Archives for category: Rural Schools

The Texas legislature refused to pass voucher legislation!

Governor Greg Abbott said that getting a voucher law was his #1 priority in this session of the legislature. Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature but rural Republicans and urban Democrats blocked the bill. He pressured every Republican to back his bill.

Once again, vouchers failed to pass!

In rural Texas, public schools are often the only school in town and the biggest employer. Public schools are the heart of the community. Parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins went to the public school. The teachers are well known and respected. Rural Republicans said no to vouchers.

The Pastors for Texas Children have worked diligently to stop vouchers in Texas. PTC issued this press release today:


No Vouchers In Texas!

The Texas House of Representatives has once again stopped a private school voucher program in Texas.

Rep. Ken King’s public education funding bill, HB 100, was saddled in the waning days of the session by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick with a one-hundred page Senate substitute calling for universal ESA vouchers. When the House refused to concur with the substitute, the bill was sent to conference committee where it died.

Although Gov. Greg Abbott made private school vouchers his #1 priority this legislative session, the House was crystal clear in their opposition to it. Three times throughout the session, they repudiated a voucher proposal.

First, the Herrero Amendment prohibiting tax money for private school vouchers passed the Texas House of Representatives during the budget debate on an 86-52 vote. Second, the House refused to grant the Public Education Committee permission to hold an impromptu meeting to push out Senate Bill 8 calling for a universal voucher. The final straw was when the committee failed to garner the votes to pass out SB 8. The plan died in committee.

That’s when the Senate, in a last-ditch effort, attached a comprehensive voucher program to HB 100 which would have provided much-needed funds for local public schools and well-deserved teacher pay increases.

Rep. King did not mince words: “Teacher pay raises held hostage to support an ESA plan. Teachers are punished over a political fight.”

This session’s rejection of vouchers is particularly powerful because Gov. Greg Abbott made the passage of a voucher policy an “emergency item” this legislative session, conducted a statewide campaign in anti-voucher House districts, and personally lobbied House members on the chamber floor to pass it.

“Vouchers are fundamentally unjust and inequitable,” said the Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of Pastors for Texans Children. “It is wrong for public tax dollars to be diverted to subsidize the private education of affluent children. To pay for religious education is an especially egregious violation of both the public trust and of God’s moral law of religious freedom.”

“Gov. Abbott has tied up the entire legislature this session, at the cost of millions of tax dollars, for his own petty personal political agenda. Sadly, his stated intention is to continue calling special legislative sessions until he bullies the House into submission.”

“There is only one way to deal with a bully: a firm, patient, courageous confrontation. Precisely what our morally oak-strong caucus of pro-public education rural Republican and urban Democratic House members can provide.”

The Texas State Constitution, in Article 7, Section 1, calls for the suitable provision for “public free schools.” There is no constitutional provision for public funding diverted to private schools.

Pastors for Texas Children is grateful that the Texas House of Representatives once again stood firm, as they have throughout the 30 year voucher debate in Texas, for the true conservative value of universal education for all Texas schoolchildren, provided and protected by the public.




Pastors for Texas Children mobilizes the faith community for public education ministry and advocacy.

PO Box 471155 – Fort Worth, Texas 76147

This is a shocking story about the precarious position of rural schools in the age of vouchers. Legislators who represent rural districts in Texas know that their constituents don’t want vouchers. Their public school is the heart of their town. It’s where everyone comes together.

But in this story, a couple of billionaires who want all children in church schools, decided to take out one of these rural Republicans who stood by his local public schools. The legislator saw the amount of money arrayed against him, and he retired. He was replaced by a man who supports vouchers, even though the people in his district don’t.

Mike Hixenbaugh explains why rural districts oppose vouchers:

ROBERT LEE, Texas — After a bus driver called in sick one recent afternoon, Robert Lee Independent School District Superintendent Aaron Hood filled in for her. Slipping behind the wheel in a button-up shirt and tie, he rumbled down country roads, past ranches and wind farms to shuttle a few dozen students home in this tiny West Texas town.

Out here, where cattle outnumber children 20 to 1, no one is hollering about critical race theory in textbooks or pornography in the library. But those battles raging 250 miles away in the state capital and in far-away suburbs have galvanized a political movement that Hood fears could deal a devastating blow to rural school districts like his.

Backed by a surge of campaign spending from far-right Christian megadonors, Republicans in Texas and nationwide are pushing legislation that would siphon money from public education under the banner of “parents’ rights.” These plans, commonly known as vouchers, would give parents the money the state would have spent educating their children in public schools — between $8,000 and $10,000 per child per year in Texas — and allow them to put it toward homeschooling expenses, private school tuition or college savings accounts.

