By Chris Edwards
A guy you might’ve heard of, name of Nelson Mandela, once said that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
In rural East Texas, quality educators and administrators are frequently pinned against hard places and rocks as to how to best educate the next generation of Texans, a coming demographic that will be our next tide of doctors, community leaders, parents, farmers and taxpayers of various vocations.
On the “taxpayers” note, our state currently ranks 42nd in the nation on the per-student funding metric; trailing the national average by $4,000. If you thought that throwing some money at our education system was the answer, guess again.
Throughout the last legislative session, House and Senate Republicans screamed out about school vouchers and Gov. Greg Abbott made them a central plank in his vision for Texas. Simply put, vouchers hurt public schools by diverting taxpayer money away from public school funding toward private schools.
The vouchers issue is a topic I’ve meant to tackle here for some time now, however, many other commentators have weighed in on it; many of whom have actual skin in the education game.
Recently I overheard a couple of conversations on the subject of school vouchers – in both cases, where those speaking were adamantly in favor of them – but couching their support in the old and tired “Crips vs. Bloods,” er, I mean Democrats vs. Republicans language and taking our current state rep. Trent Ashby to ask for voting “against” party lines on vouchers.
First off, anyone in a rural area trying to nestle the topic of implementing a school voucher system within the culture warring context, or within a partisan framing mechanism, needs to realize: 1.) both major parties are obnoxious and 2.) there is more to life, SO much more, than political party affiliation.
Both Ashby and Sen. Robert Nichols are solid, conservative voices for our region, which is one reason I’m glad they represent us in Austin, and a big part of that is that they are both dedicated supporters of public education.
Abbott has stated that every family should have a choice when it comes to where to enroll their children, and he has vowed to call yet another special session, likely in October, so that the lege can take up his vouchers proposal after bi-partisan efforts killed a voucher bill during the regular session in the House.
If public schools are failing, then why isn’t the state legislature attempting to fix the problem? Alongside the funding issue, we have a teacher shortage, a dwindling education system and many of our children falling through the cracks.
A recent statewide poll revealed that 73% of respondents put school safety, teacher pay, curriculum content and public school financing as top priorities, and only eight percent of those polled viewed vouchers as a priority.
Funding for public schools is tied, in-part, to attendance, and diverting public school funds to voucher programs would decrease that funding. Vouchers had been a topic brought up in past legislative sessions, but this year, with all the nonsense afoot about gay characters in library books and supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools, proponents of voucher systems thought their efforts would result in victory.
Those bogeymen, which are buoyed by big money scare campaigns, are nonsense. Texas educators are too busy being forced to teach the STAAR test to worry about things like indoctrination, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish to roast some other time.
Our state had a historic budget surplus. Thirty-two point seven billion smackaroos, to be exact. I’m not frowning on tax cuts, but about half of it went toward that, pay raises for state employees, border security and other allocations. None of it went toward our public education system, though.
So why not throw some money at our public schools and see what happens? We don’t know at present because it hasn’t been done.
Using taxpayer money to fund private schools at the expense of public schools is shameful and does not belong in Texas. My grandfather used to refer to children as “our future,” and he was right. Investing in our future will bode well for us all.