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- State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, based his statement on a dashboard by EdChoice, a pro-voucher organization that tracks related legislation.
- The dashboard included other school choice programs aside from education savings accounts, such as vouchers and tax-credit scholarships.
- Creighton’s spokesperson said the senator was referring to states more broadly with school choice programs nationwide.
With Republican leaders hoping to expand school choice in Texas, one bill making its way through the Legislature would provide students with $8,000 in education savings accounts that could be used for private school tuition, tutoring or other expenses.
Authored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the bill faces challenges in the Capitol as rural Republicans and Democrats have worked together in opposition.
In trying to bolster the argument to expand school choice in Texas — an effort Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Dan Patrick vehemently support — Creighton suggested in a recent TV interview that more than half of states have already passed education savings accounts.
Creighton was asked why his bill treats smaller school districts and larger school districts differently. Creighton said he’s trying to be mindful of rural lawmakers because Democratic lawmakers and rural Republicans have not supported school choice programs in the past.
"We’re doing our best, as rural members often acknowledge, that in other states we haven’t really seen rural students use these ESAs," Creighton said March 19 on WFAA-TV. Continuing, he said, "We wouldn’t be the first, second or third in this regard. We would be 31st in the nation to have these policies going forward on behalf of kids, and they just haven’t seen the rural use of these ESAs in other states."
In the interview, viewers get the impression Creighton is saying Texas would be the 31st state to have education savings accounts. However, a spokesperson for Creighton said he was referring to the number of states with school choice programs.
"The program in S.B. 8 is specifically an education savings account, not a voucher or tax credit — however, they are all school choice programs," spokesperson Erin Wilson said.
Education savings accounts, or ESAs, fall under the umbrella of school choice programs across the country, along with vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. They fall in line with a growing wave of legislative efforts touting parental choice largely pushed by conservatives since the COVID-19 pandemic.
A simple way to think about the difference between education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships and vouchers is that all are generally aimed at using public funds — taxpayer money — to pay for private schools. Some states allow education savings accounts to be used for homeschooling or other education-related expenses.
Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers, businesses or individuals to dedicate part of their taxes toward public and private school scholarships. Vouchers are state-funded scholarships that help pay for students to attend private schools. Education savings accounts establish savings accounts from taxpayer money and allow families to use the funds to pay for educational expenses — sometimes with a prepaid debit card.
"They’re all strategies for lowering the cost of attending private school," said professor Lori Taylor, head of Texas A&M University’s Public Service and Administration Department. "And the primary beneficiaries of all those initiatives are going to be parents who are going to send their kids to private school anyway."
Creighton’s office provided a dashboard from EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based organization that advocates for vouchers and also tracks legislation. EdChoice was founded by Milton and Rose Friedman, conservative-leaning economists, with Milton Friedman championing free-market theory.
The dashboard is titled "School Choice in America Dashboard." It includes several programs passed by 30 states as well as a section on efforts that have yet to be launched.
A separate EdChoice tracker monitoring education savings accounts shows 11 states have adopted them.
The National Conference of State Legislatures also tracks school choice bills nationwide, and their count has 11 states with education saving accounts. Currently 32 states, as well as Washington D.C., have some type of school choice programs.
Emily Ronco, who keeps tabs on education policy for the organization, said 31 states are considering legislation related to educational savings accounts — up from 14 last year.
"I think the senator was talking about the number of states that have (school) choice versus the number of ESA programs that there are," EdChoice President and Chief Executive Robert Enlow said.
School choice is a complicated topic. Creighton acknowledged this early in his interview with WFAA when he walked through the definition of vouchers versus education savings accounts, saying, "I always think the reference and nomenclature is interesting."
In discussing education savings accounts, Creighton said, "We would be 31st in the nation to have these policies going forward on behalf of kids."
Creighton cited a dashboard from EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based organization that advocates for vouchers and tracks legislation. The dashboard lumps together school choice programs, such as tax-credit scholarships and vouchers, along with education savings accounts. There are currently 32 states, along with Washington, D.C., that have some form of school choice program. EdChoice finds only 11 states offer education savings accounts.
Although the average viewer gets the impression he was referring to education savings accounts, Creighton’s spokesperson said he was referring to school choice programs more broadly.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.
Texas State Sen. Brandon Creighton interview with WFAA on March 19, 2023.
EdChoice, School Choice in America dashboard.
EdChoice, Education Savings Accounts.
Phone interview with Professor Lori Taylor, head of the Public Service and Administration Department at Texas A&M University, March 23, 2023.
Phone interview with Robert Enlow, president and chief executive of EdChoice, March 24, 2023.
Email interview with Emily Ronco, Policy Associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures, March 23, 2023.
Email interview with Erin Wilson, communication director for Sen. Brandon Creighton, March 23, 2023 and March 27, 2023.
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