Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why the rescheduling of the voucher bill discussion?

Discussion on SB 3, the voucher legislation (by any name) in the Senate, has been moved from March 15 to March 20.  While I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I am certain there is a good reason for moving the discussion, this certainly eliminates the opportunity for one of the groups impacted by voucher legislation, teachers across the State of Texas, to engage in the discussion and appear at the committee hearing.

With spring break the week of March 13 for many districts, the scheduling of a committee hearing on vouchers for this week represented an opportunity for teachers to voice their concerns about voucher legislation.  Now their voices (at least, “in person” voices) are silenced by a move of the discussion.  Whether that is a ploy on the part of voucher supporters remains to be seen.  To me, and with no basis of fact, only opinion, I wonder if that was the intent of the rescheduling.

Of course, this in and of itself doesn’t really silence anyone.  The reality is that teachers, administrators, board members and community members can all have a “voice” by communicating directly with those who represent them in Austin.  Several organizations have initiated campaigns to get stakeholders in the voucher discussion more engaged, including providing templates for letters that can be sent by each of us.  I hope that public education advocates have taken, or will take, the opportunity to express their concerns about this legislation.

Mary Ann Whiteker, superintendent of Hudson ISD, wrote an op/ed in the Lufkin Daily News in January that does a nice job of capturing the impact of voucher programs on schools across the state.  The link to her article, Farewell to Public education System, can be found by clicking here.  Her article touches on a number of consideration and highlights the supposed rationale behind school choice (and, implicitly, vouchers (by any name) programs).  I say “supposed” because those beating the drum for a dismantling of public education rely on the same argument that our schools are “failing” as justification for their continued pursuit of school choice.  What they fail to recognize or acknowledge is the “why” behind the failings in about 5% of our campuses.

There will no doubt be other ploys designed to silence public education advocates (“invited testimony” being principal among them) but we cannot afford to let these get in the way of advocating for the 5.4 million Texas public education students.  More than ever, we need to use these efforts by Senate leaders as motivation to engage, to speak on behalf of the students, and to make education a priority in the State of Texas, not just for the small percentage of students on “failing” campuses but for all students.

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