By Russell Withers, General Counsel & Senior Policy Analyst. Feb. 12, 2020
February 1 marked the final day of National School Choice Week. Governor Abbott issued a proclamation that it was Texas School Choice Week as well. Friends of TCCRI like Randan Steinhauser of the Texas School Choice Coalition published thoughtful and compelling editorials calling for Texas to join the 30+ states that have private school choice programs. I wholeheartedly echo Randan's sentiment, but it is difficult to ignore the feeling that much of the oxygen has been sucked out of the room for a larger school choice program in Texas (We have a robust charter school program, but no program in which the money follows the child to public or private schools of choice). There was very little discussion of school choice during the 86th Legislative Session and there will need to be a spark of some kind to change enthusiasm levels moving forward.
Enter President Trump's State of the Union speech on Tuesday night (Feb. 4, 2020). In a brief, but memorable passage, he stated the following:
The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on a waiting list.
The President highlighted the importance of school choice with a young fourth grade girl named Janiyah Davis, a representative of the countless children and parents who would rush to embrace more options in education. It was an effective and powerful point in the President's speech.
Donald Trump is certainly a polarizing figure, but it matters when the President of the United States openly discusses certain policies. The political will to pass a robust school choice program in Texas has not existed to date, but the President's lead is worth following. Most of us can do without the tweets and the bluster, but on the policy of school choice, President Trump is right. Here's hoping for a renewed interest in pursuing a policy reform that would help thousands of current children have the opportunity to achieve better education in Texas.