National School Choice Week is an inspiring time of the year, dedicated to bringing attention to the benefits that the entire variety of educational options — from traditional public schools or private schools to magnet schools, online schools, and even homeschooling — provide for students. With this week each January, thousands of events across the country bring increased awareness to help students and their families learn more about the benefits of school choice. For families in Texas, parents are still left with limited options on where to send their children. Some students are left with little choice but to attend underperforming public schools because of the school district to which they are assigned. Fortunately, organizations like National School Choice Week are preparing to hold over 16,000 events across the United States to spread the message of the importance of school choice, especially in Texas.
Increased educational opportunities are important to Texas families for several reasons. The Texas Education Agency identified over 1,500 schools as “improvement required” schools in 2015. Students attending failing schools have the right to transfer to another campus in their home district or a neighboring district if there is availability. However, not many families choose this option because transportation can be difficult in these situations. Parents with more educational opportunities allows for the parent to find the best option for their child. Gifted students would be able to find a school that best fits their needs as well. School choice leads to better outcomes for all students.
In this respect, school choice is important to the Hispanic community in particular. Hispanics account for 51.8 percent of students in public schools in Texas, the highest of any demographic. With so many failing public schools, Hispanics are in a tough situation with limited options. Hispanics have shown their support for school choice, with 80 percent favoring school choice, compared to just 66 percent of those polled overall in a recent survey. Unfortunately, the education system traps many students in a failing school and some families do not have the means for another option. Plus, school choice can lift failing schools. With expanded options, parents have the ability to put their child in the best environment to be successful. A quality education provides that.
In addition, 60.2 percent of all students in public and charter schools are identified as economically disadvantaged. This affects the Hispanic community yet again.
In 2013, over 1.7 million children were living in poverty in Texas – with Hispanics making up a full 25 percent of the total. With limited options, parents may choose between leaving their child at the current public school, or a charter school – with homeschool and private school as options that may not be feasible to families.
With a high poverty rate and a high support for school choice among Hispanics, one would think that expanded options would come sooner. Because Texas has extremely limited options for students, charter schools have been popular – with over 100,000 on a wait list. Hispanics account for 57 percent of the student enrollment in charter schools and have outperformed their public school peers in every subject area (with the exception of science). Economically disadvantaged students in charter schools also outperformed their public school peers in every subject level.
Parents who are not pleased with their children’s school have few options in Texas. School choice provides the opportunity for a parent to send their child to the best school for them. It provides greater access and can raise graduation rates. This affects Hispanic families directly as they have the second lowest graduation rate in Texas – at 85.1 percent. Luckily, every January allows us to reflect on the importance of school choice. We need to raise awareness of the successes that are possible for Texas students.