For decades, Texas and Florida have competed over which state will lead the nation in measures such as individual liberty, economic freedom, new jobs created and the number of people moving to their state. Texas has often gotten the better of the battle, but there is one arena where the Sunshine State is leaving the Lone Star State in the dust: educational freedom.
In Florida, about 41 percent of K-12 students, about 1.2 million kids, use an education choice program to learn somewhere other than their government-assigned schools. State leaders have made it easy for students to attend a public school district other than the one in which they live.
Texas has made it hard. Florida has the largest virtual education program in the nation, while Texas has one of the smallest. Florida provides financial aid for 178,675 students to attend private schools, a number that grows every year. No child in Texas has this option.
Texas’ students felt this pain acutely during the pandemic, as many districts shut down and left students and families scrambling. Add in concerns about how public schools are handling issues such as teachings on race and sex, and it’s even more remarkable Texas continues to leave government, not parents, in control of education.
In 2018, Florida Republicans held the state in large part due to their stance on school choice. In the gubernatorial election, “of the roughly 650,000 Black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose [Ron] DeSantis” because of his stance supporting school choice. The same phenomenon played out in Arizona, with Hispanic voters flocking to the pro-school choice candidates.
With growing minority populations in the Lone Star State, you would think this would make Texas Republicans’ stance on this issue a no-brainer.
States as varied as West Virginia, Indiana, New Hampshire and Montana have also created new or expanded existing education freedom programs last year. It’s well past time for the largest conservative state in the union to offer education freedom to every student.
Today’s students don’t have any more time to wait. They can’t wait for the next school board election to turn things around. They can’t afford to lose another school year being held hostage to the demands of a monopolistic system in which some label those who question school officials as “domestic terrorists.” They need education freedom now.
It’s not too late for Texas to catch up. As we mark National School Choice Week, there has never been a better time for families to demand their elected leaders respect their rights to raise their children and empower them with education freedom.
There are signs the political will across Texas is changing.
A recent special election for state representative in the Waxahachie area pitted an anti-parent, anti-school choice “Republican” who proudly touted his school union endorsements against a pro-parent, pro-education freedom Republican. The candidate who put students first and embraced education freedom, Brian Harrison, won. The race wasn’t even close.
And Gov. Greg Abbott recently laid down a marker: “This upcoming session … you’re going to see a stronger, swifter, more powerful movement advocating school choice than you’ve ever seen in the history of the state of Texas.” It’s time for the Legislature to heed his call.
Parents across Texas and America have awakened to the fact that school choice and educational freedom are essential to their children’s success. They aren’t inclined to accept any more excuses as to why there’s a Texas-sized hole on the map of states that empower families to make the best educational choices for their all children.
Betsy Devos is a former U.S. secretary of education in the Trump administration.