School Choice

Chena Karega, community outreach coordinator for Texas Connection Academy, led an information session Monday night for curious parents.

The conversation on school choice has taken center stage this year as more and more residents throw their voices into the complex conversation. 

Last week, Senator Van Taylor and State Representative Matthew Shaheen both expressed a need to offer more variety and academic choice for local parents. However, several parents and residents sounded off in the comments on Facebook, like Nancy Wanger Wurzman, who noted there already exists several options for parents to choose from.

“Now the government thinks taxpayers must fund those choices rather than using taxes to fund the one universal public education system,” she said.

Plano ISD currently has three academies – Health Sciences Academy, IB World School at Plano East Senior High and Academy High School, which focuses on project-based learning for science, technology, engineering, art and math – and a fourth academy that will focus on technical and technological careers of the future.

Under the current voucher plan, about $20 million in government funds, typically used for free lunch and special education programs, would be funneled into state-distributed vouchers.

Shaheen said he supported an education savings account, or ESA, where funds calculated from a formula would be used at the parent’s discretion, either for private tutoring, private school, transportation and more. Through this system, Shaheen said voucher dollars would be kept accountable through a Comptroller; however, PISD School Board President Missy Bender disagrees.

In a recent interview, she said vouchers could permit public funds to be used in a private sector with no accountability or visibility on how the money is spent. She added the funds calculated by a voucher or ESA formula don’t cover the total cost of educating a child.

Public property tax rates fund PISD’s schools, academies and its special programs, and if a voucher system were instated, PISD could lose $7,500 every time a student withdrew enrollment, a loss in revenue that will not reduce the district’s operational costs.

A group of curious parents met Monday night to hear about another school choice option, Texas Connection Academy, a virtual public school option for local families. TCA was founded in 2009, as a third through 12th grade charter school based in Houston ISD. TCA students still take Texas standardized tests, but the school offers more flexibility for students and parents in a way brick-and-mortar schools do not allow.

Martha Graham and her daughter Savannah of Plano have been in TCA for two years back when Savannah started training 35 hours a week at WOGA Gymnastics in Plano. Because of her two-a-day practice plan, Graham said, “we had to explore all the different alternatives for home school, private school, something that would accommodate her gym schedule.”

A fellow WOGA parent mentioned TCA, and after some research they gave it a try,

and so far, it’s been good for Savannah, Graham said.

A regular school day for Savannah begins with breakfast then heading to the gym from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Then, she heads back home for a few hours of school before heading back to the gym from 3-6 p.m. After gym, she does about an hour to an hour and a half of homework before calling it a night.

Texas Connection Academy is an accredited online public charter school where parents are treated as learning coaches who help facilitate the learning for a student alongside teachers.

“I love that piece of it because when she was in public school she’d bring home tests or quizzes with a grade on it, but we didn’t have books. I didn’t have the ability to help her with whatever she was struggling with,” she said.

Because Savannah has dyslexia, she struggles with certain parts of the curriculum, and as a parent, Graham said, “I want to support. I want to be actively involved.”

Through the online school, Savannah said she’s become more independent with her learning, but Graham said, “I still have the opportunity to be hands on or to help if she needs help.”

“I have an active role in knowing what she’s studying. I see her get excited about what’s she’s learning in a way I didn’t ever get the chance to when she was in public school,” she said. And even though it’s a lot of work, “she’s thriving. She’s doing very well, making good grades.”

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