Texas Monthly Cover

Texas Monthly Interview

In June, Texas Monthly interviewed Jim to discuss his support for school choice. Here is an excerpted question:

At what point did you get involved in the political arena as an advocate for the issue?

[Initially] I didn’t see it as a political problem. I saw it as an educational problem, so we set about working locally with the public schools and with anybody who had an idea or claimed to have a program to improve the public schools. After five years of doing that, the schools hadn’t improved. In fact, a lot of people were arguing that they were worse. At that point, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Pat Rooney, who had started a private school voucher program, a scholarship program for children from low-income families in Indianapolis. And I said, “That’s the answer. ...”

Read the full Texas Monthly Interview

Welcome

Dr. Leininger and his wife Cecelia believe that economically disadvantaged children should have the same educational opportunities as wealthy children. They believe it so strongly they’ve personally donated over $100 million dollars to improve education and to provide children from failing and unsafe schools with scholarships to choose which school; public or private best meets their needs. Results of the privately funded school choice program in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas have been remarkable. Over 8,500 children have received scholarships and only 2 ever dropped out of school (compared to a drop out rate of over 50% in Texas inner city public schools). Even though 100% of the scholarship recipients were economically disadvantaged and 97% were minority, over 93% of the graduates went on to attend college.

Access the full report on the 10-Year Horizon School Choice Program in the Edgewood School District (link to PDF)

Video Address

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When it comes to schools, Texas parents know best

By Dr. James Leininger

Dr. James LeiningerTHERE are two sides to the school choice debate. On one side are those who believe politicians and government are best suited to make decisions for our children; on the other are people who believe parents are best suited to choose what is best for their children.

School choice is just that: a chance for parents to choose the best school for their own child. The school choice option being considered in Texas would give parents in large urban school districts the option of changing schools if they choose to and if seats are available. If parents do not want to change or there are no seats available at other public or private schools, everything simply stays as it is today.

When wealthy Texas parents are not satisfied with the school their child attends they have a choice—they move to a better school district or send their child to a private school. For most hard-working Texans, this choice does not exist because they simply cannot afford it. But all parents deserve the right to chose what is best for their child.

It is no comfort to parents who want to send their children to a different school to hear that their child’s school will “eventually” improve. Parents and their children cannot afford to wait for their schools to improve; children either learn and develop today or, in most cases, stay a step behind forever. The only choice affordable to low income students trapped in unsafe or failing inner city schools is to drop out, which over 50% choose to do in Texas.

Generations of Texas children and parents have found themselves with no educational options because they are not rich enough to change addresses or to pay private school tuition. Giving parents the choice of exploring better educational options today with the tax dollars they already pay puts our public policy where it properly belongs—on the side of children hungry to learn and on the side of parents’ ability to direct that learning.

There are many reasons why a parent might want to choose a different school for their child. Their current local school may be underperforming; or it may be unsafe and have gang or drug activity. Parents, knowing their own child better than anyone else, may want to choose a school that emphasizes music or the sciences or that has created a more structured academic or behavioral setting. Our public policy should allow the broadest possible menu of educational options because what is best for children is what is most important.

Opponents of school choice claim that allowing parents to choose schools will drain money from the public system. This is factually wrong. The school choice pilot program will not be paid for from public education funds. It bears repeating—not one penny will be taken from the Texas education system in order to give parents the choice of the best school for their child. Public education will continue to be funded at the same or greater levels and funding per pupil actually increases. Furthermore, any tax dollars, paid by Texans and spent on educating Texas children, must and will be tied to accountability measures.

The proposed Texas school choice pilot program is limited to large urban districts with a vast majority of students who are educationally and economically disadvantaged. To be clear, supporters of school choice support improving all schools. Academic research from scholars at Harvard University shows that school choice programs improve student learning for students choosing to transfer and for those remaining in the public system. This is also clearly demonstrated by the 10 year study of the Edgewood School District.

Access the full report on the 10-Year Horizon School Choice Program in the Edgewood School District (link to PDF)

Giving all parents the same ability to find the best school for their child gives power to parents to fulfill to the needs of their children. Under such choice programs, schools are no longer able to take students for granted, but instead must compete to convince parents that they will do the best job in educating their children.

For too long too many legislators have denied parents educational choices while sending their own children to private schools. It’s past time that low-income parents had the same education options as the politicians who represent them. It’s time to give all parents a choice and every child a chance.