Choice in Education Forum Highlights

February 11, 2013
  • From Feb 9, 2013 event in Houston

On Saturday, Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Texas held a high-powered Choice in Education Forum in Houston at Houston Heights Academy, a charter school in inner-city Houston.

The Forum featured The Hon. Rod Paige, former US Secretary of Education and a former superintendent of Houston ISD along with Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman and currently executive counsel for the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice.   Moderating the forum was Ben Streusand, AFP Foundation-Texas Advisory Board Chairman, a Houston businessman and KSEV Radio political commentator.

The event was live streamed across the state and heavily covered by social media.

Sen. Dan Patrick laid out his education reform agenda which includes:

  • lifting the state cap on the number of charter schools,
  • creating an independent authorizer for new charter schools,
  • facilities funding for charter schools,
  • removing barriers preventing successful out-of-state charter schools from entering Texas, creating a Recovery School District modeled after New Orleans,
  • updating Texas’ parent trigger law,
  • allowing students to attend any public school in their community regardless of school district boundaries,
  • grading schools on an A – F rating system,
  • expanding online learning options,
  • and a business tax education scholarship program.

“The reform movement is organic,” said Sen. Patrick.  “The business community needs it and the public wants it.”

“We are turning around the Titanic,” said Sen. Patrick.

Referring to dropout factory public schools, he said, “This is a shared responsibility.   We have inner city Democrats and rural Republicans opposed to choice.”

Sen. Patrick said, “School choice threatens the turf of education bureaucrats fighting selfishly for themselves.   We need to be as committed to students as we are to our government education institutions.”

Sen. Patrick pointed out that some state senators have only one ISD in their district while some in rural areas of the state have 100.  “ISD’s are big employers and often they advocate for the adults and not the kids.”

“We have choice for many kids in Texas – those with wealthy parents and with parents who are mobile and move to the school district where they want their kids,” said Patrick.

He went on to say that he is amazed at how much big money goes into some of the school board races and that shuts parents and taxpayers out.

Mr. Chavous, a national education reform leader, said the fastest growing form of school choice nationwide is home schooling.  “We need to fix the plane while we are flying it,” he said.  Chavous explained that no school system reforms itself from within. It needs pressure from parents and students who have the ability to leave and attend another school to really change.

He said there is support across the country for school choice because traditional public schools are not getting better.  Monopolies generally are not innovative and open to change.

Chavous said he was targeted as public enemy #1 by education bureaucrats when he embraced school choice.  He said public schools often fight rather than embrace change.

Chavous told about his time in D.C.  As a result of supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Chavous was intimidated, threatened, heckled at his son’s school and at public events, had trash thrown at his house, and ultimately lost his seat on the Washington D.C. City Council.

“But this battle is more important than an election,” said Chavous, “it is about children having a future.”  He went on to say that parents having more than one child know that they are not alike and each may learn better in a different environment.

“By the time I finish this sentence, another student will have dropped out of school.” – Kevin Chavous

He said opponents of school choice don’t always understand the big picture. School choice is NOT going to destroy public education. It will strengthen by forcing it to meet the needs of each student. In every other aspect of life we have choices expect for education. Texas has a one-size fits all public education model that is outdated and ineffective for many kids.

“When we have had enough small-mindedness, this government monopoly will end,” said Chavous.

When asked if he can encourage President Obama to support choice, Chavous said “he is beholden to the unions.”

Chavous chaired the education committee for the DC City Council and the DC charter school movement became the most prolific in the country with more than 40% of DC’s public school children attending charter schools.

When asked about the partisan nature of school choice in Texas, Chavous said that denying school choice hurts inner city poor kids most.  He said that in Louisiana, Democrats took the lead in pushing for school choice.

Chavous chairs the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and Democrats for Education Reform.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said, “Students often make their own choices.  They drop out.”  He encouraged reformers to work to get teachers to join in the fight for reform saying, “We are not making sufficient progress in education.

“We have choice in every other area of our lives,” he said.  “but we don’t have choice in educational opportunities.”

He went on to say that online learning should be a part of the education reform package and that rural schools and students benefit greatly from it.

Paige said that the National Education Association was an obstacle to change which will help kids.   Unions are big obstacles to reform.   He went on to say that many large school systems are nothing more than ways to redistribute wealth.

Click here for speaker biographies.

Pondering Penguin did a great blog post – read more about the event here.

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