Texas students forced to make tough choices

Freedom New Mexico

I t’s been said that in many Texas towns, the high school football coach has more influence than the mayor. High school sports is a big part of secondary education in the state — some have said it’s too big a part.

The collective penchant for sports, and competition in general, is creating problems for state education officials as more and more people clamor for educational choice.

Example:

David Santos lives in the Sharyland public school district but is attending McAllen’s Lamar Academy to participate in the International Baccalaureate program, an accelerated college preparatory program. Santos also wants to be on the swim team, but lives out of the school’s district.

Currently Santos is swimming for Sharyland High School because he lives in that district, even if he doesn’t go to school there. Danielle Garza also wants to swim competitively, but her school in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo district has no team. She also attends Lamar and wishes to compete in McAllen.

Lamar doesn’t have a swim team but other McAllen schools do, and the students’ lawsuit seeks to allow Santos to participate at a school that is closer to the one where he’s matriculated, so he won’t have to spend so much time each day shuttling from McAllen to Sharyland schools. Garza has no other option if she can’t swim in McAllen.

The problem isn’t new; it’s existed since school districts across the country began establishing magnet programs in the 1970s, and more students started taking classes farther from home.

Until recently, students have generally chosen to forgo their desire to compete in UIL programs in favor of the benefits of the accelerated programs in which they’ve enrolled. Increasingly, however, families are starting to assert that they shouldn’t have to make such sacrifices.

Those assertions have come with the rapid growth of magnet, charter and other schools that operate outside the traditional high school structure. Charter schools are funded by public school funds, but they generally are too small to field major sports teams. Like charter schools, privately funded campuses also are growing in number and in size. Some of those schools have petitioned to participate in UIL activities, but so far the state legislature has rejected bills that would allow it. Growing numbers of families are facing the choice of academics or competitive events, and they don’t want to have to make it.

Public school officials oppose their participation, saying that since private school enrollment is voluntary, students can choose a school, or a school can accept them, based more on their aptitude for a UIL event than other factors.

Certainly a counter argument — which we hear often in the Texas Panhandle — can be made that many families already move into certain school districts so their children can join that school’s team or play for a certain coach.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has voiced his belief that if a family is paying school taxes, their children should be able to utilize the benefits their taxes support. Legislation to this effect also has failed, and would certainly face challenges from families that rent or live in government-supported housing.

The issue won’t be easy to resolve, and it might never be. Unless and until that happens, families might just have to live with the reality we all face in life: Deciding which of two exclusive options gives them the best chance for a successful future.