Officials in communities like Robert Lee, which has a population of about 1,000, warn these policies will chip away at already razor-thin public school budgets. With only 250 students — about 18 children per grade — even a slight drop in enrollment and funding can force rural schools like Robert Lee to make hard decisions, Hood said.

“We don’t have the same economy of scale as larger districts,” he said, which is one reason he obtained a commercial driver’s license to serve as a substitute bus driver. “If we lose five or 10 students, that’s a teacher salary. But we can’t afford to have one less teacher, so now we’re cutting academic programs, we’re cutting sports, we’re cutting the things that this community relies on.”

As president of the Texas Association of Rural Schools, a collection of 362 public school districts that are united in their opposition to vouchers, Hood and his fellow small-town superintendents have been trying to sound an alarm in Austin. They see the state GOP’s push for what advocates call “school choice” or “education freedom” as a betrayal of the party’s rural base in favor of wealthy campaign donors.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have been pushing voucher legislation hard this year. Texas is one of the few red states that has not adopted voucher legislation for religious and private school tuition. The big stumbling block in the past has been a sturdy coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans.

Writing for ReformAustin, Jovanka Palacios explains here what Governor Abbott does not understand about rural schools.

Gov. Greg Abbott believes that touring rural areas where Republican members of the Texas House or Senate are against vouchers is enough to get them and their constituents on board with the “school choice” idea. But he seems to be overlooking one small detail: “rural public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.”

Keith Bryant, Superintendent of Schools in Lubbock-Cooper ISD, illustrates the effect of a voucher program in rural public schools best:

“They are unifiers, gathering places, and information providers. Many times they are the largest employers in their communities, and, often, school events are the largest draw of visitors to their towns. Disruptions to funding for rural schools are disruptions to the fabric of life in rural communities.”

In a state where the money follows the child, students dropping out of public schools would inevitably affect – an already scarce – budget. Those who oppose a “school choice” program argue that the Legislature should focus on increasing public school education funding, instead of diverting those dollars into a system that holds no accountability.

School funding isn’t that complex, Bryant told RA News, who explains school funding as a pie that everyone in public schools in Texas is sharing.

“Every public school in Texas is sharing this pie. If someone takes a slice out of the pie to fund vouchers for private schools or homeschooling, there is less pie remaining for Texas public schools.”

Open up the link at the Network for Public Education blog, where you will see the article as well as a link to the original.

Consider subscribing to the Network for Public Education blog, which is able to cover many more stories about education across the nation than I do. The blog is curated by the wonderful Peter Greene, who has an eye for great stories.

Moriah Balongit of The Washington Post wrote an excellent and deeply sad story about a poor rural district in Mississippi that can’t find permanent teachers for essential subjects. The district is 98% black. It has a young and energetic principal. But it doesn’t have enough teachers. This dire situation—and the dramatic reduction of students in teacher-preparation programs can be traced in large part to the sustained attack on teachers conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and rightwing think tanks.

Starting in 2010 with the propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” the American public was bombarded by negative screeds about teachers, blaming them for low test scores and for the ills of society. The Billionaire Boys and Girls club heaped scorn on public schools and their teachers. They promoted bogus research claiming that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Instead of clamoring for higher teacher pay and more resources for the neediest schools, they poured millions into Teach for America, which sent a few thousand inexperienced, ill-trained, idealistic college graduates into needy districts, committed to stay for only two years. They poured even more millions into charter schools, as did the U.S. Department of Education.

Now districts like the one described in this article suffer the consequences of the Billionaires’ war on teachers. Why weren’t the super-rich fighting for the kids in districts like Rosedale instead of promoting diversions?

The article has many helpful links. They didn’t transfer over when I copied it. I hope you can open it.

These young people are being cheated out of a good education. They don’t need charter schools, vouchers or TFA. They need the money to hire and retain well-prepared, experienced teachers.

ROSEDALE, Miss. — It’s near the end of the day at West Bolivar High School, and Jordan Mosley is stuck. The 15-year-old sophomore stares at her laptop and restarts the video.

Her teacher that day is a stranger — a nameless long-haired man on the screen. He explains two-column geometry proofs and how students could use the software to complete them. “Prove if the length of AB is equal to the length of EF,” the man says.

