Op-Ed: Facts are on the side of education choice

Op-Ed: Facts are on the side of education choice

Published in the Caller-Times on December 16, 2016.

By John D. Colyandro and Russell H. Withers

It’s not surprising that the Executive Director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators opposes school choice, but Gary Godsey offers bromides, not facts.

In a piece for the Caller Times (Dec. 9), Mr. Godsey begins with the familiar argument that choice will harm public school students by directing money and resources away from public school districts. He asserts that there are “numerous examples of similar programs that have failed around the country,” though he cites none of those examples. EdChoice, a non-profit advocate of education choice, published A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, which analyzes the existing empirical data on school choice programs in one report (last updated May 2016). Nearly every study conducted shows improved academic outcomes for participating students, but counter to Mr. Godsey’s bold assertion that “there is not a solid research base” to support the claim that competition improves schools, a staggering “31 of 33 studies [found that] the competitive effects driven by school choice programs led to improvement in public schools’ academic performance.”

Also objectively wrong is the assertion that choice schools “are inherently exclusionary.” A Win-Win Solution reveals that eight of 10 empirical studies on school choice showed reduced racial segregation in schools (no visible effect in the other two). That makes sense, considering that those schools have discretion to value diversity where public schools are populated based on geographic boundaries alone. In Corpus Christi, for example, the student population is approximately 80 percent Hispanic, yet Moody High School is overwhelmingly Hispanic (93 percent), while Flour Bluff High SWchool is majority non-Hispanic white (54 percent). This kind of segregation is common in the public school system. By contrast, Incarnate Word Academy, a private high school, breaks down with 45 percent Hispanic and 43 percent white, a much more diverse student body.

Mr. Godsey argues that “schools aren’t businesses, and they shouldn’t be run like them.” However, there are organizations dedicated to that goal. For example, the mission of the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO), which represents more than 850 public school districts in Texas, is to “[e]nhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Texas Public Schools through the development of highly qualified school finance and operations professionals.” Rice University offers a similar program, which “provides a comprehensive management and entrepreneurship experience that enables education leaders to improve the delivery of education.” Testimonials on the program website are from public education leaders.

Lastly is the complaint that the Legislature “cut” $5.4 billion from public education during a budget shortfall in 2011. In 2011, the Legislature reduced projected biennium funding by $5.3 billion compared to what schools could have expected to receive under then-current funding formulas (funding actually increased). However, in 2013, the Legislature restored $5.89 billion ($3.4 billion in Foundation School Program funding; $2.2 billion for enrollment growth; $290 million for special programs and grants). Two years later, the 84th Legislature appropriated another $1.5 billion.

Still, because “more funding” is always the preferred answer for entrenched interests to public education’s challenges, it is worth noting that in the recent school finance lawsuit the Texas Supreme Court cited research demonstrating “a weak correlation between public school funding and educational achievement.” The Court’s opinion is supported by data available through TXSmartSchools. Operated by the Texas Comptroller, TXSmartSchools objectively shows that low spending districts often outperform high spending districts. Thus, it is more likely that how the money is spent is far more important than how much.

A 2016 study released by Harvard University showed that voucher recipients who attended private school are more likely to graduate from college. Minority students in the group were 10 percent more likely to enroll in college than the control group (students who stayed in public schools) and 35 percent more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree. The Harvard study is but one among many that overwhelmingly demonstrate positive results from choice programs, both to participants and the public schools they left.

John D. Colyandro is Executive Director and Russell H. Withers is General Counsel at the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based public policy organization.