Texas policy-makers have repeatedly tried and failed to expand school choice within their state, but this upcoming legislative session will be different.
In the past, the key obstacle to passing choice legislation has been school superintendents in mostly rural areas, who fear that making it easier for Texans to send their children to private schools would shrink public-school enrollment, reducing school districts’ funding and faculty numbers. These local superintendents often head the largest employer in their districts, giving them lots of clout with elected officials. Given the lack of organization on the other side of the issue, many rural state representatives have thus been reluctant to back the expansion of school choice, causing bills to fall just short year after year.
But school choice has much better prospects in the upcoming legislative session, for two reasons.
First, advocacy organizations have finally managed to turn support of their cause into a litmus test for Republican candidates. They are holding elected Republicans accountable for failing to support the empowerment of parents, and for abandoning the position endorsed by the party’s own platform. These advocates have recruited and funded primary challenges to Republican legislators who block school choice, defeating many incumbents in contests across the country. The prospect of a serious primary challenge has served as a check on the influence of rural school superintendents.
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Second, parents in the outer suburbs and rural areas are increasingly noticing the disconnect between the values they wish to teach their children and what is being promoted in their schools.
The schools in small towns in Texas used to be the natural extension of the families in those communities. But increasingly, the federal government dictates to all public schools what pronouns people should be called, what bathrooms they must use, and on what sports teams they may play. Small-town Texans have seen these “woke” changes in policy and worry that their local public schools no longer really belong to them.
Additionally, more and more public-school administrators and teachers—even in rural Texas—are adopting the posture that they know better than parents what values children should be taught. As a result, families are starting to demand more school choice to find better private options if their public schools are going to push values antithetical to those they are trying to convey to their own children.
Public-school indoctrination that pushes woke values onto children against their parents’ wishes is not confined to big cities on the coasts. It has made its way into small-town Texas.
In Canutillo ISD outside of El Paso, a district with a little more than 6,000 students, a book containing sexually explicit images and language, Gender Queer, was returned to school-library book shelves after an eleven-person committee containing only three parents was charged with reviewing its appropriateness following parental complaints. Some parents might be satisfied with that outcome, but others are left frustrated and wondering why the school chose to spend scarce library resources on what they consider to be pornography. Those disgruntled parents want alternative school options.
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In the Austin suburb of Georgetown, the local school district posted videos on its website urging monthly “equity” training and declaring that “only when we equip ourselves to see the role of implicit bias, systemic racism, structural racialization, and poverty play, and perpetuating achievement gaps . . . will we be able to create impactful strategies that address the root causes of inequitable learning outcomes in our system.” This focus on systemic racism and equity may resonate with some parents, but others view it as divisive and believe that it promotes reverse discrimination. Again, parents who find their local public schools out of sync with their values are organizing to demand more choice in their children’s educations.
As Texan parents are mobilizing to demand more school choice and advocacy organizations are ramping up their efforts to recruit and fund primary challenges in rural districts, the grip of rural school-district superintendents on their state representatives is loosening and the door to empowering parents is opening. Arizona and West Virginia have given the movement significant victories by adopting universal Education Savings Accounts to fund school choice. Now, Texas is poised to build on that momentum.
This piece originally appeared in The National Review