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Elected Officials in Rural Texas Should Support Education Choice

TCCRI's paper published earlier this year, Outstanding Opportunities: The Case for Education Choice in the Lone Star State, contains several sections that either debunk arguments made by choice opponents or highlight how choice opponents misrepresent information. Below is an excerpt from the Report to that effect.

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It is no secret that education choice has been thwarted in Texas by a coalition of (1) a majority of the Democrats serving in the Texas House of Representatives, and (2) a minority of Republicans, typically representing rural parts of Texas. The arguments against choice are honest and well-meaning, but misguided and often based on both false assumptions and premises.


Fewer Choices is a Poor Reason to Oppose More Choices


Despite rural communities polling in favor of choice programs along similar lines as the rest of the state, legislators representing rural parts of Texas will often argue that those rural areas lack the choices present in the more populous areas of the state. For example, a recent Texas Tribune article described Representative Gary VanDeaver’s position:


In smaller Texas cities and towns, there’s far less “choice” for rural students. Outside of large metro areas, private schools are few and far between. Many rural private schools have religious affiliations. And VanDeaver has been informed that the religious private schools in his area are uninterested in public money. He also worries about the damage to the local public school district a voucher program could cause.


Representative VanDeaver represents 30 rural school districts. Because the school districts collectively oppose choice programs, it should be no surprise that Representative VanDeaver’s position reflects such an influential constituency. However, this position is severely flawed in several key respects.


First, even if “private schools are few and far between” in rural parts of Texas, the logical conclusion is not that choice programs should be opposed. If, in fact, there are few additional options in rural parts of Texas, the logical conclusion is that choice programs will not impact the rural school districts at all. Of course, the position that “fewer choices” is a reason to oppose choice programs directly contradicts Representative VanDeaver’s “worr[y] about the damage to the local public schools” a choice program would cause. This contradiction is a clever slight-of-hand by choice opponents that has, unfortunately, been successful.


Also contradictory to the “fewer choices” justification for opposition is Representative VanDeaver’s own admission that there are, in fact, “many rural private schools[.]” He simply dismisses them from the conversation with the anecdotal assertion that he talked to a few of them and they are not interested in participating. As former TCCRI President and Co-Founder Warren Chisum recently explained:


People in rural areas need not fear school choice. Even though they probably don't always have a choice but that doesn't mean that you want to lock up some other kid and not have a choice just because it wouldn't affect you.


No private school has ever been forced to participate in an education choice program. They do so voluntarily. To simply assert on their behalf that they are not interested removes agency from these institutions. Religious institutions across the nation commonly participate in voucher programs, ESA programs, and tax-credit scholarship programs. Modern choice legislation has common language that protects religious institutions from unwanted government involvement. If religious schools are unsatisfied with that protection, they are not required to participate. They do not need state legislators to protect them from their own prerogatives.


With respect to those prerogatives, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops supports “parental choice in education” as part of its 88th Session Agenda, so long as the aforementioned protections are in place.


Last, choice programs such as ESAs do not require the availability of additional brick-and-mortar schools to provide more choices. They provide assistance for a variety educational options, including home school and virtual learning.


New Options to Choose from May Yet Be Created


When examined with any level of seriousness, the “fewer choices” argument in opposition to education choice programs falls to pieces. Not only is this true for the reasons laid out in the previous section of this paper, but also because choice programs incentivize the creation of new schools.


While conceding the point that rural parts of the state will not benefit as greatly from expanded educational opportunities as the more populous areas, we must recognize that innovative schools may be created with the incentives put in place by active choice programs.


One of the greatest failings of choice proponents and opponents alike is to consider only how a choice program would affect the current state of public education. But such programs invite innovation in ways that cannot be foreseen. Perhaps a local business decides to start a school that, along with traditional educational requirements, integrates training for a workforce that is lacking in rural communities. Perhaps the parent of one child who feels poorly served by the local school will start a small private school for kids who are bullied or do not feel that the local public school is serving their needs.

While there may be “fewer choices” in rural parts of the state today, that may not be the case in the future. Opposition to expanded choices denies those future options from future children.


Denying Choice from Others is Cruel


Representatives of rural Texas who oppose education choice because rural parts of the state lack the choices present for urban Texans are choosing to deny millions of school children an opportunity for a better or more appropriate education. And they do so while conceding that they do not believe the program will have a considerable impact on their communities. The logic is contradictory, and to follow it through is cruel.


Rural School Districts are Not Immune from Progressive Indoctrination


Rural legislators may be inclined to believe that their school districts are insulated from the type of indoctrination seen in the more populous school districts, but that is not the case. The teacher and administrator population in rural Texas reflects a polar opposite of voters in the same area.

The Educational Freedom Institute looked at political contributions from school district employees in zip codes with a population density that contains fewer than 500 people per square mile, which is used to classify areas as “rural.” Out of more than 1,400 campaign contributions made from rural school district employees in the 2022 election cycle, 90.2% of them were given to candidates from the Democrat party. Contrast that with voters in the same geographic area, which voted 80.7% for Republicans. Whether they realize it or not, a considerable population operating rural school districts does not share the values of voters in those areas. Families in rural Texas need additional choices as much as the rest of the state.

You can read this entire section and the full paper here.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Note that citations have been omitted from this post but are present in the full report linked above.


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