Thousands of students, parents, teachers and school leaders rallied at the Texas State Capitol Tuesday morning to kick of National School Choice Week — hoping to give Texas parents more choices over where their children go to school.
Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick addressed the crowd, calling on lawmakers to pass a bill that would use tax dollars to help parents pay for private, religious or home school options.
“There’s plenty of room for choice,” Patrick said. “It’s the tax payers money. It’s the tax payers children. It’s the children’s future. I say give us a vote up or down on school choice this 85th legislative session.”
Patrick has made expanding school choice one of his top priorities this session. However, he has faced tough opposition in the Texas House, where lawmakers have expressed concerns about the lack of accountability with an education savings account.
“If you are happy with the way your child is being educated, then we support you staying right where you are,” Randan Steinhauser with National School Choice Week said. “However, for far too many families in Texas, the traditional one size fits all model is not working. Especially for those parents who have a student with special needs. So we want to advocate on their behalf that they have the control over how their child is educated.”
Under the program, each student in Texas would be eligible for roughly $5,000 of state funding. The family could then use that money to cover approved education-related expenses like private school tuition, licensed tutors, or education materials.
School choice advocates say this is the best way to directly impact students in failing schools.
“It’s not fair to the children who are not doing well in rural schools for there to be zero option or that they have to stay in that school just to support the funding of that school,” Stephanie Matthews with Texas Public Policy Foundation said. “If the child is not there, the state is not spending the money to educate them.”
Gary Godsey, the Executive Director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, says that expanding school choice would take money away from the state’s public school system.
“Why in the world would we be talking about taking money out of a system and putting it into a private system where there is no accountability and a lot of other things,” Godsey said, “Instead of investing additional resources into a public education system, regardless of what the politicians say, that works for Texas children.”
Last legislative session, the Texas Senate passed a voucher plan, but the bill died in the House. On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott said he will sign off on any school choice bill that reaches his desk.
Patrick is expected to file a bill that would expand school choice in Texas any day now.