Last Tuesday, the Texas House of Representatives endured an unusually long day, though possibly not as long as it should have been. After 17 hours, the House passed a budget proposal for the next biennium. More than 350 amendments were introduced for the main budget bill. One was especially interesting. This amendment would have prohibited government from giving tax money to private or parochial schools.
One good reason for it: These schools do not have to account for their stewardship of these tax dollars.
Yet this critical amendment was withdrawn by its author, Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, in the wee hours of the morning. State Sen. Larry Taylor, a standard bearer for the privatization movement in education, was making the rounds of House members while the lobbying group Americans for Prosperity threatened all who voted for Herrero’s bill. In the end, somebody blinked.
Herrero’s office later explained that the House showed unprecedented support for public school funding with those measures that were passed and that this amendment was simply not necessary at the time. Whatever the rationale for Herrero’s backing off, the issue has certainly not gone away. It will come up again.
All this involves so-called “school choice” or “tuition vouchers.”
As a child of small-town Texas, I remember school choice back in the day. My choice was the Hubbard Jaguars or Dawson Bulldogs. I was a proud Jaguar. But school choice was easy in rural Texas. I chose my local public school. So too do families today in communities such as Bosqueville, China Spring, Crawford, McGregor and Lorena in our area, to name but a few.
The Texas PTA, Pastors for Public Schools, teacher organizations and rural school leadership are in opposition to tuition vouchers and other corporate money grabs. And why would this worthy amendment not be approved? In the 2013 legislative session, this line in the sand was drawn by a healthy margin. Rural Republicans and Democrats formed a formidable coalition to show support for their local schools.
When the time comes, we trust they will rally to their local schools again.
Everyone wants school reform until people find out the reform discussed will adversely impact their schools and communities. Most people are happy with their neighborhood schools. Rural areas find the school system and local faith community are the glue that holds them all together. Folks gather on Friday nights to cheer on the home team. They gather on Sunday mornings to worship.
Privatization is the word
Spin doctors out there want the voters to think about choice. But remember: The real term for that is privatization. Profiteers and educational entrepreneurs see money to be made in the public system. Deliver a product. Put a kid in front of a computer screen. Virtual teachers and virtual education create a healthy bottom line but at the expense of your grandchild or mine.
Anytime a profit motive is introduced into a process, responsible citizens must first look at what is creating that bottom line for the investor. What services or supplies will be streamlined to create that lean, mean, profit-making education machine. Some suggest that schools should never retain a teacher beyond 10 years of service. New teachers, after all, are cheaper to hire and maintain.
Some believe library services and extracurricular activities for our children are “fluff” in schools and should be eliminated or retained on a fee basis, thus neatly pricing many children out of band, orchestra or athletics. Who needs football anyway?
“Friday Night Lights” was a movie about the pivotal role of football in small Texas communities. Privatization would surely eliminate many local rural athletic programs as the private schools drain students away from local neighborhood schools. Think this won’t change many communities?
I live with a very conservative man. We have had a long and happy marriage in spite of our political differences. We are still happily married because there are some things that we do agree on. Here they are:
Giving tax dollars to private and parochial schools, without accountability to the taxpayer, is not conservative fiscal policy.
A common “public” education is the foundation of our republic, the basis for our sense of national pride and the glue that holds us together as a community of diverse backgrounds and creeds. This education cannot be delivered by parochial, private and for-profit institutions.
Education of our children, just like fire and police protection, is a public good. Government cannot make any of these optional. Texas’ public education system must create citizens with a common sense of purpose and vision. The future for Texas cannot be relegated to the lowest bidder. Education cannot be farmed out to corporations that must, by definition, make profits for stockholders.
The bureaucrats take over
In the antithesis of local control, some lawmakers are considering taking the education of your children and grandchildren out of the hands of local communities and putting it into the hands of Austin bureaucrats. When did usurping local control become a conservative virtue in the Texas Legislature? When did more government and bigger government become the conservative ideal in Texas?
If you care about the glue that holds Texas together, if you are conservative, then you must consider these questions. You must demand accountability. You must demand that decisions that affect local communities continue to be made in these communities, not corporations and their lackeys in Austin.
Texas needs to look more like Texas, not more like Washington, D.C.
Mary Duty is a teacher at Tennyson Middle School.