A California family joined the thousands of residents who ditched the Golden State for Texas following the COVID-19 pandemic. The Baleks praised the financial freedom and renewed American pride they found once they settled in the Lone Star state.
"I no longer consider myself a Californian," Chuck Balek, a father of six, said. "I'm a Texan. We moved here to find a better life, and we found it."
Chuck's wife, Jennifer, similarly celebrated the move.
"We moved our big Balek bunch out here for less expense, more freedom and better schooling," Jennifer said. "I think it's already changed [our lives] for the better."
California struggled with an exodus of residents fleeing the state following the COVID-19 pandemic and many chose to settle down in Texas, according to a report published in June by Storage Cafe, an online storage space marketplace. Between 2012 and 2021, the number of Americans moving from California to Texas nearly doubled, with around 111,000 Californians who left for the Lone Star state that year, the report found.
The Balek family packed their bags and moved from Camarillo, Calif., to Rockwall, Texas in April 2021 joining the large exodus of residents from the Golden State. They cited skyrocketing housing costs and living expenses, school curriculum battles and frustration over strict COVID-19 restrictions that led to their decision.
"We were trying to figure out how to buy a house that was big enough for our big family," Jennifer said. "It was impossible, even with two good-paying jobs."
The California family of five moved to Texas in 2021. The Baleks say the decision has changed all of their lives for the better. (Courtesy: Jennifer Balek)
"The financial aspect was a really big deal for us, but I mean COVID was really our tipping point," she continued.
Some Californians that remained are torn about staying. Four out of 10 residents said they were considering moving out of state, a Strategies 360 poll published in June found.
Over half of the respondents said California was too expensive to live in when asked which best described their reason for wanting to leave, according to the poll. More than a quarter – 27% – said California's policies and laws didn't reflect their personal political views and 10% cited an unspecified reason for considering the move.
"It was a good 20% less cost-wise to live here," Jennifer said about moving to Texas from California. "Most of it is cost of living. Gas, living expenses, that kind of stuff is really where were seeing the savings."
The median house listing price in California was $749,000, more than double the median Texas listing at $319,150 in April 2021, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Meanwhile, gas and grocery prices are less of a cost burden in the Lone Star state.
Texas food and transportation costs were below the national average for the second quarter of 2023, while Californians' cost of living was among the most expensive in the country, according to a Missouri Economic Research and Information Center report published in May. On Thursday, the average gas price was around $5.80 in California, over two dollars more than Texas's average at $3.40 per gallon, according to AAA.
The Baleks say they have watched their kids soar since they moved to Texas. The Texas parents love the financial freedom the move has given them in order to set up a solid foundation for their kids. (Courtesy: Jennifer Balek)
"I'm looking for land with the thought that someday if our kids want to come build on that land, they can build on the land," Chuck said. "Who can own land in California? The mega-rich."
But Chuck also said politics played a large role in their move.
"During COVID I felt wholeheartedly that government was absolutely the problem," Chuck said. "And so when we came to Texas even to visit, to house search, there was no mask mandate. There was no government telling us how everything needed to be done."
The Baleks also saw politics creeping into their kids' education and felt their parental rights were being ignored in California's school system.
Protesters and supporters of a parental notification policy clash outside a California school board meeting in September 2023. Debates over school curriculum decisions and parental rights have escalated nationwide. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews G
"The agendas being pushed in the schools did not fall in line with how we wanted to raise our children," Chuck said. "The schools shouldn't be pushing an agenda behind our backs and even with that, we're not allowed to have an opinion at the school board meeting."
Debates over what topics are appropriate for classroom discussions, such as critical race theory and gender identity, have become flashpoints in schools nationwide over recent years. Parents have increasingly spoken out at school board meetings to voice concerns and advocate for a say in their kids' education.
In California, for example, a judge blocked a school district policy earlier this month that required parents be informed if their kid identified as transgender, causing outrage among parental rights advocates. But in Texas, Chuck said the schools have focused on core curriculum and instilling American pride in their children.
A participant holds a flag over the crowd of thousands celebrating the Biden-Harris projected victory on Nov. 7, 2020 in New York City (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
"They do the pledge of Allegiance the old-fashioned way," Chuck told FOX News Digital. "They do a pledge to Texas. They are given a minute of silence for reflection or prayer."
"It's just the way it used to be done," he continued. "They allow us to be the parents and to teach the tough issues."
The Baleks said their lives have significantly improved in the last two years and encouraged other parents to take the leap.
"We have some financial freedom. Our kids have been absolutely thriving," Chuck said. "We’re happy. We made the right choice."