Monday, August 21, 2006

When it comes to schools, Texas parents know best

Aug. 20, 2006, 6:18PM

When it comes to schools, Texas parents know best

Let them decide instead of politicians and bureaucrats


THERE are two sides to the school choice debate. On one side are those who believe politicians and government are best suited to make decisions for our children; on the other are people who believe parents are best suited to choose what is best for their children.


School choice is just that: a chance for parents to choose the best school for their own child. The school choice option being considered in Texas would give parents in large urban school districts the option of changing schools if they prefer and if seats are available. If parents do not want to change or there are no seats available at other public or private schools, everything simply stays as it is today.

When wealthy Texas parents are not satisfied with the school their child attends they have a choice ˜ they move to a better school district or send their child to a private school. For most hard-working Texans, this choice does not exist because they simply cannot afford it. But all parents deserve the right to chose what is best for their child.

It is no comfort to parents who want to send their children to a different school to hear that their child's school will "eventually" improve. Parents and their children cannot afford to wait for their schools to improve; children either learn and develop today or, in most cases, stay a step behind forever.

Generations of Texas children and parents have found themselves with no educational options because they are not rich enough to change addresses or to pay private school tuition. Giving parents the choice of exploring better educational options today with the tax dollars they already pay puts our public policy where it properly belongs ˜ on the side of children hungry to learn and on the side of parents' ability to direct that learning.

There are many reasons why a parent might want to choose a different school for their child. Their current local school may be underperforming; or it may be unsafe and have gang or drug activity. Parents, knowing their own child better than anyone else, may want to choose a school that emphasizes music or the sciences or that has created a more structured academic or behavioral setting. Our public policy should allow the broadest possible menu of educational options because, finally, it is what is best for children that is most important.

Opponents of school choice claim that allowing parents to choose schools will drain money from the public system. This is factually wrong. The school choice pilot program will not be paid for from public education funds. It bears repeating ˜ not one penny will be taken from the Texas education system in order to give parents the choice of the best school for their child. Public education will continue to be funded at the same or greater levels and funding per pupil actually increases. Furthermore, any tax dollars, paid by Texans and spent on educating Texas children, must be tied to accountability measures.

The proposed Texas school choice pilot program is limited to large urban districts with a majority of students who are educationally and economically disadvantaged. To be clear, supporters of school choice support improving all schools. Academic research from scholars at Harvard University shows that school choice programs improve student learning for students choosing to transfer and for those remaining in the public system.

Giving all parents the same ability to find the best school for their child gives power to parents to fulfill to the needs of their children. Under such choice programs, schools are no longer able to take students for granted, but instead must compete to convince parents that they will do the best job in educating their children.

Our campaign has recently funded hundreds of billboards and radio ads inviting parents to participate in education policy and to help enact school choice because parents think first of what is best for their children and because these parents should have the strongest voice in this important public policy debate.

For too long too many legislators have denied parents educational choices while sending their own children to private schools. It's past time that low-income parents had the same education options as the politicians who represent them. It's time to give all parents a choice and every child a chance.

Leininger, a doctor and businessman living in San Antonio, has funded private scholarships for low-income children in San Antonio and other Texas cities and has advocated enactment of school choice programs in Texas for more than 10 years.

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