Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent comments advocating for school choice and for funding to follow students to private schools is drawing rebuke from local school officials.
Abbott made the comments, while pushing his “Parental Bill of Rights.” He pledged public schools will be fully funded, while giving parents a choice for their children’s education.
“No Governor has devoted more resources to public education than I have,” Abbott said in a campaign press release. “In 2019, we increased public education funding by more than $5 billion per biennium and in 2021 we added even more. It is imperative that we continue to fully fund Texas public schools. We can fully fund schools, while also giving parents a choice about which school is best for their child.”
Many local and state school officials are skeptical and do not feel the state is currently funding schools at an adequate level and removing money to send to private schools would create a further strain. Some school officials said it could harm the most vulnerable students.
“This is a topic that has been debated for many years now in our nation and in our state,” said Alvord ISD Superintendent Randy Brown. “The information I have seen has not convinced me that vouchers or school choice improve student learning. I believe it will not benefit our academically fragile students, instead it will only widen the gap between them and students who are already successful.
“Governor Abbott is quoted as saying we can fully fund public schools while also giving parents a choice about which school is right for their child. I am not sure what the governor’s opinion of a ‘fully funded’ public school is. We need to pay our teachers and our staff more just to keep up with inflation, which will be impossible to do unless we receive more funding. I doubt the state can or will provide the funding needed for public education, while also funding a voucher or school choice option.”
Paradise ISD Superintendent Paul Uttley also said the current funding formula with compressed property tax rates and state funding on average daily attendance would not support the plan.
“My problem is that public schools are not funded to the appropriate level now,” Uttley said. “I do not understand where the money will come from to fully fund public schools and provide for vouchers as the governor has stated. The leadership in Austin needs to develop, and publish, a plan that shows how they plan to fully fund public schools and vouchers.
“I am not concerned about the impact to PISD as I know our parents and community have a great amount of support for the work that our educators do in Paradise.”
There is also some concern about different requirements for private and public schools.
Decatur ISD Superintendent Chad Jones referred to the Texas Association of School Administrators’ stance against vouchers.
“[TASA] is opposed to any state plan that would use vouchers, tax credits, taxpayer savings grants, tuition reimbursements, or any other means to divert public tax dollars to private entities, homeschooled students, or parents, with no academic or financial accountability or transparency to the state, taxpayers, or local communities,” Jones said.
“The key to that statement is ‘with no academic or financial accountability or transparency to the state, taxpayers, or local communities.’ Basically, they feel that we should all have to play by the same rules.”
Wise County’s fastest growing and largest school district, Northwest, also released a statement against the governor’s comments.
“Northwest ISD believes the state of Texas should continue to fully fund public education, as is clearly required by the Texas Constitution. At a time when school districts across the nation are facing teacher and support staff shortages, decreases in funding would only hinder the educational environment relied upon by parents and families,” the Northwest ISD statement said.
Wise County Judge J.D. Clark, who is a former educator, also expressed concern school funding being diverted from public schools.
“We currently have Wise County schools that are suffering under the current educational funding system like Chico. They are a small school but under the education funding formula they are a wealthy school with the rock quarries,” Clark said. “They are sending a large amount of money to the state. Already our state funding formula is not working as well as it should for our communities. I don’t want to see anything take more money away from local kids’ education.”