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The time is now for parent empowerment


The time is now for parent empowerment

As a father of three, two of which have been in both private and public schools, I understand firsthand the value of choosing the school that best suits the unique needs of your child. I also know that the drivers for choosing an educational system change as your child matures as well as through the shifting dynamics of school districts. 

Therefore, I strong support Educational Savings Accounts (ESA) and reject the notion that ESAs will negatively impact the financial health of our strong public schools.  Here is some data to support my conclusion.

In 2019, Texas legislators made a promise—and kept it. They pledged to fully fund Texas public schools, while at the same time delivering on our conservative agenda that has made Texas the “best state for business” for 18 years running.

The education budget allocated $11.6 billion for the biennium (2020 and 2021) on top of the previous budget, including $6.5 billion in new dollars—funding for teacher raises and all-day pre-k among other items. Base per-pupil funding from the state was raised from $5,140 to $6,160, an increase of 20%.

Lawmakers added merit pay and bonuses for outstanding teachers, and funding for districts that have trouble recruiting teachers, such as inner-city schools and rural districts. They even cut school property taxes by $5.1 billion.

It’s time for the next step in educational reform. We can ensure that Texas public schools are fully funded, while at the same time we can put parents in charge of their children’s educations.

As Gov. Greg Abbott said recently in Temple, “Public schools play an essential role in our state. They educate our future entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders. We must ensure that our education system works for every child. Parents also deserve education freedom. Without it, some parents are hindered in helping their child succeed. That must change this year.”

But what about the apocalyptic predictions from opponents?

Gov. Abbott is clear—he plans to ensure that the public schools are made whole—“we’re going to add even more money for both education as well as for teacher pay raises,” he’s said. 

The fact is that so far, 31 states  have some form of school choice. If those predictions were accurate, then wouldn’t we see the wonton destruction of more than half of our nation’s public schools? The claim that Texas must defund public schools to enact school choice is simply not true.

“In the five states with the most robust educational choice policies, inflation-adjusted funding per pupil increased between 1.2 percent (Arizona) to 12.7 percent (Ohio) since 2002, which is not long after four of the five states enacted their first educational choice policy,” EdChoice reports, citing a 2021 study.

What we learned from the pandemic (and our responses to it) is that one-size-fits-all never really does. Every student has unique needs, and a parent is the best person to evaluate those needs—and act.

This need not be either/or. We can fully fund our public schools, while at the same time delivering on parent empowerment. And the time is right—we can continue to improve Texas public education, even as we broaden educational opportunities for every child in the Lone Star State.

J Scott Utley is the Parker County Republican Chair and a 1989 graduate of Weatherford High School. He lives in Brock.


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