Th⁠i⁠s spec⁠i⁠al sess⁠i⁠on, ⁠t⁠he Texas Leg⁠i⁠sla⁠t⁠ure should pass school cho⁠i⁠ce

October 16, 2023

October 16, 2023

Legislators should expand freedom for all Texas families and students by passing universal Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs.

Tiffany Barfield, For the Express-News

It’s time to empower every family in Texas with the opportunity to choose the best education for their kids. As a proud Texan, I know that freedom is among our state’s most beloved values. But despite attempts for reform, education freedom is limited in our state. It does not have to be this way.

During the special session that began last week, legislators should expand freedom for all Texas students and families by passing a universal Education Savings Account, or ESA.

With an ESA, which is different from a voucher, though the terms are often used interchangeably, funds are deposited into an account for each participating student and used for educational expenses such as tuition, tutoring, books, special needs services and more. Families — not politicians or special interest groups — should be in the driver’s seat of their kids’ education, free to choose public, private, home-school or a combination.

As a proud Aggie from Pasadena, I know how much we value our Texas public schools. However, the local neighborhood public district school is not always the best fit for every kid who should not be forced to remain in a school that does not meet their needs.

Many will claim that ESAs harm funding for public schools, but that is a common scare tactic used by special interest groups. Texas spends approximately $85 billion every year on K-12 public education. The Legislature is discussing $500 million going toward an ESA program. That’s less than 1% of the K-12 public education budget.

Allocating a portion of funding toward educational choice will make an enormous impact in providing kids in Texas access to a best-fit education while also continuing to fund our public schools.

The one-size-fits-all model is not flexible enough to accommodate each kid’s individual way of learning, and not all families have the financial resources to provide their kids with an alternative option.

This is the problem that ESAs are designed to fix. Families are empowered to decide what’s best for their kids rather than be told what’s best by government administrators and systems.

Expanding educational freedom is popular in other states, and Texas is no different. A poll by yes. every kid. foundation and WPA Insights found that three out of four of 600 total registered Texas voters surveyed supported trusting parents over the government in deciding which school their kids attend. Support was consistent across political and ethnic lines.

When Texas families are empowered to choose, we’ll be able to choose from public schools, private schools and innovative education models we have yet to see. It’s time to think beyond brick and mortar and allow families to decide what works for their kids.

Texas has earned every step of its reputation as freedom-loving. We’re a special people with unique talents, interests and abilities to contribute to our communities.

Gov. Greg Abbott has been leading the way. Now, it’s time for the Legislature to follow his example to empower every Texan family with the freedom to customize an education that best serves their needs, values and priorities.

Tiffany Barfield is a government affairs director at yes. every kid., a leading advocacy organization transforming America’s education policy landscape.