After several disappointing efforts over the last several years, Texas school choice advocates have renewed optimism about the prospect of expanding education options for parents and students ahead of this year’s legislative session, which will begin on January 10.
Texas Homeschool Coalition (THSC), one of the state’s premier advocates for parental rights in education, recently spoke with Texas Scorecard about the group’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session. They hope to see legislators expand the education options available to families, implement reforms by which public education funding follows students, and establish constitutional protections against state or local regulation of private schools and homeschooling.
Historically, THSC has focused on protecting the rights of families to educate their children at home. However, they believe the realization of the aforementioned priorities will provide parents the greatest degree of freedom regarding their children’s education, whether they choose public school, private school, or homeschooling as the best option for their family.
THSC President Tim Lambert estimates the number of Texas students being homeschooled is between 600,000 and 750,000, a sharp increase since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. By comparison, about 5.4 million students attend Texas public schools, a figure that has remained stagnant in recent years after a long history of steady growth.
With the growth in homeschooling and at-home learning over the past few years, demand for virtual education has dramatically increased. However, the availability of customized options is limited, and THSC would like to see barriers to access removed.
THSC also hopes to see legislation passed that will allow families to receive state funding for public school alternatives such as homeschooling and private school. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the Republican Party of Texas have expressed their support for this kind of reform. In turn, national school choice advocates like American Federation for Children senior fellow Corey DeAngelis are optimistic that Texas could finally join the ranks of 32 other states that have some kind of state-funded school choice program.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the state’s leading conservative think tank, is also pushing for school choice legislation this session. In fact, the foundation’s top legislative priority is to “put parents in control of their child’s education.”
Parents should be the ultimate decision makers when it comes to the best education for their child. … Texas must hold its education system accountable for the quality of the education it provides and remove the barriers that limit where parents can choose to send their kids to school.
Several bills that would provide state funding for public school alternatives have already been filed.
Finally, THSC is pushing for constitutional protections to guard against regulation of homeschooling and private schools by the state and local governments. In their analysis, House Joint Resolution 37 by Rep. Cody Vasut (R–Angleton) would achieve this objective.
Lambert is fairly optimistic about the prospect of these legislative priorities being passed into law during the upcoming legislative session. He cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a pivotal influence in changing how public school alternatives are viewed among parents and politicians, and he believes there’s more bipartisan support for them than ever before. He explains that parents want more flexibility and control in their children’s education, and they expect their elected officials to enact reforms that provide those benefits.
While the immediate future looks bright, Lambert says his organization is used to playing defense.
“As homeschoolers, we have experienced firsthand attempts by legislators to take freedom from parents and families that would limit how they can teach their children at home. From the 1980s until today, we have seen legislation filed that is detrimental to families and their children, and we have worked hard to prevent that from happening.”
Although Tim Lambert and Texas Homeschool Coalition are hopeful the 88th Legislative Session will be different, they’re not taking anything for granted.