This issue marks two years since Forward first appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Brick & Elm. Hopefully, Michele McAffrey and Jason Boyett will allow me to brag on them without editing this portion out. Having the opportunity to contribute to Amarillo’s best and most reputable lifestyle magazine is an extraordinary privilege provided to me because of Michele and Jason’s thoughtful, visionary leadership. They allow ordinary people to share their hearts with our beloved Amarillo community. The recognition and accolades Brick & Elm has received for its authentic inclusivity in reporting on local issues is well-deserved. Using a platform for good in print and digital media is still alive and well because of Michele and Jason. On behalf of Amarillo, thank you.
In my first column, I shared the perspective of public school educators and stakeholders during the pandemic—how we innovated, learned to be flexible, battled misinformation and worked hard to foster inclusive environments. I’m still proud of how local educators adapted during a difficult moment. In recent months we’ve faced another kind of challenge. I used to feel confident that public education would never be threatened by school voucher schemes. Today, that confidence is shaken.
Public schools across Texas remain the preferred choice for parents of approximately 5.4 million students. But Texas public education funding hasn’t kept up with inflation. Compared with other states, our schools are among the worst-funded in the nation. According to Raise Your Hand Texas, our state “is currently $4,000 behind the national average in per-pupil spending, and the basic allotment for our spending has not increased since 2019.” Class sizes are bigger than ever. Standardized assessments have raised the stakes. But during the recent 88th Texas Legislature, any actions seeking to address the concerns raised by public school teachers and their advocates were opposed by advocates of school voucher plans.
Prioritizing public school funding, eliminating the flawed standardized assessment program, and increasing teacher pay were not considered in “good faith” outside of any bill which included the creation of a school voucher plan. Just reflect on that for a moment. Students of all backgrounds need a quality education for success in a complex world. Teachers strive every day to ensure students learn those skills in the public school setting. But some of our Texas lawmakers wanted to take taxpayers’ money away from public schools to fund private education.
Early in the session, Texas Senate Bill 8, which would have created Education Savings Accounts school vouchers, was defeated by legislative efforts like the Herrero amendment. According to the amendment, “Money appropriated by this Act may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, including an education savings account, tax credit scholarship program, or a grant or other similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic primary or secondary education.” The amendment passed 86-52 with the support of local State representatives Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Ken King (R-Canadian). Moreover, State Representative Ken King authored Texas House Bill 100, which would have provided approximately $4.5 billion dollars to public schools, raised the basic allotment or per pupil spending, and increased teacher pay. But despite being approved 141-3 in the Texas House of Representatives, this legislation was obliterated by the Texas Senate, who revised the bill to include school vouchers in the form of Education Savings Accounts. The Senate’s version of HB 100 would give taxpayer money to parents who opt out of the public school system—up to $8,000 per student, per year, to pay for private schooling. That is $1,840 more per student than the state gives to public schools. Please tell me how that makes any sense.
Though the 88th Legislature has adjourned, a special session regarding public school funding and private school vouchers remains likely. Public school advocates can only hope that Texas lawmakers continue to stand with the majority of citizens and taxpayers who support public schools. We must continue to contact the offices of our legislators to remind them of the value of public schools and of our appreciation for their support. Nonetheless, our public school teachers will continue learning and adopting new strategies to ensure Texas’ 5.4 million students receive the quality education they deserve.