The Texas Senate passed an education choice bill (SB 3), that was amended many times (overview of the latest version) last Thursday that allows lower income households and students with special needs to apply for an education savings account (ESA). It will allow an opportunity to access taxpayer dollars for education services that best meets students' needs instead of them too often being stuck at a public school that doesn't do so.
I'd prefer that the final product of SB 3 was more like the original so it would be a more universal ESA program. This would have allowed many more students the opportunity to use this program.
Regardless, SB 3 is a great step forward for students, teachers, parents, and Texas!
The bill will go to the House now and hopefully make its way to the Governor. It's got an uphill battle, but students and families should have choices in education, just like they do with so many other goods and services, besides only those with the means to afford it.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation along with several other organizations were a key part of the fight for passing SB 3. I had the honor of helping out in that process, as I was surrounded by many individuals who are passionate about providing students, parents, teachers, and all Texans the best opportunities to succeed in the education system.
Here's my recent testimony that summarizes research on fiscal, academic, teacher pay, and economic effects of educational choice through ESAs.
Here is my paper, The Effects of Education Savings Accounts on Teacher Pay in Texas, co-authored with Dr. John Merrifield of the University of Texas at San Antonio that highlights the fiscal savings of ESAs and the resulting opportunities for increases in teacher pay. Here's a summary: "Although public school districts employ roughly 90 percent of teachers in Texas, teachers have little negotiating power in today’s labor market. Budget reallocations at public school districts (with fiscal savings of $165 million) and private schools from ESAs could increase teacher salaries in the first year, with some increasing by as much as $28,000. A more competitive teacher labor markets will gradually contribute to increases in teacher salaries beyond those facilitated by ESAs and improvements in working conditions. It's clear that the freedom to choose in education and teacher labor markets will benefit students, teachers, and all Texans."
Here is my paper, Economic Effects of a Universal ESA Program in Texas, co-authored with Dr. Marty Lueken of Ed Choice that summarizes the economic benefits, fiscal savings, and other positive effects of education choice in Texas. Here's a summary: "Expanding education choice is a smart and sound investment that Texas can make to grow the state’s economy and build a stronger society, creating better matches between students and their education will likely lead to fewer dropouts, which would improve social and labor market outcomes. By expanding school choice, will improve the quality of education for Texas children, lead to higher property values, and spur job creation."
Of course, the results of the passed SB 3 will be less than a universal ESA program in our studies, but the fact remains that by allowing student-centered funding to replace the currently fundamentally flawed school finance system of school district-centered funding, many more students will be able to best meet their needs and benefit in the process.
Let's hope that SB 3 becomes law and that it is the first step toward a universal ESA program in Texas!
Ph.D. Economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Blog posts are publications by the author.