Sara Stevenson, librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin and a member of the honor roll of this blog, is a relentless thinker and doer. She writes frequently to set the record straight when rightwing ideologues and reformers attack public education. In this post, she questions the rationale behind voucher legislation in Texas, which comes back session after session, a true zombie. Texas is a conservative state, for sure, but every time the subject of vouchers has come up, it has been beaten back by a coalition of rural representatives, mostly Republicans, who value their hometown schools, and urban representatives, mostly Democrats, who don’t want to drain money away from their underfunded public schools. The voucher proponents are back, and Stevenson says it is time to stop them again.
Even though this latest version states that eligible students must
have attended a public school the previous year, once the door opens,
this bill will achieve what it was originally designed to do all
along. As a rural Republican in the Texas House said recently,
“Vouchers are just tax breaks for people who already send their kids
to private schools.”
I spent ten years teaching in a private Catholic school in Austin. I
admire greatly the work of private schools and the communities they
serve. However, if parents choose to send their child to a private
school, they do not deserve a tax credit. Just because their child
does not attend a public school does not mean they are not obligated
to support public education. Millions of Texas citizens with no
children of school age pay taxes to support our public schools, which
educates 5 million children. Every citizen benefits from an educated
populace. We used to refer to this concept as the common good.
It’s important that we citizens respect our own traditions. The United
States was the first country in the world to enact compulsory, free
education. By this important 19th century innovation, our nation
became a world leader, dominating the 20th century. This value is
inscribed in Article VII of the Texas Constitution.
The main difference between public and private schools is that the
latter have enormous freedom to teach what they want. They are
completely free from any state-imposed curricula, accountability, or
punitive testing schemes. They are also exclusive. You must apply to
a private school, and these schools can reject or expel students for
any reason. They do not have to accept the students who wipe their
feces on the bathroom walls or those with a mental age of one and a
half. Will private schools be equipped and willing to serve these
severely disabled children? Will they be able to teach students who
speak languages other than English, a group that comprises almost 20%
of the current Texas public school population?