The challenges Texas students face as they graduate high school, college or other post-K-12 educational pursuits once again reminds how school choice is the “missing link” when it comes to true education reform in the Lone Star State.
Many students are trapped in failing schools. Roughly one in four of today’s ninth-graders never graduate high school. Out of those moving forward, almost half of freshmen require remediation courses upon entering college.
Texas public schools says more money is required, yet decades of increased spending have yielded flat SAT scores.
Concerns exist regarding the workplace as well as college readiness of today’s high school graduates. Employers find today’s college graduates ill prepared for existing white-collar jobs.
In fact, a 2013 study by American Express and Gen Y research firm Millennial Branding found “managers have an overall negative view of young workers, and point to their lack of soft skills regarding communication and interpersonal interactions, time management abilities and willingness to work as a team.”
At the start of the legislative session, Laffer Associates released a study, The Texas Economy and School Choice, jointly commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Association of Business. The study found that a Taxpayer Savings Grant Program, a statewide universal school choice program under consideration by the Texas Legislature offered important benefits to both Texas school children and the state’s economy.
At a January news conference, Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond spoke of the Texas workforce facing a skills gap. He contended post-secondary education is essential and the public school system is graduating neither enough students, nor enough who are career or college-ready.
Hammond described this gap as impacting both businesses and Texas school children. He further noted how competition is essential, and competition in schools serves to improve prospects for all involved.
Economist and report author Art Laffer maintained that besides reducing dropout rates, closing educational achievement gaps and enhancing educational innovation, statewide school choice is a mechanism to stimulate economic growth thereby creating new jobs and incentivizing in-migration to Texas.
Using examples like decreased crime rates, increased wages and enhanced business opportunity, Laffer argued not a single socio-economic measure goes unimproved with the implementation of school choice.
“We live in a competitive world and the introduction of choice to schools is key,” he stated. “Once you get school choice, public schools get scared and all of a sudden start providing a lot higher quality service.”
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, co-author with Jared Meyer of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young, similarly agrees on school choice. At a May book signing in Austin, Furchtgott-Roth called sending children to schools where the graduation rates are only 55 percent “a travesty.”
“We make children go to their neighborhood schools even though they are not very good schools.”
“With food stamps we say you can go to any grocery store you want,” she offered. “There would be a revolution if we said low-income people have to go to their neighborhood grocery stores, but with schools, you have to go to the neighboring schools.”
Despite identifiable problems and strong supporting arguments, school choice was once again thwarted in the recent Texas legislative session. It wasn’t for a lack of broad-based public support. Quite simply, after passing out of the Senate, important school choice legislation was killed in the Texas House by not even being scheduled for a public hearing.
“There remains a great deal to do,” Kent Grusendorf, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Education Freedom, said of future education reform efforts at a recent legislative outcomes discussion.
Quoting Aristotle, Grusendorf, a veteran leader on education issues as both a former Texas House Public Education Committee chairman and former State Board of Education member, reminded that the fate of empires depends on the education of our youth.
“In my opinion, there’s nothing more important that we do in state government than educate our kids,” Grusendorf said. “What society is going to look like in the next several decades is what happens in the classrooms today.”
“Money’s not the problem,” Grusendorf contended, explaining that compared to the ranking’s 36 nations, all but one or two spend less per student than the U.S.
“Money is not the solution,” he concluded. “Money’s not the answer. We’re doing something wrong.”
In turning to higher education, Grusendorf discussed the “best in the world” perception of U.S. colleges and universities.
Noting our great public and private universities, Grusendorf asked for the difference between K-12 and higher education, answering his own question with one word: competition.
“The main difference is universities compete for the students. Every university doesn’t have the best medical school, every university doesn’t have the best engineering school. Kids select the schools that best meet their needs. They have choice, the freedom of choice. That’s the big difference between K-12 and higher education.”
Regarding the Texas school finance lawsuit currently before the Texas Supreme Court, Grusendorf reminded that two-thirds of Texas school districts are “using your tax dollars to sue you for more money.”
“There’s something wrong with that equation. That doesn’t sound right to me.”
School choice, he said, is “the key solution for the education crisis in this state and in this nation.”
Grusendorf cited how empirical studies have found choice improved student performance and public schools. Though isolated studies found no measurable differences, he notes none found school choice as harmful to existing schools.
“We often hear how school choice will ruin public schools, yet just the opposite is true,” he said. “School choice is the only solution to improving public schools.”
As a “winning” issue, school choice could save taxpayers billions, give choice to parents, provide a significant economic boost, improve public schools as well as treat teachers as true professionals.
Moving forward, Grusendorf said a ruling in the school finance litigation effort could offer new opportunity to address school choice in a special legislative session. The 2017 regular legislative session will also again bring life to the issue.
The school finance litigation is about equity for school districts. It’s time, he said, to start asking what’s equitable for students.
“The truth of the matter is monopolies are not very effective in allocating resources,” Grusendorf said. “As long as we have a monopoly system, the only solution by those in the system is going to be to ‘give us more money so we can allocate it in the manner as we’ve been allocating.’ That’s what monopolies do.”
“There’s no competition and there’s no necessity to spend the money in the smartest ways.”