Texas Lege Preview: Are School Vouchers a Shoo-In?
House Dems (and rural Republicans) ready to rally for public education
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, Central Austin's voice on education in the Texas House, has two children in Austin ISD schools. "My fifth-grader didn't get a teacher this year because there are just no teachers," she said. His class was instead divided and combined with two others. "So he's in a giant class, teachers are struggling, kids are struggling. It's just – our schools are in crisis." She recounted a conversation with the teacher who absorbed half of her son's class: "She said to me, 'You know, I used to be a great teacher. I used to be the best. But not anymore. Not with all the crap that they put on me.' I mean, I wanted to cry, because that's the way our teachers feel right now. They just feel so disrespected and so undervalued."
Educators have been leaving Texas schools in large numbers. COVID produced online learning demands that doubled the workload. Hard-right parents and lawmakers have turned local schools throughout the state into culture war battlegrounds over the (accurate) teaching of matters of race and efforts to safeguard LGBTQ+ students.
These "parents' rights" campaigns have brought back to life the "school choice" voucher proposals of past decades in Texas, to let parents use the money they pay to support their local schools to instead subsidize their kids' tuition at private (Christian, usually) schools. Senate Bill 176, by Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, former chair of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, would make up to $10,000 available to parents who want to go this route.
House Democrats like Hinojosa, former president of the Austin school board, say vouchers would further entrench a caste system in education. "We already have two parallel school systems [because] charter schools don't take all kids," she said. "With the proposed vouchers that the governor is for, we're talking about funding three parallel school systems, when the one that takes all kids – our neighborhood public schools – is just barely hanging on." In the past, Dems in the Lege have been joined by rural Republicans who are deeply invested in their local schools and don't have private alternatives, so vouchers are not certain to pass.
Meanwhile, Hinojosa has filed House Bill 31, which would get more money to school districts by basing their funding on school enrollment rather than attendance.