breaking news

OVERNIGHT: In late votes, transgender bathroom bill, 10 others sent to House

Stevenson: Here we go again — fighting vouchers at the Texas Capitol


In a commentary I wrote for the Texas Tribune in 2015, I complained that vouchers — or their euphemism, educational savings accounts — are zombie bills that come up every session and refuse to die. Each session, they are defeated because the majority of Texans support their public schools and want to improve them, not siphon decreased funds to private schools with little or no oversight.

Last time around a bill by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, was only six pages long. This year I had to study at 39-page document. What follows is a discussion of some of its more alarming points.

Senate Bill 3, Article 1 states that the purpose of the bill is to “improve public schools and overall academic performance, promote efficiency, promote and preserve the liberties and rights of the people, and to increase parental options.”

When the overall goal of the bill is to hand taxpayer dollars to individuals to use toward private school tuitions — or perhaps to purchase a new computer for home schooling — this bill does nothing to improve public schools. This first statement reminds me of the “alternative facts” our new president’s spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, is promoting. Let’s call these “fake rationales.”

If the second goal — to promote efficiency — is genuine, why do many pages of the bill establish comptrollers, reports and complicated procedures to fend off abuse?

No one’s liberty and rights are abridged by our state’s funding of a public school system as established in Article VII of our state constitution. Any parent has the right to home school or send a child to a private or parochial school. If the parents do not have the resources to do so, they may apply for scholarships provided by these schools. If there are not enough scholarships, the private schools need to raise more funds.

In terms of increasing parental options, public school districts include many available options for parents — including transfers, magnet schools, fine arts academies, Honors tracking, AP classes, dual-language instruction, Global Studies Academies, International Baccalaureate programs, to name only a few — that are offered in Austin ISD. Parents can also choose among many public charters schools as alternatives to district schools.

In terms of parental options, it’s the private schools that will hold all the cards. The law states clearly: “A private school may not be required to modify the school’s creed, practices, admissions policies, curriculum, performance standards, or assessments to receive funds distributed under the program.”

In other words, private schools can continue to discriminate against any voucher child pursuing admission for all the above reasons — reasons that public schools are by law not allowed. Notice also that these private schools will not be held to the same accountability standards that public schools are forced to comply under, most notably state-mandated standardized tests. With public money comes public accountability — but not in this bill.

Perhaps the most pernicious portion of the bill falls under Article 2: Tax Credit Scholarship and Educational Expense Assistance Program, as it applies to the parents of children with disabilities. In order to use the additional educational scholarships, “the notice must inform the parent that a qualifying school is not subject to laws regarding the provision of education services in the same manner as a public school, and a student with disabilities attending a qualifying school may not receive the services a student with disabilities attending a public school is entitled to under federal and state law.”

This is truly shocking. The private schools receiving scholarships do not have to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is then named specifically.

Texans need to wake up and rally to halt this year’s zombie bill from becoming law. The only silver lining to the Betsy DeVos confirmation to secretary of education is that it energized and politicized so many public school supporters throughout the nation, including here in Texas. More Texans now understand what vouchers are and how they directly harm public education.

Let’s come together to support our schools and improve educational outcomes for 5.3 million Texas children.

Stevenson is an Austin educator.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Why the ‘genius’ of South Terminal works for millennials
Commentary: Why the ‘genius’ of South Terminal works for millennials

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of heading home to Cincinnati on the Allegiant nonstop flight out of the South Terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. My experience heading home included a ticketing agent being cussed at by a passenger who had no clue how to get to the new terminal; a nonexistent TSA PreCheck (oh, the agony!); and...
Herman: Again, Texas’ bathroom bill a solution in search of a problem
Herman: Again, Texas’ bathroom bill a solution in search of a problem

One of the more anticipated summer re-runs at Your Texas Capitol aired Tuesday as GOP senators, against the advice of cops, advanced the bathroom bill. That’s the thing with reruns — they always come out the same. Or do they? We’ll find out when the bill gets to the House. During the regular session, the House OK’d a version...
Opinion: Liberal teachers’ union wrong to equate freedom with racism

Randi Weingarten, president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, used a speech last week to brand the education choice movement as racist. She also got personal, trying to pin the racist label onto Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos because DeVos is a passionate supporter of parents being able to...
Commentary: Trump didn’t give Scouts a speech. It was a political rally
Commentary: Trump didn’t give Scouts a speech. It was a political rally

Like many young Americans, I grew up attending weekly meetings as a member of Troop 405 in my hometown of Georgetown. I loved my time in Scouts. We went on amazing trips. Over many years, I learned the values Scouting instils in America’s youth. After reading over President Trump’s transcript and watching highlights of his Jamboree speech...
David Brooks: How cool works in America today
David Brooks: How cool works in America today

If you grew up in the 20th century, there’s a decent chance you wanted to be like Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Humphrey Bogart, Albert Camus, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean or Jimi Hendrix. In their own ways, these people defined cool. The cool person is stoical, emotionally controlled, never eager or needy, but instead mysterious, detached and self-possessed...
More Stories