But there is no one to ask for help in this classroom, where students stare sleepily at laptops amid the din of a portable air conditioner. There is only a teacher’s assistant who can print out additional worksheets if they run into trouble. So Jordan, a top student, decides to wait until she can see Ms. Butler, the high school’s popular math teacher — and its only one.

The virtual session is not a concession to pandemic learning or a stopgap for a teacher who is sick. It is how sophomores are expected to learn geometry this year after the district could not find a teacher. In the Mississippi Delta, where schools have historically been shortchanged, teaching candidates — especially those who know math — are hard to come by.

The nature and the severity of the teacher crisis differ radically from state to state, district to district and even school to school. Some districts have only recently started experiencing teacher shortages, but in many Southern states, the problem has been long-standing and only gotten worse. It doesn’t help either that the state has shortchanged districts like West Bolivar Consolidated by millions of dollars, failing to fund a program that would send more money to poor districts.

Researchers have found that schools that serve high percentages of minority students and students in poverty have more difficulty finding and retaining qualified educators than Whiter, more affluent schools. The West Bolivar Consolidated School District is 98 percent Black, and 100 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Across the country, states and school districts desperate for candidates have resorted to shortening school weeks to make the job more appealing, eliminating requirements and, in nearby Oklahoma, permitting school districts to hire people without any college education.
In the West Bolivar Consolidated School District, keeping schools staffed is a high-wire balancing act that relies on long-term substitutes, virtual classes and hiring educators to teach subjects they have no training in. Throughout the fall, Superintendent Will Smith said, the district had bent so many rules to hire educators that it risked losing accreditation.

“It’s not fair,” he said, “but what else do we have?…”

Like a lot of communities in the region, the county is rich in culture, history and community pride but economically poor, having lost population when manufacturing jobs left and agriculture became more automated. Those who remain send their children to deteriorating schools that their districts struggle to run because of a dwindling tax base and a state legislature reluctant to fund schools at the per-student rate the law is supposed to guarantee.

It’s how three small-town school districts with rival sports teams merged to become one — West Bolivar Consolidated — in 2014, at the behest of state lawmakers.

When public schools were compelled to integrate here, White students moved to private schools that came to be known as segregation academies — institutions that still stand today and serve a largely White student body. The desegregation fight in the county is hardly history: In 2016, a federal judge ordered two high schools in Cleveland, the county’s largest city, to consolidate into one to better integrate the student body. But at the schools that make up the West Bolivar district, there is nothing to integrate. White students left in the 1970s after courts told schools to open their doors to children of any race.

What’s happening in West Bolivar is common across Mississippi. Researchers trying to understand the teacher shortage could find sufficient data for only 37 states, and among those, Mississippi’s was the worst. For every 10,000 students there, 69 teacher positions are unfilled or filled by someone without traditional credentials. That’s 159 times the ratio in Missouri, according to their working paper, published by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

It has been difficult to attract teachers to the district, and many of the people who work at the school grew up in the region. Smith, the enthusiastic 36-year-old who took the reins of the district last June, hopes to create an energy and a buzz that will draw people to this part of the state.

One tactic he used to excite people in his previous job, as principal of Utica Elementary Middle School near Jackson, made him a local celebrity: His school’s Facebook page featured videos of him surprising teachers with monthly awards. That reputation followed him to West Bolivar, and teachers in neighboring districts, according to Smith, tried to get out of their contracts to go work for him. He recruited his assistant superintendent from another Delta school system. He also had his own tricks for recruiting, starting his searches in January and locking staff down by February.
Still, six weeks into the school year, he had several teacher vacancies. One of the jobs he was hiring for? Middle-school math teacher.

On a day in late September, seventh-graders got to their seats in a math classroom overseen for the day by a teacher’s assistant at West Bolivar High, where a motivational poster declared: “I can keep going when things are tough.”

Their teacher, 42-year-old Camellia Jenkins, was 18 miles away in a classroom full of seventh-graders at the McEvans School in Shaw, Miss. Jenkins toggled back and forth, teaching two different lessons simultaneously because the McEvans students were behind in the curriculum. Piped into the classroom on laptop speakers, she was difficult to hear over the rumble of the air conditioning.

“The assignment you all are doing at West Bolivar, how are you all doing?” Jenkins asked. Later in the lesson, she asked: “What happens to the 3x now?”
“I have no clue,” a student in the back muttered.
These students, in a sense, are lucky. Two other educators — one who teaches Spanish, and another who teaches high school science — also split their time between the two campuses. But in September there were no teacher assistants available to set up a virtual class and supervise students. So when their teachers were not in the building, students worked on assignments independently. (The district has since lined up teaching assistants, so students learn from their teachers over Zoom half the time.)

