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As a recently retired Texas State Senator from Brownsville with 36 years of legislative service (four years as a member of the Texas House and 32 years as a state senator), I can attest that the Hispanic community would not only benefit from school choice, but that they truly need the options and opportunities that education savings accounts would offer. Hispanic families value education and see it as the key to breaking the generational poverty cycle.
While in the Texas Senate, I had a bird’s-eye view of education, having served as the vice chair of the Education Committee under Sen. Dan Patrick and again under Sen. Larry Taylor. I also served on the Finance Committee for a number of years. It was Patrick who helped me pass legislation to make sure that economically disadvantaged Texas schoolchildren had access to a nutritious breakfast so that they could focus on learning during the day. Again, thanks to Lt. Gov. Patrick, the Texas Legislature increased the education budget by billions of dollars during my tenure. Gov. Greg Abbott also knows and understands the importance of public education, which is why he signed the budget bill that included an extra $10.3 billion for education, the largest public education spending increase in Texas history. This, added to the $85 billion already allocated, brings the total Texas public education budget close to $100 billion for the 2023-2024 biennium. However, adding more money is not always the only or best answer.
As a former public schoolteacher/coach at two junior high schools and one high school in Brownsville, I firmly believe that public education is a valued institution for educating our young people. There are many public schools that do this very well; unfortunately, there are also many that do not. At those that miss the mark, it is the students who suffer the most. According to data from the Texas Education Agency’s 2022 Accountability Report, there are more than 1 million students across Texas, mostly economically disadvantaged minorities, who are attending low-performing or failing schools with a student achievement score of less than 70%. This is a major problem. That is 1 million students who are not receiving the quality of education they want or need to succeed. In the Rio Grande Valley counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr, there are 44,703 students attending 102 schools that are low-performing or failing. The parents of our at-risk students deserve the opportunity to choose to place their children in schools that are best suited for their needs.
Improving the Texas public education system is a long-term goal, but what about the kids who are stuck in failing schools now? Gov. Abbott’s vision is to help these students by empowering parents with more options to make better education choices for their children by offering education savings accounts. Parents will be able to direct the money toward the schools of their choice or for various education services better suited for their children. Students will no longer be stuck in a failing school district simply because they live in a particular zip code or because their parents cannot afford to send them to a better school. It is important to note that funding for these education savings accounts will not come out of the public education budget. It is also important to understand that in states that have already implemented school choice, such as Florida, public education has not diminished but, on the contrary, has made the public education system stronger and more robust through honest competition.
I have dedicated my long political career to supporting all Texas children, in particular Hispanic families and students, who comprised more than 95% of my Senate district. This is why I proudly support public schools, charter schools, and school choice through education savings accounts.
As the Texas Legislature considers school choice, we should keep the following questions in mind:
How, in good conscience, can we send students to schools that we know are failing?
What parent would not want the best education possible for their child?
Why would any elected legislator want to oppose school choice and deny parents the opportunity for a better education for their children?
The Texas Legislature is in session right now, considering passing a school choice law that will empower Texas parents.
Parents must take time to contact or visit their legislators to let them know how important it is to have school choice in our state.
Eddie Lucio Jr. of Los Fresnos is a former state senator representing Texas District 27.