Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Texas Education Reform Not Quite School Choice

Between the Texas state House and Senate, there are several bills concerning education reform with imminent floor votes. One of these bills appears to be a half-step towards school choice.

HB 222 returns some amount of authority back to parents. It grants the parents the ability to choose another government school in the same district if the child's current school isn't performing satisfactorily. The metrics used to determine the schools' performance still revolve around standardized tests.

H.B. No. 222

  relating to a public school student's eligibility for a public education grant to attend another public school.


       SECTION 1.  Section 29.202(a), Education Code, is amended to read as follows: 
       (a)  A student is eligible to receive a public education grant or to attend another public school in the district in which the student resides under this subchapter if the student is assigned to attend a public school campus: 
             (1)  at which 50 percent or more of the students did not perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument administered under Section 39.023(a) or (c) in any two of the preceding three years; or 
             (2)  that[, at any time] in either of the preceding two years, was assigned a rating of unacceptable performance [three years, failed to satisfy any standard] under Section 39.054 [39.054(e)].

       SECTION 2.  This Act applies beginning with the 2013-2014 school year.

       SECTION 3.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.  If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2013.

In light of the recent indictment of educators and administrators in Fulton County, GA, SB 122 amends Texas law to allow district judges to remove members of an independent school district's board of trustees, presumably for allegations of misconduct or negligence. Hopefully, if passed, this bill will lead to greater transparency between educators and parents.

SB 123 grants investigators and auditors subpoena powers in regards to public and charter schools. This includes financial records, attendance records, test controls, and any other reportable data. The newest change to the state code is this power is extended in cases of any allegation of inaccurate reporting of accountability or accreditation.  

SB 124 makes reporting inaccurate or falsified data by a public or charter school a criminal offense. This includes changing standardized test scores, falsifying attendance records, and inflating grades. It would be a third degree felony unless done to intentionally defraud taxpayers of the government. Such an instance would be a second degree felony, a higher charge.

Such measures seem a step towards education reform and school choice. They however do not go the extent of establishing vouchers or scholarships that true school choice would include. Most likely, the measures are taken as a compromise between school choice advocates and organizations who oppose school choice and parental rights such as Texas Schools First.

On Texas Schools First's website, they attempt to argue counter to school choice and a voucher program. They act as if tax money belongs to the government. In reality, taxes are citizens' means of paying for good and services provided by the governments. Should schools be failing to meet their customers' satisfaction, those customers should be entitled to a refund and the ability to take their business, and money, elsewhere.

That would mean that should a public school or district fail to meet the parents' standards, parents should have the choice to get that tax money back to use at another educational facility. That facility could be home schooling, charter schools, parochial schools, or private schools.

Using such a system does not "steal" money from public schools. If those schools are not performing but taking tax dollars, they are defrauding the taxpayers. It is they who are conducting the theft, not the parochial or private schools who would benefit from the vouchers.

The voucher system and school choice measures increase teacher and student productivity. They do so by inspiring competition. If public schools are forced to perform or face losing their customers, their performance will increase. Everybody wins. Only die-hard socialists and tyrants would seek to quash such competition.