By Scott Blair
Texas State Board of Education members stated that their priorities for the 88th Legislature were that they didn’t want public dollars diverted from public schools. Here’s what they put forth:
Funding & PSF Appropriations
The Texas State Board of Education calls on the Texas Legislature to reject all attempts
to divert dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, an education
savings account, taxpayer savings grants, tuition-tax credits, a business franchise tax
credit, an insurance premium tax credit, or any other mechanisms that reduce funding to public schools.
However, the board has recently backpedaled on its decision. It appears they prefer to stay neutral on “school choice” policies through the current state legislative session.
School vouchers have been rejected for decades, but state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville feels there’s a real chance it could pass this time around, “Parents have truly woken up,” said Middleton, who was elected to serve as a state senator during the coming legislative session. “You’ve seen in school boards — not just across the state, but across the country — where a lot [of parents] feel like their voice may not be heard, but at the end of the day, this is just giving them the tools.”
Supporters of the voucher program believe they can get the bill passed due to widespread displeasure of the public school system since the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and several others in the GOP list “school choice” as a priority from now until May 29 [which is the end of this session].
Middleton filed Senate Bill 176, which states that families who opt out of public education will receive the amount of money it costs the state for each child to attend public school each year. Currently, that’s about $10,000. Middleton says, “What my bill would do is it would empower every single parent in the state of Texas to choose which education works best for their children’s unique educational needs.”
Along with Middleton’s bill, State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, filed House Bill 619, which would give tax credits to people who make contributions to private school funds. On top of that, State Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, filed House Bill 557, under which the state would reimburse parents who pay for private school tuition.
However, Middleton and friends will face backlash as in the past from rural republicans. It must be stated that Texas has the highest rural population in America. Rep. Ken King, a Republican whose district includes parts of the Texas Panhandle, says, “If I have anything to say about it, it’s dead on arrival,” he said. “It’s horrible for rural Texas. It’s horrible for all of Texas.”
The Liberal View
We know where most conservatives stand with school vouchers; let’s look into the liberal point of view.
For starters, Democratic lawmakers gave Governor Abbott’s school choice proposal an “F.” After that, State Representative Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin and member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said at a news conference, “We unequivocally stand against any scheme to defund our public schools.”
During his recent State of the State address, the Governor said he wants to provide taxpayer-funded Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), allowing students to attend private schools — 10 states have already signed on for ESAs, and families have used the funds in different ways.
Rural Republican lawmakers, Democrats, and education groups criticize the idea and still worry it will hurt school districts.
What Do Parents Think?
Catenia Caesar, the parent of a Texas student, says, “It would help a lot,” she explained. “It would help me do a lot for my child. It would help me out a lot to get him started, first of all.”
Senator Middleton says, “We’re putting more tools in the hands of Texas parents to decide what is best for their child because, at the end of the day, children belong to their parents.” He added, “Once money follows the child, you see a lot of innovations and programs that happen like hybrid-homeschooling, which is basically a two-day-a-week brick and mortar, three-day-a-week home-school, which are usually run out of old churches.”
As you can see, there are many different viewpoints on this matter, and the debate about school vouchers has continued for decades; and whether or not Middleton’s bill passes during this legislative session, the debate will likely continue.