Some Texas leaders want parents to have more choices about where to send their children to school.
Before the 2023 legislative period, the debate about voucher-like programs that make it possible to use state funds for private school fees will be hot.
Many believe the political landscape is ripe for a renewed struggle over expanded school election efforts, which have often been a contentious issue in Texas.
Proponents of such programs argue that they enable parents to choose the best educational environment for their children and help students from difficult schools.
Conservatives have been campaigning for parenting rights since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the school election bills for the coming legislative session is one that would create the Texas Parental Empowerment Program, which would make public money available directly to parents to use to fund private schools or other educational expenditures.
Public school advocates, however, note that many students already have myriad options other than visiting the neighborhood campus.
In the 2021-22 school year, more than 5.4 million students were enrolled in Texas public schools. Although public school enrollment has declined statewide, Texas has increased about 8.6% over the past decade, according to state data.
The majority of students attend a campus in the county in which they reside; However, many public schools offer families a variety of options.
Magnet schools, early college programs and specialty campuses
Some districts offer magnet schools, specialized programs often tailored to gifted and talented students or students interested in specific areas. For example, Dallas has its acclaimed School for the Talented and Gifted at the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center and the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Art.
Admission to such schools is often based on merit or lottery. Sometimes families have to arrange their own transport, or schools can have long waiting lists.
Other schools offer specialized programs. This may include Montessori instruction in the early grades such as at Garland ISD’s Earl Luna Elementary School. For high schoolers, many districts offer college prep programs. For example, Plano has an International Baccalaureate World School at Plano East Senior High.
Texas also has P-TECH or early college schools. These Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools are open enrollment high schools that allow students to earn an associate’s degree or credential while earning their high school diploma. Counties offering P-TECH include Dallas, Richardson, Fort Worth and Duncanville.
Some school districts in the area also have dedicated careers tech campuses that offer professional training in culinary arts, architecture, or other industries.
Some traditional districts allow their students to attend any campus in the district, subject to space. Some take this a step further by allowing students to visit campus without living within the boundaries of the district.
Such open enrollment policies can expand options for parents and students while also attracting more enrollment—and consequently more government funding—to those schools and districts. Grand Prairie, for example, was among the first to aggressively recruit families from outside their district.
So a student who lives close to several districts may have an easier time finding a school in a neighboring district that suits her needs, or may commute to a school closer to where her parents work.
The open enrollment policy can also have an impact on sports, as some student-athletes choose to attend a school with a better program in their area of interest.
Charter campuses are also public schools funded with government dollars but administered by private organizations. Attendance is free for students and typically allows any student living within the charter school’s state-defined geographic boundary to participate.
Most charter schools have an application process. Those with a waiting list could implement a lottery system for new students. Some charters are tailored to specific subjects or offer specific learning experiences, such as B. a classic education with a focus on MINT or fine arts or bilingual programs.
Approximately 377,000 students, or 7% of public school children, attended a charter school in the 2021-22 school year. There were about 1,070 state-authorized charter schools in Texas that year.
That same year, about 65,000 students in 28 districts attended a district-authorized charter campus that offered special programs.
Texas now also has about a dozen districts that work with an outside operator — which may include a university or non-profit organization — to operate a campus as a charter.
There are more than 900 private or independent schools in Texas. Private schools range from parochial or religious schools to college preparatory campuses.
Annual tuition can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $20,000 per student.
The Texas Education Agency does not oversee private schools. While many private schools are accredited by a variety of groups, some are not accredited by any organization.
Many of the state’s private schools are located near major cities or in more populated areas. Some have strict admission requirements or do not accept students with disciplinary problems or special needs.
The Texas Private School Association maintains a list of its member schools here. The Texas Private School Accreditation Commission also has a searchable database of the schools they have accredited here.
school at home
The Texas Home School Coalition estimates that about 750,000 students are homeschooled, although it’s difficult to measure how many families homeschool in Texas.
Unlike many states, families in Texas are not required to register with any state or local agency. Parents may notify a local school district if they deregister their child, but some students are homeschooled from the beginning and never enroll on a public campus.
Homeschooling is largely unregulated in Texas, with state laws requiring students only to teach reading, spelling, grammar, math, and “good citizenship,” or civics.
Some families choose online curriculums or virtual communities for their homeschooled students, while others join co-ops or more formal homeschool groups. Since the pandemic, interest in homeschooling has increased in Texas and nationally.
The voucher push
Voucher-like programs have historically faced a tough road in Texas, with opposition from both Democrats and rural Republicans who don’t want to divert state money from public schools.
The state currently has a small micro-grant program that allows students with disabilities or special needs to use federal coronavirus aid to pay for private tuition post-pandemic, which some say could provide a blueprint for offering voucher-like programs. Other states with voucher programs first introduced such programs only for students with disabilities before expanding access to them.
Some state options also allow students to attend another school, even a private one, that better suits their needs.
State legislatures could propose a variety of ways to make tuition funds—intended for public schools—available to students for use in private schools.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, the three main forms of school choice initiatives commonly considered or existing in other states include education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, and vouchers.
Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, funnel public funds directly to families through special savings accounts or sometimes even debit cards to pay for education expenses.
Scholarship tax credits allow taxpayers—either individuals or corporations—to use a portion of their taxes toward public and private school scholarships for students.
Vouchers are government money that pays for students to attend private schools. States sometimes restrict these programs to certain areas of the state or counties, and often impose income restrictions or make them available only to certain students, e.g. B. those who need special education.
The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and discussion of pressing educational issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab’s journalism.