Shana Bolden, the high school science teacher, said she worries about the students who are left to teach themselves. Those who are not reading on grade level, for example, will struggle to understand a science lesson.

And a lack of funding means neither school has a science lab, so students who want to study science in college may be woefully underprepared. Bolden said she doesn’t think her brightest students are being sufficiently challenged.

Quintarion Hays, 15, is one of them. With his straight A’s, he aspires to work in cybersecurity or computer engineering — and to be the first in his family to finish college. This year, though, only half of his six classes have full-time teachers. He’s in Spanish and chemistry, where he sees teachers only every other day. Then there’s the geometry class, with no teacher.

For his part, Hays said he actually likes the schedule. It allows him a little bit of a break when his teachers travel to other campuses. And he does not struggle to keep up with the work.
“I’m self-motivated,” Hays said. “I’ve had a 4.0 so far, my whole high school career.”

At the recent homecoming parade, Etoshia Robinson, 28, and her 14-year-old daughter, Sariyah Drake, watched as the queen, wearing a six-inch-high tiara, rode by wearing a dress with blinding red sequins. Robinson graduated from Shaw High School, which has since been shuttered, and remembers having veteran teachers who had been in the district so long that they taught multiple generations of students.

Her daughter’s experience has been different. Just this year, Sariyah enrolled in a band class and had hoped to play trumpet, but the teacher was transferred to West Bolivar High after three days of school.

“The kids were looking forward,” Robinson said. “They hadn’t had a band teacher in years. They were excited.”

You don’t need a teaching credential to know children learn better from an in-person instructor than a computer program. Nafatic Butler, West Bolivar High’s beloved math teacher, spelled out some of the reasons: A computer program is a one-size-fits-all approach, not taking into account that some students may learn differently from others. A computer program can’t detect when a student is struggling because they need to review concepts they learned earlier.

And a computer program cannot see when a student is down, stressed or in need of something other than help with math. A computer program cannot be a confidante or a role model or a mentor.

“If they have [math] questions, I’m there,” Butler said. “If they need me, I’m there. If they need to talk, I’m there.”

Next year, though, Butler won’t be there. She’s planning to move to Texas, where she anticipates she won’t have any trouble getting a job — or a raise.

The importance of teachers cannot be underestimated. Research suggests that they matter more to a child’s learning than any other school-based factor, including the condition of the school building or the principal. Teachers not only affect academic achievement, they can also influence the likelihood a child will graduate from high school and how much they’ll learn over the course of their lives, researchers found. For children whose teachers are underqualified, inexperienced or nonexistent, the stakes are high.

West Bolivar Consolidated has been plagued by high turnover, and many of the teachers it hires are new and lack the training for the classes they’re supposed to teach. Measured on state assessments against other school districts with more resources and fewer vacancies, it came out near the bottom, receiving a D for its dismal test scores.

Mississippi’s teacher shortage is long-standing, dating back to at least 1998, when state legislators passed a law that offered college scholarships for teachers-in-training in exchange for a commitment to teach in a community with a shortage. It has tried a number of initiatives to recruit teachers, including residencies where the state pays the tuition of a prospective teacher and a stipend for them to do long-term student teaching.

Still, it has proved difficult to keep teachers in Mississippi because the pay has been historically low compared with that of other states. Two years ago, Mississippi came in dead last in average teacher pay, according to a National Education Association report, at a little less than $47,000 a year.

Last year, for the first time, the state’s Department of Education surveyed districts to learn just how many teachers were needed. It found that schools had more than 3,000 positions that were either vacant or filled by uncertified instructors. Not long after, the state gave teachers a historic pay increase, boosting salaries by an average of $5,140.

Nationally, experts trace the current teacher shortage to the 2008 Great Recession, when the nation’s public education system lost more than 120,000 teachers. When the economy rebounded and schools started hiring again, they found that many of those who had left were reluctant to return. There have been other factors, too: The number of people entering teacher training programs dropped by about one-third between 2008 and 2019.

One Monday in mid-September, Smith got an email that a U.S. Postal Service employee had applied through the school’s website. The woman had not taught on her own before, but she had a combination of qualities that no one else did: credentials to teach math, and a desire to work in this out-of-the-way school district.

“When you get that email, you’re jumping,” Smith said. “You have to quickly call the candidate and have a talk before they get hired by somebody else.”

