Debate over school vouchers continues in Texas
AUSTIN, Texas - One of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's main priorities for this legislative session is the idea of school choice: school vouchers and educational savings accounts.
However, the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers says it seems to be a code word for a tax break for the upper middle class and wealthiest Texans who are sending their kids to private schools.
"School vouchers really are school privatization," Zeph Capo, President of the Texas American Federation of Teachers said.
"When we hear them talk about school choice, what we hear are layoffs, what we hear are school closures, what we hear are school districts forced into considering four-day week schedules to accommodate and being able to keep up with teacher pay raises and additional student growth," he added.
Under legislation by state Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), families would receive about $10,000 per year towards educating each of their kids. The money could roll over year to year, and the extra money can be used for higher education as well.
The child must have been enrolled in a public school the entire previous school year. And finally, under this law private schools do not have to report test results or how they're spending taxpayer money.
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"Frankly, if you ask any fourth grade teacher in an actual Texas public school, I would be hard-pressed to say that you could find one that says they feel like their school in their classroom has been fully funded," Capo said. "So we kind of don't trust what the governor says when he talks about schools will be fully funded. No one really believes him when he says that schools are currently fully funded. But that's also because whose definition of fully funding are we using?"
Capo says he’d like to see classrooms with no more than 22 students with access to a counselor, social worker and a fully stocked library. He adds that a school voucher is like a tax break for the wealthier of Texas.
"My son, who's in fifth grade, didn't get a teacher this year. My 11th grader didn't get a science teacher this year because we're not paying our teachers enough," state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) said. "We're not showing our teachers the respect that they deserve. And so rather than focus on this fake pass out outside of our public schools, because most people won't be able to take advantage of it, we should be focusing on fully funding our schools for the vast majority of Texas school students are and will stay regardless of any kind of defund."
Rep. Hinojosa says the focus on funding should be on changing how schools are funded, not taking away money for use at private schools. She’s proposed funding Texas schools based on every child that is enrolled, rather than attendance. According to Rep. Hinojosa, Texas is one of only six states to deduct funding to punish schools when kids are absent.
"We have teachers who are still in the classroom barely holding on," Hinojosa said. "We have parents who are doing everything they can to give their school the supports they need. And so we should be fully funding our schools. Right now there are only two other states that rank below Texas in per pupil funding. Our teachers are about $8,000 underpaid below the national average, and so our schools need help."