This is part III of our discussion of the Platform and Minority Report, from the Texas State Republican Convention. There will be four parts total. Here are the subjects in order:
· Part III: School Choice
You would think that school choice would be an area of wide agreement for Republicans, but the “belief in public schools,” as though that were a religion, in American society as a whole, runs deep. There’s been a steady campaign for about a century equating public schooling to caring for our children. So that attitude is part of the debate.
But there’s another segment that’s kind of surprising: a homeschooling schism. There’s the side that looks for more choice, more alternatives, and more free market—not just for homeschoolers, but for everyone. And there’s the side that is afraid that any movement away from total hands off by government is a slippery slope from total freedom for homeschoolers directly to government reaching out and controlling homeschoolers.
|We hung out at the convention with some really smart|
young freedom loving Texans (our grandkids).
I’m on the freedom to choose side of this issue. I believe the other side is needlessly fearful. And their refusal to consider any possibilities means they are refusing to allow choice for public schoolers stuck in failing schools as well.
A friend of mine said, “You homeschoolers just need to find a few of you, on both sides, that are reasonable, and sit down in a room and talk this through.” In theory I think that is what’s needed. In reality, the leaders of the no choice people side with HSLDA, a national legal defense organization. The pro-choice people side with Tim Lambert of THSC (Texas Home School Coalition). National leaders aren’t really present in Texas to have such a debate.
There are some truly innovative ideas. Education Savings Accounts are one that came before the legislature last year, but failed to pass. The year before, the Heritage Foundation came to Houston to present the idea and talk with a large roomful of us. Right away I caught the value of injecting some free-market into education. [I first wrote about this here, but also here and here.] During conversations I asked one of their people whether they’d made contact with Tim Lambert yet. She wasn’t as yet aware of him, so I sent her to him. I’m sure they’d have found him without me, but he did get on board.
Free market always leads to better quality at lower prices. When our schools are failing with lower quality for higher prices, it seems to me that is a natural solution.
Debate was intense, but this is the plank that finally made it in:
: Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government restraints or intrusion.
It will do for our purposes, as long as we can get the legislature to actually put through some real choices.
There was another plank of interest to homeschoolers:
: We encourage nonpublic school parents to create extracurricular opportunities for their children where they are not readily available and in a manner that they can be free from discriminatory testing, intrusive government oversight, or harmful school policies regarding mixed-gender students in bathrooms and locker rooms. We encourage the Legislature to find ways to allow nonpublic school students’ participation. Any homeschool student that does not participate will be unaffected.
The footnote there refers to an idea that was accidentally deleted. The last sentence should read:
We encourage the Legislature to find ways to allow nonpublic school students’ UIL participation.
I believe the accidental deletion happened when the Google system, which was livestreaming both the video but also the document, shut down late Wednesday evening, causing the staffer who was manning the computer at that time to have to take handwritten notes on the last few decisions. I wasn’t on duty, but it was a regrettable error, but difficult to have avoided.
It was noticed by a committee member before the Permanent Committee met. He offered to propose it as an amendment. But it had been heated enough that, when given the opportunity to leave it out, the committee did.
Tim Lambert wrote about this part of the platform debate here. And he includes one brief testimony that I thought was convincing, which I’ll include below.
There were several legislative sessions while we were still homeschooling, and several since, that we’ve worked for this. UIL was instituted when the vast majority of Texas students were homeschooled, and most of those that weren’t were private schooled. This was, I think, 1913, before public schools became a monopoly. In the 1960s UIL decided to exclude anyone not in public schools—against the original charter. Recently one or two large private schools were allowed to participate. The world didn’t fall down, it should be noted.
During testimony some people from west Texas pointed out that, sometimes communities aren’t big enough to have any extracurricular activities outside of schools. They can’t start their own leagues, or join in private community extracurricular opportunities. There are none.
Public schools claim to fear that non-public schoolers could spend more time on the skills needed for extracurricular activities, since they’re not constrained by school hours. There’s no evidence for that. Basketball teams, for example, have won competitions with just a couple of practices and a game a week, rather than the daily practice public school teams get.
It’s claimed they draw from a wider area, which is true, but they do not draw from a larger number of students.
Public schools have even been offered to receive a full day attendance allotment for a student there only for an hour, and yet they refuse. This isn’t true in all states. Thirty-four other states have worked out ways to allow UIL participation (and none of those states have increased regulations over homeschooling as a result, refuting the argument of the fearful homeschoolers). But Texas public schools like having a stranglehold on any power and money they can. And they prefer forcing non-public schoolers to not only pay their own way, but to subsidize public schools while they’re doing it.
Here's the truth: If it’s beyond the proper role of government, there will be unintended consequences, and they will likely be exactly the opposite of the state goal.
So, if you want to educate children, and you want lower costs and higher quality, government schools are not the way to go. Inject the free market. Offer choice. Encourage homeschooling, and online innovations, and any other creative way of learning. It doesn’t have to be like this.
But right now, even conservatives can’t seem to stick a toe in the water of choice to make it happen.