He offered her a job over the phone, pending approval of the school board. Then he called an in-person emergency board meeting, and members quickly signed off. Within a week, the woman was in front of students at West Bolivar Middle.

By late December, though, the picture still looked bleak. A woman who had come back part time to teach art at McEvans had decided not to return for the second semester. Smith’s plan to move a long-term substitute to the same school to restore the music class was also derailed when the man called to say he planned to stop subbing at the end of the semester. And Smith had given up on trying to find teachers for Spanish, chemistry or geometry for the current school year.

Still, there was little he could do for students in classes now. It was hardly fair for the students, who would face state exams just like their peers in districts that had in-person teachers five days a week, instead of a patchwork of instructors who often left midyear, he said.

A month later, the district’s luck shifted: He hired five teachers — two for high school science, and three for elementary school — for the upcoming school year.

“At the end of the day, you’re still expected to produce the results,” Smith said. “None of the excuses are going to matter.”

This article by Dominick Anthony Walsh in Houston Public Media is an excellent, even-handed description of the voucher debate in Texas. The issues and arguments could apply to any other state. He interviewed Josh Cowen, who spent close to 20 years as a voucher researcher but has since become a voucher critic. He also interviewed several voucher researchers who continue to support them.

Joshua Cowen is a Professor of Education Policy with Michigan State University. He’s spent years studying vouchers, and eventually announced that he opposes the policies.

“They were small programs — a couple thousand kids at the most,” he said. “Those studies did tend to show some small benefit to kids academically.”

As vouchers expanded, research results began to expose problems.

“Once you got to the real ballgame and created the fully scaled up voucher programs, the results were really catastrophic,” Cowen said.

Researchers found that voucher programs in some states led to worse test score results than natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and even the COVID-19 pandemic.

To sum it up: early voucher studies with small sample sizes showed mostly positive results, while the past decade or so of statewide results have largely shown poor outcomes, especially around test scores.

School choice research can be difficult to parse because there’s a lot of money and ideology involved.

Cowen worked on some of the early studies with Patrick Wolf, Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and the 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

The former collaborators disagree about how to interpret findings.

Wolf has found some positive results around high school graduation and college completion. He also pointed to the effects of competition in Florida, where he said public schools’ test scores improved after they were forced to compete for students. But he has also observed negative impacts on test scores, including in Louisiana.

It’s worth noting that Patrick Wolf’s department and chair are funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the biggest private funder of school choice programs. when he cites high school graduation rates, he fails to mention the very high attrition rates in voucher schools. If 100 students enter a voucher program but only remain to 55 graduate from high school and 45 go to college, is the graduation rate 45/55 or 45/100?

Governor Greg Abbott’s voucher proposal would cost the state hundreds of millions, perhaps billions. And most of the money will fund students already enrolled in private and religious schools, as it does in every other state that has a voucher/ESA program.

Towards the end of the month, Governor Greg Abbott clarified for the first time what he means by school choice.

He spoke in Corpus Christi at a “parent empowerment night” hosted by Annapolis Christian Academy, where the high school tuition is almost $11,000 per year.

“Schools are for education, not indoctrination,” he said, to a round of applause.

“Now is the time to expand ESAs to every child in the state of Texas,” he continued.

He put his stamp of approval on a specific form of vouchers — education savings accounts, where families who pull students out of public education receive money. One bill in the legislature would give families about $10,000 a year that they can spend or hold on to.

The policy would mean that the Annapolis Christian Academy parents Abbott was speaking to could use taxpayer dollars for their kids’ religious private school tuition.

Now, where do you think students are more likely to be indoctrinated? At the Annapolis Christian Academy or the local public school?

Jess Piper lives in rural Missouri. She and her husband are farmers with five children. She taught American literature in the local public school. She describes herself as a “woke” progressive. When she added the history of slavery and African American literature to her classes, she said, none of her students (all white) felt embarrassed or uncomfortable. They identified with the abolitionists, not the slaveholders.

She ran for office when she realized that there were no Democrats, and she lost. But she wasn’t discouraged.

I am not a podcast person but I listened to Jess with close attention. On Twitter, she is @piper4Missouri.

You will enjoy listening to her podcast. She has a great voice and a great message.

In a stunning turn of events, the charter schools affiliated with ultra-conservative Hillsdale College withdrew their applications in three counties. The counties rejected them, but the state charter commission had the power to override the local school boards. The charters stirred controversy in the rural counties, and the president of Hillsdale College made matters worse by insulting teachers.

