AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, a new poll from Change Research asked more than 1,000 Texas voters to weigh in on school voucher programs.
The poll shows voters are split on having a school voucher program in Texas, 46% said they supported the idea, 43% opposed it, and 11% said they were not sure.
However, when it comes to funding, 82% responded they are concerned the voucher program would take away from public school funding, which 57% then stated concern this could lead to higher property taxes.
Earlier this month, Governor Greg Abbott announced his pledge to support school choice, adding it to his list of ‘parental rights’ he’s been campaigning on.
“Empowering parents means giving them the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student,” Abbott said from a press event in San Antonio.
Abbott has promised the voucher program, while still ‘fully funding’ public schools in the state. Some point out that doesn’t add up.
“It comes down to the simple equation that you cannot do a school voucher program without taking money from public education,” political expert Scott Braddock with Quorum Report said Wednesday.
Braddock pointed to previous attempts in Texas to get voucher programs across the finish line, with opposition coming from both Democrats and rural Republicans.
“In rural communities, it might sound cliché, but it’s Friday Night Lights, it’s it’s the best thing in the community is the the local ISD. It’s real clear from the Governor’s comments that he understands that the opposition is going to come from those rural Republicans,” Braddock explained, pointing to comments Abbott has made on the radio over the last week.
“He was on the radio last week in Lubbock, in Wichita Falls, in Amarillo, making the case that hey, for those of you in rural Texas, your schools won’t change at all. And I had some readers at Quorum Report say that sounded a little bit like what President Obama said when he was passing the ACA, the Affordable Care Act that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” Braddock continued.
Braddock said others have tried getting voucher programs across the finish line, including Governor Perry and Governor Bush, but said Abbott likely has a better chance of getting it signed into law.
“Whenever he’s asked for something on his desk, going back to 2015, when he became governor, he got it, even some things that had been pushed for by previous governors that they didn’t get, like sanctuary cities. If the Governor made something, an emergency item, or he really put his complete support behind something, he got it on his desk,” Braddock explained, pointing to one exception in 2017, the controversial bathroom bill.
Mark Wiggins with the Association of Texas Professional Educators reiterated the idea that the vouchers will pull funding from public schools.
“Vouchers are a vehicle to take public taxpayer dollars out of the public school system and divert them into private schools where taxpayers have no oversight over how the money is spent. There is zero accountability for voters and taxpayers,” Wiggins stated Wednesday.
He said the state instead should be focused on allocating funding to solve other issues, like the teacher shortage.
“Overcoming that challenge is going to require funding, we’re going to have to pay to get more educators into the classroom to serve students. And we’re not going to do that by pulling money out of the public school system,” Wiggins said.
But, the Texas Private Schools Association said the state legislature can look at other states with school choice programs to figure out how we can still fully fund the public education system, while allocating funding for parents to choose where they send their kids.
“We have looked at other states, namely Florida and school choice programs that have been there for over 20 years. And the data shows that that students do better, that public schools do better in the areas that have robust school choice programs. It depends on which bill is filed and passed. But the schools, this system will likely get some money even when the child is not there,” Laura Colangelo with TAPS said Wednesday.
The American Federation for Children also stated Wednesday they’re in support of the Governor’s efforts.
“We’re really excited because it really puts parents in the driver’s seat of their children’s education,” Walter Blanks, Jr., with AFC said.
“The biggest benefit is just having more opportunity and more access to help to help students who are struggling for whatever reason. Some students like me, dealt with bullying a lot. I was multiple grades behind, and I couldn’t keep up. And so having a smaller classroom size really helped me,” Blanks explained.
But, Wiggins said the idea of relating parental rights with school choice is not accurate.
“They have never been about choice because private schools will always retain the choice of who they allow to be admitted. And parents will always be forced to give up all of their rights by sending a student to private school on a voucher. Remember, once public taxpayer dollars go to a private school, we lose all control over how It spent what is taught, we have zero accountability for how taxpayer money is spent,” Wiggins stated.
Colangelo explained, though, there are programs where school funding would go to the parent, not directly to the private schools.
“There are things called tax credit scholarships, where businesses can donate to scholarship granting organizations, and that is simply philanthropy and then that they get a tax credit for their donation. And then those scholarships go to students who need help going to private schools, that is not taking any money out of the general revenue, the money that was allocated for public schools,” Coangelo stated.
“The Texas Private Schools Association would never support a program that we thought would harm public schools, we know that most students are going to continue to go to public schools, and they should, and we want public schools to be just as good as our private schools and our charter schools,” she explained.