Hundreds of teachers, parents and students rallied outside the Texas state Capitol on Tuesday in support of a proposal that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send public school students to private schools.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the proposal is centered on “school choice,” and that he hopes the voucher program would promote equity by making it easier for low-income and high-academic-need students to attend private schools.
“In fact, many of the people who fight school choice are sending their kids to private school, but if you’re not rich, you don’t have that same opportunity,” Patrick said at the rally. “I want school choice, equity, fairness and hope for every child, whether you’re rich or you’re poor.”
Patrick has made school vouchers one of his priorities for this legislative session. The Texas House did not vote on a voucher proposal that passed the Senate in 2015; this time, he said, House members should vote.
“If you block a bill from a vote on school choice, you are blocking the future of that child, of that family, of that American dream,” he said.
Louis Malfaro, the president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said school voucher programs “divert much-needed funding from public schools to private schools with little or no financial or academic accountability."
"They also open the door for taxpayer money to fund religious schools," he added, "and they further segregate our schoolchildren between those that can afford the extra money needed for private school and those that can’t.”
Opponents worry that vouchers threaten educational equity and democracy because private schools are not required to accept all students and are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools. The vouchers proposed by Patrick, called “educational savings accounts,” may not cover the total tuition for private schools, which critics say would discriminate against lower-income students who are unable to afford the high costs.