Texas takes a big swing for education choice

All eyes are on the Texas House of Representatives after the state Senate passed a bill that would make education choice scholarships available to all Lone Star State students.

SB 1 would create a universal education savings account program that would allow students to apply for $8,000 scholarships they could use to pay for private school tuition, curriculum, and other education-related expenses.

Texas is one of just a handful of states with Republican control of both the legislature and governor’s mansion, but no program on the books to support private educational choice. Gov. Greg Abbott has made changing that a priority, and summoned lawmakers to Austin for a special session. He is among the Republican governors, like Kim Reynolds in Iowa, who have become more assertive in rallying members of their own party to support education choice.

Thursday’s late-night Senate vote shifts the action to the House, where some Republican members, particularly those from rural areas, have faced pressure from school districts to oppose scholarship programs.

Senate bill sponsor Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, is also chairman of the education committee, and sponsor of separate legislation, SB 2, that would commit more than $5 billion over the next two years to shore up public-school funding and raise teacher salaries, prioritizing educators in hard-to-staff rural schools.

“Public education and school choice are my top priorities,” he said Thursday during seven hours of questions and debate over amendments to the bill. “Those harmonize together.”

While Texas has no direct experience with private education choice, Creighton repeatedly pointed to the track record in other states, like Florida, which is currently home to the nation’s largest education choice scholarship programs. Public schools in Miami-Dade County, he noted, have faced heightened competition from a proliferation of school choice options over the past two decades. Yet at the same time, student outcomes in the district’s public schools have steadily improved.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at) sufs.org.