Thursday, September 22, 2016

Education Savings Accounts … the New Vouchers (By Any Name)

On September 12, I was privileged to attend a press conference sponsored by the Coalition for Public Schools during which six individuals discussed the pitfalls of vouchers and how these will adversely impact public education students in Texas.  One of the key messages was noting that the new word for vouchers is “education savings accounts”.  Does that change the intent or the potential outcome?  Not at all, but it is a way for those who persist in efforts to dismantle public education to run out new words and to hope that the new words land with those who generally are not well versed in intent or meaning.

A couple of days later, the Senate education committee held a hearing on vouchers (by any name) but what should be disappointing to all of us is that the invited testimony was all focused on supporting the desire of the Lt. Governor to promote vouchers as his number one legislative priority in the 85th session.  

Where is the balance in these hearings?  Where is there an opportunity for those who have a perspective on the importance of public education and the harm to the public education system resulting from a voucher program (by any name)?  Those who are elected to serve can certainly make decisions rooted in their personal perspectives and that is as it should be.  However, decisions are generally made on the basis of having as much information about a subject as we can and our elected officials should be open to and encourage opposing views.  The fact that we have the opportunity to speak and to share opposing views is critical to our success as a society.

So how do we counter the bias that seems to exist in some circles if we are not given the floor to speak?  It begins with a commitment to advocacy at all levels, starting with our local elected officials and then extending to county officials and ultimately to those elected at the state level.  In fact, in many cases, the discussion extends to the national level.  It is a discussion, however, that requires a broader base of commitment to advocacy and a consistency of message.

Therein lies part of our challenge.  The needs of districts are unique depending upon any number of factors.  That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t try to understand the needs of others and then be able to assimilate differing opinions into our decision process.  It has to start at a grassroots level, beginning with individual trustees and administrators and extending to the many public education advocacy groups across the state. 

If we are to succeed in combating notions that are counter to the needs of our public education students, it starts with each of us as individuals.  We must commit to advocacy and we must follow through on those commitments.  It is only through a concerted effort that we can keep the messaging to Make Education a Priority top of mind and can continue to focus on the pitfalls of education savings accounts or vouchers (by any name).

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