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Building an Infrastructure of Public School Choice for Texas Families

Building an Infrastructure of Public School Choice for Texas Families

November 17, 2014

Presented to the Senate Education Committee
by Texans for Education Reform

Good morning Chairman Patrick, members of the committee.  Thank you for the opportunity to address this paramount issue of choice in education.

My name is Jarrad Toussant, I work with Texans for Education Reform.  I’m a native Texan and a proud product of the Texas public school system.

For me, growing up in inner-city Dallas, the chance to attend a small magnet high school truly changed my life. I grew up in a low-income community to a single mother who worked two jobs at times to provide for me and my sister. Our house was directly across the street from our neighborhood high school in Southeast Dallas. Yet unfortunately like most comprehensive high schools in the Dallas Independent School District, my neighborhood school drastically underserved kids relative to the state’s average in almost every academic measure. So for fear of the limitations to my prospects of college, career, and life my mother refused to allow me to attend my local high school.

After considerable effort to find a more suitable school.  I was lucky to find a school, the Talented and Gifted Magnet High School, that would ultimately change my life.  It was an absolutely transformative place. It was the kind of school were you had to kick kids out of the building at night because we didn’t want to leave, where students would gather in hallways and courtyards, before school and during lunch time, to read and discuss what we were learning - the kind of place where we would pull all-nighters studying because everyone in that building was committed to your success, and you didn’t want to let them down.

I went on to receive acceptance to Ivy League colleges and a full scholarship to the University of Texas where I was elected Vice President of the Student Body. I continued my education at Rutgers University where I received two graduate degrees.  And since that time, I’ve spent my entire career dedicated to making it easier for kids like myself to have access to better schools.  Most recently as Education Advisor to the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey Cory Booker and currently working with Texans for Education Reform.

Without that school, without the option of a better choice I’m not sure I would be before you today.

Yet unfortunately many kids across the state will never have the opportunity that I had.

At Texans for Education reform, we believe that opportunity, to attend a public school of choice, is fundamental to creating a great system of public schools.


Decisions about public school choice with regard to transfers and interventions are initiated, approved (or denied) and implemented almost entirely by district designees under polices promulgated by local school boards.

There are two programs that offer parents the option to transfer a student out of a low-performing campus:  the state Texas Public Education Grant program (PEG)  and the federal NCLB provision allowing a student to transfer from a federal Title I (low-income) campus that fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for two years in a row.   Neither of these programs generate large numbers of transfer students relative to the eligible population.

According to TASB, almost all districts with multiple campuses have some sort of intra-district transfer policy. Typically, students are assigned to a neighborhood school by attendance zones and school districts allow a parent to request a transfer from one attendance zone to another campus outside of the zone of residence. To their credit, most large districts have some sort of open-enrollment program.

Public School Choice Works:

Despite the many barriers and limitation of public school choice, research demonstrates that systems of choice have a significant impact on the quality and efficiency of education. In many cities, including Detroit, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., enrollments in public schools of choice far exceed those in traditional neighborhood-based programs. In almost all cases, evidence has shown that public school choice works for students, schools, and taxpayers.

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 studies find that choice improves student outcomes.

Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers.

Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public school performance and one finds no visible impact.

Policy Considerations for the 84th Legislature:

Texans for Education Reform believe that the following legislative actions would greatly enhance the infrastructure of public school choice for students and parents across the state.

1. A parent information website to provide statewide information on transfer policies and campus programs
2. A statutory assertion of the parental right to transfer within a district with reasonable accommodations for districts.
3. A statutory clarification of a parent’s existing right to request an inter-district transfer.
4. Providing transportation to PEG recipients, requiring that districts accept PEG transfers, and strengthening the PEG grant program.
5. Increased transportation funding as an incentive for districts to pursue more aggressive intra-district transfer policies.

More coherent systems of enrollment, transportation, information, and interventions will create an infrastructure of choice that will make it easier for all Texas families to find the schools that best meet the needs of their students.