Choice, flexibility and innovation are important elements for an education system to successfully prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s workforce. While charter schools play a meaningful role in challenging and expanding our public school options, they are not capable of providing a meaningful education to all 5 million Texas school children. Considering that 17 percent of charter schools are academically unacceptable, compared to only 5 percent of public schools, it doesn’t make sense to expand the number of charters available until we can improve or close those that are underperforming now.
Public schools in Texas have long realized that a one-size fits all approach to education just does not work. Parents in some districts have the option of applying for a magnet school or other specialized school, like the Anne Richards School for Girls in Austin ISD. Also, the Public Education Grant program allows students in academically unacceptable schools to transfer to another school in their district and, in some circumstances, neighboring districts.
Whether available through the public school system, charters or vouchers, there are real barriers to accessing choice schools–especially for the 60 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged. Even if there is an alternative school option within a reasonable distance, lack of affordable, reliable transportation is a huge challenge for low-income families seeking educational options that met their child’s needs. In the end, school choice offers little to a very few.
If the Legislature is serious about offering a quality education to every child in Texas, they must restore the public education funding cut last session and address the recent court ruling that found the Texas school finance system inadequate, inequitable and inefficient.
Chandra Villanueva is a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Austin. www.forabettertexas.org