Are Education Savings Accounts the Future of School Choice? What We Saw at the Texas School Choice Rally in Austin

Reason TV visited the capitol building in Austin during National School Choice Week for the Texas School Choice Rally.


Texas has a reputation as a business-friendly state that favors the free market and consumer choice over heavy government regulation.

But when it comes to education reform and school choice, they're actually behind the curve. Like parents in many states, those in Texas must send their children to public schools in their district unless they have the cash for a private school, leaving choice in education only to the wealthiest.

Without school choice, Texas ranks among the lowest in combined SAT scores—45th out of 50 states—and is in the bottom quarter nationally in reading proficiency. One out of every four students fails to graduate high school, and Black and Hispanic students are twice as likely to leave school before getting a diploma than White students.

"Without school choice there will be no reform of public education in America," states Allan Parker, president of The Justice Foundation.

Some political leaders have supported school choice initiatives to raise education standards, but lawmakers have often rejected those bills during legislative session.

But this year is different. The new governor, Greg Abbott, has made school choice a priority, as has the incoming Trump administration.

"I think the momentum for Texas school choice is really growing," says Randan Steinhauser, executive director of Texans for Education Opportunity.

And Texas is not settling for charter schools, but instead pushing for something even more radical: education savings accounts (ESAs), which would give parents the ability to spend tax money on education options outside of the traditional government school system.

Reason TV visited the capitol building in Austin during National School Choice Week for the Texas School Choice Rally to talk to parents and reform advocates about the promise and potential pitfalls of ESAs, which advocates believe are the next frontier for the school choice movement.

Produced by Alexis Garcia and Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Weissmueller and Mark McDaniel. Graphics by Josh Swain. Music by Silent Partner.

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National School Choice Week, an annual event promoting the ability of parents and students to have greater options in K-12 education, runs from January 22 through January 28. Over 21,000 events involving almost 17,000 schools from all 50 states will take place over the coming days. Go here to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice–charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more–is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans. As a proud media sponsor of National School Choice Week, Reason will be publishing daily articles, podcasts, videos, interviews, and other coverage exploring the ways in which education is being radically altered and made better by letting more people have more choices when it comes to learning. For a constantly updated list of stories, go to Reason's archive page on "school choice."

NEXT: With or Without Betsy DeVos, "School Choice Has Achieved Escape Velocity" [Reason Podcast]

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  1. Calling tax vouchers a “savings account” is slimy bunch of fuckery regardless of the merits of the concept. If you can’t sell it honestly then fuck off.


      1. Separate of school and state.

      2. End government provision of education and end government funding of education except for the poor.

  2. you can’t get people to save normally. Good luck

    1. My thoughts as well. And savers are punished by the Fed.

      1. double punished – tax any interest on it and cheapen your money through inflation.

  3. I know this makes me a Nazi, but goddammit, can’t people just buy education for their children the same way they buy piano lessons or swimming instruction?

    1. Because people have bought into the idea that the money you have, is only because the government allows it. Therefore if people spend their own money it’s exactly the same as spending money that would have been spent to teach children settled science.

    2. Or things that are even more important than education, like food, shelter and clothing.

    1. Was she for school choice or just pro-child abandonment?

    2. Dude, that was just a TV show.

    3. Fuck, I was just gonna start watching that show. No point now.

      and/or Fuck You 2017!!!11

      1. You can watch Lou Grant. Ed Asner is still kicking.

    4. Oh, boo. I always liked her shows.

  4. People could use vouchers to send their kids to schools that teach about Jesus and don’t teach them about Gaia being angry and punishing us with thermogeddon!

    If parents teach their kids what they want then it’s almost like the parents have more rights over their children then the government, and that’s unacceptable.

    1. just tell them the religious schools only spend 3-5% of their time on religion, so what’s the big deal? Sorta like planned parenthood only having abortions be 3-5%, which is highly suspect.

  5. The left won’t like that any more than they like Health Savings Accounts.

  6. OT: Kamala Harris, California’s latest contribution to national derpitude.

    Here’s the truth: infrastructure spending isn’t a transportation issue for most Americans ? it’s a human rights issue.

    1. Something something crumbling inner cities

    2. Yeah I totally think it’s my right to have my own personal government paid road that goes directly from the end of my driveway to where I work and that no one but me is allowed to drive on.

    3. She’s actually right, I think. Let’s break that down into actual English: Infrastructure spending isn’t (something practical and important to commerce) – it’s (a meaningless icon of left wing esoterica).

      Sounds about right.

      1. A free market is a fucking human right.

  7. One out of every four students fails to graduate high school, and Black and Hispanic students are twice as likely to leave school before getting a diploma than White students.

    More bullshit social signaling.

    I see nothing to be proud of that one spent 12 years of his life in government or religious indoctrination. It does nothing but place value in credentials over skills, the exact same lunacy that causes valueless occupational licensing to expand.

    1. Occupational licensing is a little bit different. In the absence of public schools and government educational credentialing you would have something very similar emerge in the private sector to replace it, because knowing that your potential employees have basic proficiency in a handful of skills and enough wherewithal to show up every day and see something through is valuable to employers. Most occupational licensing would not be replicated in the private sector by credentialing agencies because it has little or no value outside of restricting competition, which a private agency would not be able to do.

      1. True story:
        In 1972 (yes, 1972) I was part of a team converting the employment bureau in Virginia from manual forms to a computerized system for matching applicants to jobs. Part of the conversion involved using standard codes for certain acronyms and abbreviations previously used. The one that amused me the most was replacing “high school graduate” with a code that meant “can read and write English”
        Fortunately, since then, the federal government has tripled the spending per pupil, so now all high school graduates can read and write English. OOPS!

      2. This.

        I think schooling would revert back to a hybrid book-learning/apprenticeship program. Kids would develop useful, marketable skills by the time they become adolescents, and they would use their teenage years as a low-risk time to accumulate experience, advanced skills, and enough wealth to make it on their own.

        1. But if they accumulate wealth they will have to file income taxes.

          I remember when I stopped being a liberal. It was when I had to file income taxes at age 16. What do you think the percentage of college seniors is that have never filed a tax return? I’d say over 50%.

          Maybe the aversion to a poll tax needs to be revisited.

          1. What do you think the percentage of college seniors is that have never filed a tax return?

            If my experience with friends, GFs, and my wife is correct, 60 or 75% have never filed one, but their parents have filed theirs for years.

            I’m not exactly sure how that feels. I filed my first one when I was 15, and my dad simply told me to “go to the library to pick up the forms and figure it out.”

            1. parents have filed [the college kids’ taxes] for years

  8. The Obama administration invested billions of dollars to overhaul failing schools and a recent federal study showed it had no significant effect: Vouchers are not a panacea, because there is no such thing, but it’s irresponsible not to support the idea.

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