03/23/2017

Voucher fight heats up in Texas

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Texas AFT members are mobilizing, marching and fighting to stop SB 3, a massive voucher bill now before the state Legislature that could cost Texas public schools in excess of $2 billion.

This month, 2,300 Texas AFT members rallied at the state Capitol, urging legislators to oppose vouchers and fix the state's ailing school finance system. Texas AFT members have sent more than 5,200 letters and have made hundreds of phone calls to lawmakers in opposition to SB 3. "It is the private schools, not the schoolchildren of Texas, that stand to benefit from this demolition of neighborhood public schools," says Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro, who is also an AFT vice president. "And it's the private schools that get taxpayer money with no accountability for how it's spent."

Texas lobby day

More than 100 citizens signed up to testify on the bill at a March 21 Senate Education Committee hearing, where supporters sparked angry resistance when they tried to frame vouchers as a civil rights remedy. The line was soundly rejected by Celina Moreno, an attorney with an organization representing the Texas Latino Education Coalition, who reminded the committee that vouchers have their roots in segregation. State Sen. Royce West stressed that two of the nation's oldest civil rights groups, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP, oppose vouchers and SB 3.

SB 3 contains two different versions of the voucher scheme. One would take thousands of dollars per voucher pupil out of the public schools for various forms of private schooling. The other would give businesses a dollar-for-dollar state tax break for financing private school "scholarships" and other educational services. This $2 billion drain of funding would occur at the very time when Texas public schools are in a tough fight just to piece together enough state aid in the 2018-2019 budgets to avoid per-pupil funding cuts.

SB 3 would segregate students into haves and have-nots—diverting scarce resources into vouchers primarily for upper-middle-class families that can afford to pay private school tuition. And SB 3 is chock-full of language that exempts private schools and other vendors of educational products and services from public accountability.

The bill is a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate. AFT members across the state are calling it out for what it is—a key piece of the three-part attack mounted by Patrick and his backers against public education. Their strategy: deprive schools of adequate funding, demonize schools as failures based on the misuse of standardized testing, and then privatize them.

[Texas AFT, Mike Rose]