There is a growing disconnect between the values and priorities of America’s public education system and the families that system is supposed to serve. Educators increasingly see their role as rescuing children from the backward values of their parents.
As we see reports of clashes between parents and public schools over the teaching of controversial topics, such as critical race theory and gender identity, we imagine that these are problems confined to big cities, mostly located on the coasts. But the disconnect between the values and priorities of educators and the communities they serve has spread across the country, including into rural Texas.
To document this disconnect, we examined the political preferences of public schools employees who reside in rural zip codes in Texas compared to the preferences of voters in those areas. We collected information from the website OpenSecrets.com on the political campaign contributions of everyone who listed an “ISD” (or Independent School District) as their employer and had an address in a zip code with a population density of fewer than 500 people per square mile, a criterion for classifying areas as rural.
Of the more than 1,400 campaign contributions made by public school employees in rural Texas during the last election cycle, 90.2% of them went to support Democratic candidates. By contrast, the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Abbott, won re-election with 80.7% of the two-party vote in rural counties. Rural Texans and the educators who teach their kids in public schools clearly view the world very differently.
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A teacher who is an active supporter of Democrats could be a perfectly fine teacher of the children of active supporters of Republicans in the same way that the children of Baptists could receive a quality education in a Catholic school. But we don’t compel Baptists to send their children to Catholic schools nor should we compel conservative, rural Texans to send their children to public schools dominated by progressives.
Rural families that object to having their children proselytized by left-leaning educators need alternatives. School choice proposals, like creating Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), would allow families greater control so that the values taught to their children better align with the values parents prefer.
ESAs typically take 90% of what public schools would spend on each child and place that in individual students’ accounts that parents direct. Those funds could be used to pay for a private school tuition, but they can also be used to purchase home-school curricula, hire tutors or therapists, or buy educational equipment. ESAs allow families to customize their children’s education according to their individual learning needs.
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Rural superintendents have been blocking the expansion of school choice in Texas by whispering in their state legislators’ ears that doing so might jeopardize jobs in the local public schools. But it is unclear why rural legislators should heed these concerns given that rural educators may be undermining the values of their constituents and donating to their political opponents.
Expanding school choice by adopting ESAs would not cause education jobs to disappear since the children and resources to educate them in rural areas would continue. All that school choice would do is shift some of the jobs from public schools dominated by Democrats to other schools whose values would be more likely to align with the those of the parents in those areas. The superintendent may say that he is a Republican at the Rotary breakfast, but those jobs he’s protecting are generally not promoting conservative priorities.,
The difference between who rural educators in Texas support and who their neighbors are voting for is not subtle or mild. Rural Texans overwhelmingly vote for Republicans, but the people who teach their kids overwhelmingly support Democrats.
There is no reason to trap rural families in schools dominated and run by people with sharply different values and priorities. ESAs would liberate families from this trap and empower them to have their kids educated with values that align with those taught at home.
Ian Kingsbury is a senior fellow at the Educational Freedom Institute.
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