With the Texas legislative session just around the corner, groups that advocate for parents’ rights in education have started to push for school vouchers.
Vouchers, which allow students to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars, are popular with many Republican politicians who argue that vouchers protect parental choice in education.
However, many see vouchers as effectively taking money out of the public school system to send students to private or charter schools. Education advocates against vouchers say efforts over the last year at school districts across the state challenging library books or curriculum about racism may have served as a precursor for the push to expand vouchers in Texas in 2023.
Jaime Puente, the director of economic opportunity with progressive advocacy group Every Texan, said a poll from the Charles Butt Foundation shows that Texans love their public schools. According to the poll, the share of public school parents giving their local public schools an A or B grade is up 12 percentage points in two years — to 68%.
“Parents love the schools and love the teachers that are educating their kids. And the only way to get parents to give that up, or to maybe second-guess their love for their local neighborhood community schools, is to try to tear them down,” he said. “That’s what we’ve seen with attacks on our social studies curriculum, attacks on ethnic studies, attacks on our librarians and the books that they choose. And so really what we’re seeing and what we have seen in the last couple of years is the precursor to what we are expecting in the next legislative session, which is an-all out assault on public education, and an attempt to dismantle our public school finance system through vouchers.”
Vouchers have historically been popular among politicians including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Puente said, adding that not every parent raising curriculum concerns at school board meetings is doing so in the name of advancing vouchers. However, he said, in some cases private school parents — or those who haven’t had children in school for a long time — get involved in the debate with different goals in mind.
“The nature of this argument has been to create a seeming groundswell of support for vouchers, when we know through data courtesy of organizations like the Charles Butt Foundation, parents of public school students love their schools,” he said. “I know most Texans love the public education system. While it has problems, and they know it has problems, they believe in public schools and their ability to educate our students.”
Vouchers often come up during the Texas legislative session. Usually, a coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers representing rural districts prevent vouchers from passing into law. Puente said that despite the renewed push for vouchers, he does not expect them to pass given the strength of the opposition among key lawmakers.
“What I am looking forward to is a bipartisan, broad-based coalition of folks who know and love the public schools and are willing to fight for public education,” he said.