Texas lawmaker declares school vouchers dead in Lone Star state
Frisco ISD against vouchers
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School choice is a buzz phrase in education from Austin to Washington D.C. However, as far as Texas is concerned, it appears that the issue is “dead” for the current 2017 legislative session.
Texas House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty expressed opposition to the proposal of a school choice bill, saying that they were “dead, dead, dead” to him.
“Why don’t we talk about the real issues?” Huberty said in a Houston Chronicle article.
The topic of school choice goes by different names in different places, but according to Frisco ISD Board of Trustees president Anne McCausland, the purpose is all the same.
“Vouchers this year are being called a couple of different things-vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts,” McCausland said. “It’s basically something that certain legislators are proposing that would allow parents to take the money that typically a school would get for a student and then take that money and it would follow the student say to a private school, to the parent if they’re homeschooling, or maybe even an online school.”
For many people in public education, the biggest concern with school vouchers concerns accountability.
“Of course being in public education and the role I’m in, I’m not in strong favor of school vouchers because there’s so many issues on what seems to be equitable look at schools that receive vouchers versus public education,” principal Scott Warstler said. “Bottom line at the core, we are held to a different standard than those schools would be so if they can get to the point where they level the playing field from an accountability standpoint then I think it makes much more palatable for those in public education to support school choice. But until they have to play by the same rules that public education does, not supportive of school vouchers.”
Some legislators including Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are pushing to make recently appointed United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ vision a reality despite the controversy.
“I intend to fight for school choice session after session after session,” Patrick said at a Dallas Regional Chamber luncheon. “And it’s not going to hurt public schools. It’s going to make them better.”
Critics and opponents of school vouchers cite a lack of accountability with them, specifically regarding the A-F rating system that was recently revealed for Texas public schools.
“There’s not a lot of substance right now, if you read Senate Bill 3 in regards to how vouchers or educational savings account would be funded but the fear is that the pot of money for public schools is only so big that the money for vouchers or educational savings account will come out of the money that’s designated for public schools,” McCausland said. “The reason that we oppose that is public schools have very high accountability standards that we have to provide to the state for that public money, whether it’s physical, transparency in regards to our tax dollars, or the state accountability system for our students and right now we don’t see where that same accountability would be tied to the educational savings account or vouchers.”
Along with the Tax Ratification Election that failed to pass last August, losing funding to school vouchers would further strain the district’s operations.
“The TRE would have raised the maintenance operation, which is the funding that we use basically to turn on the lights, to pay the teachers’ salaries,” McCausland said. “If we lose part of our state funding, then yes that does impact us in regards to the dollars that we use to operate on a daily basis.”
As a result, FISD is actively opposing any kinds of school choice policies.
“Our board adopted legislative policies and we are against any form of vouchers, educational savings account, anything that takes money away from public schools and that there’s no accountability,” McCausland said. “We are encouraging our constituents, our PTAs, and everyone to contact their senators, our state representatives to let them know that we don’t want anything in play of this session that’s going to hurt public schools and the funding of public schools.”
Students can also have an impact on this issue.
“I know that many [students] are registered to vote,” McCausland said. “It would be great if they could also contact their representatives via email, phone calls, and maybe also inform your parents, let them know so that they can be aware of what’s going on this legislative session because it’s going to be very important.”