Texas can pass bold school choice legislation when the next legislative session starts in January 2025. This could finally happen because of the recent election wins in the House primaries, efforts led by Gov. Greg Abbott. 

The election wins include pro-school choice candidates beating anti-school choice incumbents or filling seats of retiring anti-school choice members. More incumbents, including House Speaker Dade Phelan, were forced to a runoff in May. Moreover, 80 percent of Republicans voted for Proposition 11 on the primary ballot to support school choice, which matters in a dominantly red state.

In the evolving educational reform landscape, universal education savings accounts (ESAs) provide the best path to empower parents to decide their children’s education. They are also a practical, fiscally responsible strategy for reimagining the future of education. At least 10 states have passed universal school choice, and more are likely to do so soon. 

But these states haven’t reached the pinnacle of what a competitive education system should look like. The optimal school choice approach should liberate education from the constraints of the monopoly government school system, draw upon successful market-driven solutions, and offer a simplified education finance system.

The Texas Legislature essentially controls the current school finance system with funding from taxpayers through taxes collected by the state, school district, and federal governments. The inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the status quo are stark, including questionable but relevant declining test scores. This highlights a critical need for an approach that better serves students’ and families’ unique needs and aspirations.

The state’s school finance system is based on many factors to the school system, but the Texas Education Agency recently reported that the average funding per student was $14,928 in the 2021-22 school year. Total funding was $80.6 billion for 5.5 million students. Of course, this is how much is spent, but the actual cost of the monopoly government school system is hidden and driven higher by politics rather than market outcomes.

ESAs provide flexibility in covering many educational services, including various schooling options, tutoring, testing, and other related expenses. This empowers parents to customize their children’s education to suit individual learning styles and interests. This adaptability is vital for fostering environments where children excel academically, socially, and emotionally.

Implementing a universal ESA program demands a framework that balances simplicity with accountability, ensuring the focus remains on expanding educational opportunities and improving student outcomes. 

While many current ESA programs run alongside the government school system, this doesn’t provide the most competitive framework. Running them in tandem, whereby the funding remains the same or even increases for government schools while creating a new system to fund ESAs, is costly and lacks the incentives for optimal outcomes. 

Instead, we should pursue a simplified education finance approach that maximizes competition, reduces costs, and lowers taxes by funding students, instead of a system.

A bold proposal would provide parents with an ESA of $10,000 per child for the school year but paid monthly or the preferred frequency to choose any approved schooling, including government, private, charter, home, co-op, tutoring, or other types of schooling. With about 6.3 million school-age children in Texas, the annual total expenditure would be $63 billion, or $17.6 billion less than what’s being spent today on government schools.

Parents could receive an ESA of as much as $12,800 per student to keep the same expenditures as today. However, given the bloated bureaucracy and misguided direction of government schools, the $10,000 amount would help force efficiencies while reducing taxpayers’ costs and incentivizing new education providers.  

The lower cost of $17.6 billion would provide an opportunity for substantial school property tax relief. Combining ESAs and property tax relief would further accentuate the proposal’s appeal, addressing the lack of school choice and burdensome property taxes. 

The bold approach eliminates most, if not all, of the current antiquated government school finance system with one that gives parents a way to meet their children’s unique learning needs best. It would help alleviate the hardship for many families that can choose alternatives for financial reasons, pay lower property taxes, or have money remaining to invest in their children’s quality of life and educational pursuits.

As states across the nation begin to recognize the transformative potential of this bold universal school choice approach, the momentum is undeniable. This trend underscores a growing consensus on the need for educational systems that prioritize choice, flexibility, and parental empowerment. 

By breaking free from the monopoly government school finance system and embracing a bold ESA finance approach that empowers parents, we can pave the way for a future where every child can achieve their full potential.

This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com.

Vance Ginn, Ph.D.

Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is the president of Ginn Economic Consulting, host of the Let People Prosper Show, and was previously the associate director for economic policy of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, 2019-20. Follow him on X.com at @VanceGinn