The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think-tank, argues that the programme was a hit over its ten-year span. More than 4,000 students claimed the vouchers; their test scores jumped, and only two dropped out.
And Edgewood’s public schools were not crippled. During Horizon’s busiest year only 12.8% of students took vouchers. The dropout rate decreased, teachers’ salaries increased and by 2008 the district had graduated from “acceptable” to “recognised”, according to the state’s education agency. Brooke Dollens Terry of TPPF says that the Edgewood results should embolden future reformers: “I think we’ve proven that the walls of the school didn’t come crumbling in.”
But the causes of Edgewood’s improvement are up for debate. The TPPF chalks it up to competition. Liz Garza, the district superintendent, thinks it reflects efforts to meet state standards, which were getting tougher over the same period. Paul Kelleher, who chairs the education department at Trinity University, says the TPPF report is inconclusive. He thinks that although vouchers may help some students, a full-scale programme would backfire as resources moved away from inner-city schools.
The issue may be moot. The idea behind Horizon was that a successful private experiment would spur lawmakers to try a public version. But the legislature has declined to do so, and teachers’ groups are ready to pounce on any pro-voucher manoeuvres.
So attention is moving to other reforms, such as independent “charter” schools. These keep students in the public system while offering parents a choice and school heads freedom from bureaucracy. But there are only 209 charter schools in all of Texas, and the legislature has capped their number at 215. The last charter will probably be issued soon, says Ms Terry, and there are still at least 16,000 students on waiting lists.
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