Public education is under attack. No, not by the dedicated individuals who serve in myriad roles on a public school campus each day. Their primary focus is to ensure students develop critical thinking skills in order to become lifelong learners who positively contribute to our American way of life. Public education is under attack by those who are entrusted to make decisions with taxpayers’ dollars.
At a private school’s parent empowerment event on Jan. 31, 2023, Governor Greg Abbott signaled his support for education savings accounts. These would allow public taxpayers’ dollars to be utilized by a parent who elects to send their children to a private school. According to the Texas Tribune, Governor Abbott said, “That will give all parents the ability to choose the best education option for their child … The bottom line is this: This is really about freedom.” If this were about freedom, then school voucher advocates like Governor Abbott would encourage parents to utilize the existing mechanism for school choice: a transfer. I feel like a broken record here, but once again, the actual wording of Article 7, Section 1 in the Texas constitution states:
“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Redirecting Texas taxpayers’ dollars sure does not seem like it falls in accordance with the Texas Constitution. Nonetheless, Texas Senate Bill 176, if approved, would achieve a victory for proponents of school vouchers.
While it may be true that Texas spends more for public education than ever before, Texas is still woefully behind in prioritizing our education system, which provides universal education to all students regardless of background or ability. According to Raise Your Hand Texas, “Texas is currently $4,000 behind the national average in per-pupil spending, and the basic allotment for our spending has not increased since 2019.”
Our class sizes are increasing. Demands on teachers have increased. Our property taxes have increased. But our Governor’s solution is to diminish the amount of money available to support our public school system in favor of subsidizing private school education. His priority could be abolishing the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test and replacing it with locally-approved formative assessments. But his focus seems to be on placing arbitrary ratings on schools to cast a negative light on the system best designed to train students in an inclusive manner. He could also use the revenue surplus from the sales tax collection base to finance the public education system, but certain elected officials seem to support rerouting these funds to subsidize private school education.
At this point, you might think I’m opposed to private school education. I am not. My only issue is the funding mechanism. It seems counterproductive to use taxpayers’ dollars to support private schools when the vast majority of Texas students are learning in a public school system. Public schools remain the most inclusive setting for students of all backgrounds. We need more funding—not less—to support our Emergent Bilingual students or those with disabilities. Your tax dollars provide resources to help certified teachers, specialists, paraprofessionals, and administrators ensure quality instruction. A funding decrease will have unintended consequences that hurt students’ education. Why should our students receive less when we are striving to prepare them for a world which demands more?
Parents have a choice and they frequently choose transfers within the public school system. Our stakeholders are always welcome to visit our public schools, volunteer, or serve as members of our Site Based Decision Making (SBDM) committees. When you serve in those roles, you quickly discover we are not teaching revisionist history. We are teaching complex thinking strategies, helping prepare students for learning beyond their current grade level. We can always debate the best ways to assess learning. But you will get absolutely nowhere with educators if your solution is to take away money from the kids we are entrusted to serve every day.