • 29% for writing;
  • 33.2% for math;
  • 35.5% for science;
  • 27% for social studies.

The most recent testing results show that anywhere from 60% to 73% — that is, from two-thirds to three-quarters of Texas students — are performing below grade level.

This is unacceptable. We have to do better for kids in Texas.

In any sane grading system, these are failing scores — and not by a narrow margin. Texas testing results are abysmally and embarrassingly low, going past deplorable and approaching appalling. If Texas education were part of the free-market system, this embarrassment would have been completely reorganized and retooled long ago.

Yet our state continues to pour money into this failing system. Just this year, Texas teachers just got a 22% pay raise, and the state currently provides to schools more than $11,000 per student per year. Yet teachers and schools are demanding even more money.

Let me stress this again: For $11,000 per student, more than 60% of our kids are performing below grade level. Any parents in Texas feel like you could take that $11,000 and bring it to a school that would give your child a better education?

While some teachers may be underpaid, that is not the problem here. School choice in other states has clearly proven that money is not the issue. Students across the nation are getting higher scores at considerably less expense. The real problem is our philosophy of education that excludes competition, better ideas, better content, and more efficient and effective teaching methods.

Rural parents deserve a choice too

Dade Phelan, teacher education groups, and the rural Republicans who oppose free-market competition in education are putting the interests of the system above the interests of kids. They care more about the status quo than about the students. Texas needs to stop being socialistic in education.

Last year on the Republican primary referendum ballot, 88% of Texas Republicans voted in favor of universal school choice. And statewide polling shows that overall, 74% of Texas parents with schoolchildren support educational choice. This support is across both sides of the political aisle. This high number includes support from Democrats as well as Republicans, all races and ethnicities, and both rural and urban areas. Phelan is out of step not only with Republicans but with the entire state.

The two dozen rural Republican state representatives whom Phelan has gathered around him on this issue claim their rural schools are good and that no change is needed. But if their schools are as good as they believe, then they don’t need to fear that students and parents will leave if given a choice. Yet apparently they do fear this.

And they also wrongly assume that because their schools are rural, they are not woke. But things are not as they seem. Although some 81% of rural Texans vote Republican, an amazing 92% of political contributions made by rural teachers go to Democrats.

These representatives, believing their own school districts need no change, are selfishly denying millions of Texas schoolchildren throughout the rest of the state an opportunity to choose a quality education. They are standing in the way of the more than 60% of students who currently are not performing at grade level, and they are denying students in the inner cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and elsewhere an opportunity for a good education.

School choice is the civil rights issue of our time. It is time for Texas to step up and create a universal school choice program as our neighbors in Oklahoma and Arkansas have done.

If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the results we’ve been getting. It’s time for a change.

Rural communities are not liberal or socialistic; they don’t oppose competition. They, too, need school choice. In fact, of the 10 most rural states in America, eight already have school choice with private options. And the other two (Kentucky and North Dakota) are currently working on passing school choice.

Consumers want choices, whether in their selection of cars, restaurants, entertainment, clothing, or anything else. Choice and competition always improve the quality of a product, and this includes school education.

Also, let’s not ignore the fact that in the last few years the U.S. Supreme Court has held in multiple cases that school choice is constitutional. And in three of those cases, it ruled that in universal school choice programs, parents can have the right to choose even religious schools for their kids.

The court’s decisions in these cases may be the most important education decisions since Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in education because they open the door to full vindication of Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity for all, including people of faith. In Texas, we trust parents to make decisions about their children’s education, yet Phelan and his rural Republican cohorts clearly don’t trust parents.

A genuine awakening among moms and dads

And what do Texas Democrats have to say about school choice? True to form, progressive interest groups are labeling school choice racist. They call giving underprivileged Americans the chance at a private education an act of bigotry. This is an affront to common decency, not to mention common sense, but we can’t expect leftists to act decently or think logically. We’ve come to expect them to use smears, fear, and bullying when they can’t win an argument on logic and ideas, and this is what they are doing with school choice.

They even use phony front groups like Pastors for Children to make the claim, in some bizarre twist, that school choice is un-Christian. Ridiculous! We all know that Catholics, Baptists, and Christians of all stripes want school choice. They want the option to choose what they believe to be the best educational approach for their children. Every parent does.

Texas boasts about being the biggest and best in almost every way — and we think there’s a lot of truth in that and a lot for Texans to brag about. But on school choice, Texas is definitely behind the curve — far behind the curve.

During COVID, parents were given an up-close look into their children’s education, and what they saw disturbed them. They saw the curriculum and the lesson materials being taught, not to mention the mask mandates. As a result, we have seen a genuine awakening of moms and dads worried about their children’s future.

Children deserve better in Texas. They are being failed by a broken system. Texas must listen, answer that call, and pass a school choice bill that allows parents to decide which education option works best for their children according to their values – the option that will actually give them the best chance at success in life. We cannot continue to have more than 60% performing under grade level.

School choice is the civil rights issue of our time. It is time for Texas to step up and create a universal school choice program as our neighbors in Oklahoma and Arkansas have done.

How you can take action

Governor Abbott is planning to call the legislature back again and again in special sessions until a robust universal school choice measure is passed.

Will the Texas speaker and House of Representatives do the right thing? If not, the representatives in the House should call for and vote in a new speaker of the House.

If you live in Texas, there are specific things you can do right now to make a difference. There is a powerful tool you can use, and you can connect your friends in Texas to this tool.

It’s critical that your Texas representatives hear from you right now. There is a very simple and direct way you can do this today. And I urge you, if you are not in Texas but know people who are, please encourage them to do this.

Text KIDS to 80550, or go to the website Texas4SchoolChoice.org. You will get your representative's phone number, email, and address. These are three effective ways you can make your voice heard. I suggest you do all three.

Also, there is a button on the website; if you click it, it will call your representative’s office. (Remember to call during working hours.)

And there’s another button on the website you can click that will send an email directly to your specific representative.

Tell your representatives you want universal school choice and that if Dade Phelan stands in the way, you want a new speaker. Do not be mean or threatening. Just remind them that this is important for Texas and for our kids.

So text KIDS to 80550, or go to the website Texas4SchoolChoice.org.

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