Amid the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, schools across Texas elected to implement various forms of virtual learning in their classrooms. As a result, children and teens across Texas experienced an unprecedented barrage of mental health issues, and many began failing classes where they had once excelled.
These circumstances galvanized parents throughout the state and led to more calls for school choice legislation.
In May 2020, school choice became one of the Texas GOP’s top priorities after a selection of delegates included the topic as one of eight to be considered as the party’s most important issues. School choice legislation under the GOP would aim to “empower parents and guardians to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education using tax credits or exemptions without government restraint or intrusion.”
Many proponents of school choice claim that providing parents with funds to choose a non-public school for their children would ensure that families across the state have access to a quality education of their choice. Those in favor of school choice legislation often promote voucher programs, which provide parents with a set amount of money to use on tuition for a private school of their choice.
However, opponents of vouchers and other school choice options have often voiced concerns that implementing these programs would not have the desired effect and would instead lead to many children receiving a subpar education because private schools are not held under the same scrutiny as public and charter schools.
In Texas, school choice first rose to the forefront of issues in 2017 when GOP lawmakers introduced legislation focused on providing families across the state with more schooling options.
The bill, introduced by State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), proposed creating education savings accounts for parents across the state. Families could then use the funds to pay tuition at a private school or for other expenses related to their child’s education. This legislation also would have allowed businesses to fund student scholarships in exchange for tax credits.
Opponents of the bill voiced concerns that it would move funding away from public schools while only benefiting families in urban and suburban areas. Parents in rural locations feared that they would be unable to use the benefits included in the bill because of a lack of quality private schools in their communities. This led to many lawmakers from rural districts declining to support the bill.
The 2017 school choice bill passed through the Texas Senate but was subsequently shot down in the House.
After this legislative failure, school choice took a backseat to other issues and only again rose to the forefront when the coronavirus pandemic led many schools across the country to close their doors and revert to online classes in 2020. Schools across Texas used a video call format in place of in-person classes and, in some cases, did not require any form of attendance.
In some places, this online learning model was in place for over a year, which led to many students being left with severe learning loss and some even disappearing from the school system completely.
However, GOP lawmakers failed to make any progress on the issue of school choice after three special legislative sessions.
In fact, when debating the 2021 state budget, an amendment was included in the Texas House that prohibited state funds from being used to “pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic primary or secondary education.” This inclusion was proposed by Democrat State Rep. Abel Herrero and was approved by a vote of 115-29.
Although another School Choice Week was declared by Gov. Abbott in January 2022, no further progress has been made to create legislation that would ensure any form of school choice for Texas children and their families.
Heightened attention on the curricula in public schools, however, could signal renewed interest from the Legislature.