As most readers know, one of the battles of the 83rd Legislature is likely to occur over the use of public funds for private schools. Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and Senator Dan Patrick are backing the proposal. (At a recent Texas Tribune event, Speaker Straus urged caution on the issue.) The rationale for the use of vouchers is that students should not be stuck in failing schools, a proposition that is hard to argue with.

What many lawmakers may not know is that the Texas Education Agency has a school choice program intended to ensure that no student is stuck in a failing school. The program is called PEG, short for Public Education Grants. PEG permits parents to request that their children in failing schools be allowed to transfer to schools in other school districts after meeting a set of requirements. A “failing school” is defined as one in which 50% or more of students did not pass any of the TAKS and STAAR subjects in two of the three preceding years, or any school that was rated “academically unacceptable” in 2010 or 2011.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote approvingly of the PEG program shortly after its inception, in 1995:

The Texas Legislature has granted parents a new opportunity to seek the best education possible for their children by establishing a new program called the Public Education Grant Program. Now, students who are assigned to low-performing public schools have a choice to attend another public school, including one outside their own district. The Texas Education Code Section 29.201, recently enacted in Senate Bill 1, states that an eligible child may attend a public school in the district in which the student resides or may use a public education grant to attend a public school

In any other district chosen by the student’s parents Where your child attends school is no longer necessarily determined by where you live. The Texas Legislature has decided that no child should be forced to attend a consistently low-performing campus.

Total enrollment for the PEG schools this year (eligible to transfer next year) is 305,486. In 2011 (list released Dec. 2011) there were 394,670 students eligible to transfer during the 2012-13 school year.

So, these students aren’t “trapped”; they definitely have a way out. They choose not to leave for myriad reasons.