I am greatly encouraged by the discussion about vouchers (by any name) that is picking up across the state from a very diverse group of individuals and groups. Where once there seemed to be somewhat of a reticence to challenge the continued push by the Lt. Governor for what are now called Educations Savings Accounts (vouchers by any name), many are now challenging some of the assumptions and highlighting the shortcomings of any voucher proposal, specifically the one on the table now.
This is no longer simply a school choice or reform discussion. It has now evolved to a discussion of how this conflicts with conservative principles, how it creates a potential for segregation and how the lack of accountability creates an unfair playing field when comparing public schools to other school choice options, among others.
Last week, Dr. Mike Moses, former commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, responded to a Lubbock Avalanche-Journal editorial that outlined a number of concerns about a voucher program: Dr. Moses’ letter to the editor can be found by clicking here. His comments struck a chord with me on a couple of fronts. One is the reluctance on the part of private schools to want to participate in a program that would force more accountability on them. A second is the fact that much of the discussion surrounding options other than public schools fails to even include a discussion about accountability.
When you get down to it, challenging the push from the Lt. Governor will require a cross section of individuals who are passionate about public education to engage and have discussions with legislators. This effort is not one that will result in an immediate change in thinking and approach for some but it is one that is having an impact by raising the issues. On the surface, the idea of school choice makes sense; after all, public schools are a part of the school choice discussion already. But there needs to be a serious and far reaching discussion about the pitfalls and risks of proposals currently being discussed.
As I have written before, the legislature is divided on their approach to vouchers (by any name). The Senate traditionally has been more receptive to the concept of vouchers, at least for those in power. What this boils down to, again reflecting Dr. Moses’ comments, is whether the discussion centers around party and individual principles or the opportunity to serve those they represent. The House, on the other hand, remains open to having a discussion about school choice and how to best serve the needs of students.
This is not a cut and dry discussion. There are no right answers. But one thing is certain … the more open and objective the discussion, the stronger the likelihood that the needs of the nearly 5.3 million students will be served. If the discussion shifts from principles to needs of the student, the entire state will be better served. This will require a broad base of support and advocacy for public education as we continue to Make Education a Priority.