Sunday, February 08, 2015

Commentary: School choice is crucial for Texas economy

"School choice," or vouchers (or "scholarships," as they're being called) worth $5000.00 a piece per child is a terrible choice. Take the Khabele School website featured here in this very article about so-called "school choice":  It's very expensive and $5K still won't get most families through the door.  At best, it'll be a subsidy for the middle class which is what folks like Bill Hammond and Kent Grusendorf want. 

How does that make sense?  You pay a doctor to perform an operation. What if you can only afford up to half of it (if that much).  Is the doctor supposed to perform only a half of the operation?  That is what we are in effect saying with legislation like this:  School choice is the best education that you can buy.  Ironically, this is something that you can see very clearly from this link to the Khabele School website.  Not to disrespect Khabele, by the way.  Private options are great to have for those that want and can afford them.  That's why they're called "private schools."  To sacrifice the public's hard-earned, tax dollars—that should go toward public education—on the altar of "school choice" is disingenuous, at best, and a money grab, at worst.

Privatizing public education—publicly-funded vouchers—will further create a system whereby (unlike public schools) they eliminate those structures like school boards about which we have a vote. Education reduces to a contract between a school and a parent, curtailing many children's rights to services like bilingual education and specific classroom environments needed for many special education children, etc. And then to top it off, voucher-receiving private schools don't want and are "conveniently" not subject to public accountability.  Major rip off!  Take the money and run!

Even when they say that they advocate for the public interest, this, too, is a smokescreen.  They clearly lack a commitment to the very hard work of fixing our public schools. Plus, who are they anyway?  Our state beat down vouchers for over a decade.  Our community is clearly supportive of public education.  Most of us are products of public education.  Not that we are by any means apologists for its excesses to the degree that they exist—and high-stakes testing policies are a great example of this—but rather that public schools have always been the bedrock of our democracy.  And if there is a problem with our democracy, the solution isn't to end it.  The solution in all instances is MORE democracy.

Their proposals are an empty bag of promises that will (further) distract us from the important work that must be done to eliminate high-stakes test, equitably and adequately fund public education and expand opportunities for our state's large and growing minority—Latino and African American— demographic.

Though not perfect and always a work in progress, let's mend and not end public education.


Commentary: School choice is crucial for Texas economy

By Bill Hammond and Kent Grusendorf - Special to the American-Statesman

The goal for Texas is, and always has been, to be number one. Texans want and deserve a strong economy now and in the future. Texans want and deserve the best educational opportunities for every single child. Strong economies, however, are dependent on great educational results.
There is one way to assure Texas’ dominance on the economic front in future years, a way to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, a way to boost the overall economy by up to 30 percent and increase property values in Texas by 20 percent or more. In addition to those huge economic benefits, at the same time we can drive up teacher pay, improve working conditions for teachers and improve the performance of our public schools.
A recent report by Arthur Laffer summarizes these findings. That report can be found at Laffer found phenomenal economic benefits stemming from parental choice in education. For example, he says that passage of the Taxpayer Savings Grant program, as filed by state Sen. Donna Campbell, would have the effect of adding the economies of nine other states to the Texas economy.
The positive economic impact would be the result of several factors. First, based on research estimates, at least an additional 38,000 students would graduate each year when given additional choices of where to go to school. This improvement in the graduation rate alone would result in additional spending on automobiles, homes, and other consumer items. It would increase the state’s gross domestic product by more than $650 million and create thousands of new jobs.
Second, this type of school choice program will significantly improve academic performance. In seven double-blind studies, academic performance of students given a choice improved in math, reading or science by significant margins. But most importantly, the public schools, when faced with the risk of losing students to private schools, improved significantly.
Third, imagine the thousands of young professionals migrating to Texas from other states in order to take advantage of the enhanced educational opportunities through choice. Imagine business relocations to Texas due to new educational options for their employees. Imagine the new investments that would be made in declining urban areas, bringing those areas back to life.
As indicated, the majority of these economic benefits would emanate from enhanced public school performance. We all know that no entity will ever be the best that it can be while holding a monopoly over its customers. Excellence in any endeavor is a result of lessons learned. No school will ever be as good as it can be if it is has a monopoly over its students.
We have gone through some three decades of school reform since the “A Nation at Risk” report was published in 1982. Each new reform passed with great fanfare. We have increased spending per student dramatically in inflation-adjusted dollars. Yet, even with that huge investment, about 25 percent of our ninth-graders never graduate from high school, and almost half of those graduates who enroll in higher education must be remediated. Although we have some great schools, far too many Texas students are now being underserved. Yes, that hurts the economy and makes it difficult for employers to find qualified people to fill jobs, but the real tragedy is what this is doing to our children and grandchildren. We can and must do better.

Grusendorf is senior fellow and director of the Center for Education Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Hammond is the CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

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