By Russell H. Withers, Director of Policy & General Counsel. October 8, 2021
Editorial Credit: Kokoulina / Shutterstock.com
In a truly bizarre article that the Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT) paid to have placed on the Texas Tribune’s website, Texas AFT argues that because Florida eliminated “high-stakes testing,” Texas should too. They ask that Governor Abbott add “cancelling STAAR permanently” to the agenda for the third special session of the Texas Legislature. That Texas AFT would pay money (Texas AFT couldn’t get an op-ed placed?) to convince Texans that the public school monopoly should no longer be subject to accountability standards speaks to how utterly out of touch the teachers unions are today.
If simply copying Florida checks a box for Texas AFT, then maybe Texas should look at some of the educational options available to parents in the Sunshine State. Indeed, among Florida’s five major school choice programs are the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (Private school vouchers for low- and middle-income students), the Hope Scholarship Program (Tax-credit scholarships for victims of bullying and violence in public schools), the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (Education savings accounts for students with special needs), the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (Private school scholarships for low-income students and children in foster care), and John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program (Voucher). I suspect that many Texans would gladly support trading necessary accountability through testing for the ultimate accountability of parental and student choice.
The teachers unions are having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. An overwhelming body of data suggests that traditional public schools became considerably less popular during the pandemic. A report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows that charter school enrollment increased in the 2019-20 school year in 39 of the 42 states that have charter schools. During that same period, traditional public schools lost 1.4 million students to charters, homeschooling, learning pods, and private schools—all options better equipped to adapt to rapidly changing environments.
The evidence shows that when parents have a choice, they use it. Polling shows that significant majorities support having that choice. A 2021 Real Clear Opinion Research poll shows 71% of voters support school choice, which is the highest level ever recorded. A majority of every racial demographic supports school choice. 69% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans support school choice. 65% of voters polled support parents having access to a portion of per-pupil funding to use for home, virtual, or private education when public schools are not open full-time or for in-person classes. Even AFT President Randi Weingarten appears to support school choice, if only accidentally!
Meanwhile, in the most recent legislative session in Texas, groups like Texas AFT fought to kill legislative reforms authored by Democrats that would have helped improve public education for millions of students. One bill would have prohibited local governments from discriminating against charter schools using regulatory powers. Another would have allowed a property tax exemption for real property used by charter schools. A third would have made it easier for the state to intervene when a public school receives an F accountability rating five years in a row. Texas AFT openly opposed these reforms and bragged about it on social media in an ill-conceived and since-deleted tweet:
Now that the regular legislative session is over and Texas AFT has no education reforms authored by Democrats to defeat, they’ve moved on and settled back in to what they’re best at: defending the public education status quo at all costs. At a time when confidence in public education is at the lowest levels in generations, Texas AFT’s priority is to end accountability for their monopoly, but their clumsy efforts disregard the fact that Florida has a broad menu of school choice options for parents and students. Like their President, Randi Weingarten, they support school choice without realizing it. So, if the proposal is to copy Florida by adding a half-dozen school choice programs while reforming accountability and testing, let’s do it.