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What's the Matter With Texas Republicans When It Comes to School Choice Legislation?

A Commentary By Stephen Moore

 This has been the year for school choice all over the country. At least six additional states joined Arizona and Florida to give parents the funds to send their children to private and charter schools.
   Surprisingly, deep-red Texas is not among these states -- at least not yet. Currently, there is no school choice in the Lone Star State for low-income parents. Gov. Greg Abbott and a broad coalition of parent groups are pushing for the state House to clear a historic education savings account bill that has already passed the state Senate.
   But a small handful of rural Republican politicians in the House are still voting with the Democrats and teachers unions to block a measure that would give over 5 million Texas students and their parents the power to decide which school to attend. Rural representatives are arguing that this would take money from their local grade schools and high schools.
   State Reps. Ken King, a former school board president from Canadian, Texas, Gary VanDeaver, a former school superintendent from New Boston, Texas, and Drew Darby of San Angelo, Texas, are among the Republicans holding up this game-changing bill. They all argue that the public schools in their districts are working just fine.
   Really? King represents a Texas Panhandle school district where less than half of students are at or above grade level in reading, and only 40% of students in his district are at or above grade level in math. VanDeaver represents a northeast Texas district where only 52% of students in his district are at or above grade level in reading, and only 43% are at or above grade level for math. Darby's Central Texas district has less than half of the children reading or doing math at or above grade level.
   An additional Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Ernest Bailes from the small Southeast Texas city of Shepherd, is voting against choice even though only 27% of students are performing at or above grade level in math in his district.
   Are these Republicans really arguing this miserable performance is the best Texas can do for its children? The opponents also fail to acknowledge that the bill they oppose actually directs more money per student for rural district schools and higher pay for teachers. Meanwhile, states such as Arizona report improvements in test scores in rural areas once schools had to compete for students with private schools.
   All this is to say that education choice is proving to be a win-win for Texas children that stay in public schools and the families who are given the funds to opt for better alternatives.
   Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. His latest book is "Govzilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government Is Devouring Our Economy."

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See Other Commentaries by Stephen Moore.

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