American Classical Education — a group set up to create a network of charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College across Tennessee — has withdrawn its applications to open schools in Madison, Montgomery and Rutherford counties.

This follows months of controversy since Gov. Bill Lee announced a “partnership” with the ultraconservative Michigan college during his State of the State Address in January.

ACE’s application had been rejected in all three counties, and they faced a contentious appeal next week before the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, which could have overruled the local school boards.

“We made this decision because of the limited time to resolve the concerns raised by the commission staff and our concerns that the meeting structure and timing on Oct. 5 will not allow commissioners to hear directly from the community members whose interests lie at the heart of the commission’s work,” board chair Dolores Gresham wrote in a letter delivered Thursday to the commission….

Lee had praised Hillsdale’s “patriotic” approach to education and asked Hillsdale president Larry Arnn to open as many as 100 of the taxpayer-funded schools across the state.

But a NewsChannel 5 investigation had highlighted issues with Hillsdale’s curriculum, including a rewriting of the history of the civil rights movement.

Hidden-camera video also revealed Arnn making derogatory comments about public school teachers coming from “the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.”

More recently, NewsChannel 5 Investigateshad uncovered video of a Hillsdale College professor, who teaches part of an online course about the civil rights movement, questioning the achievements of famous Black Americans.

Early on, Governor Lee asked Hillsdale to open 100 charters in Tennessee, and Hillsdale College scaled the number back to 50. At the moment, Hillsdale has none. Governor Lee underestimated the close ties between rural communities and their public schools. The people of Tennessee were unwilling to toss aside the teachers they know and the schools that are the hub of their communities.

Please open the link to read the rest of the story. Hillsdale might try again.


Texas Governor Greg Abbott is determined to pass voucher legislation if he is re-elected. He has pushed for vouchers repeatedly and been defeated by a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans. Our friends, the Pastors for Texas Children, have been champions of public schools, knowing that vouchers would undermine public schools in rural and suburban Texas. Governor Abbott, as usual, is pandering to the far-right extremists in his party who want to privatize everything.

The Texas Monthly describes Abbott’s sleazy tactics:

Undermining public schools has been a winning strategy for governors in several states. But for many rural, conservative communities in Texas, such schools are the only game in town.

By Bekah McNeel

At a July campaign event in Fort Stockton, Governor Greg Abbott played what has proven to be a winning card for Republicans across the country. “Parents,” he said, “should not be forced to send their child to a government-mandated school that teaches critical race theory, or is forcing their child to wear a face mask against their parents’ desire, or is forcing them to attend a school that isn’t safe.”

Actually, Abbott long ago outlawed mask mandates, and he and the Republican Legislature have heavily regulated what can be taught about race in Texas schools. But touting the progress of his agenda is less compelling than making a bogeyman of public schools altogether—telling parents that they deserve more control over what, where, and how their children learn. It’s a strategy that has well served Republican politicians such as Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin and Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

The buzz phrase “parental control” can cover a lot of ground, from oversight over classroom lessons and library books to school choice, and it’s a concept that most Republican voters support. But Abbott has lately taken parental control a giant step further by promoting school vouchers—government funds that would allow families to send their kids to public or private schools, including religious institutions and homeschooling arrangements. Supporters depict vouchers as the acme of parents’ control over their children’s education. But critics, including many conservative Texans, worry that they will inevitably drain resources from public schools, which in many small communities are the only schools available.

What most call “vouchers” can actually be several different things: tax credits for tuition or homeschooling supplies, access to a government savings account or scholarship that can be used for private school tuition, or a reimbursement for a set amount of educational expenses. Abbott has not committed to a specific kind of program, only to the idea that parents’ tax dollars should be able to pay for private school tuition.

These subsidies—often between $4,000 and $8,000 a year—don’t cover the full annual tuition rates of most private schools, which average between $9,000 and $11,000 in Texas, leading many critics to describe them as gifts to those who can already afford some level of tuition. The neediest students, they argue—those most likely to be in struggling schools—are still left with a considerable bill if they choose to participate.

“It looks like voucher programs in the past have always been about subsidizing affluent to wealthy folks who want private school for their kids,” said Charles Luke, codirector of Pastors for Texas Children. His group has always opposed vouchers, not only on the basis of the potential cost to public schools, but also on the grounds of separating church and state. Luke worries about government interference with religious or church-affiliated schools. “Government interference isn’t good for the church,” he said.

Where the money comes from and what strings are attached will be the devil in the details of bills soon to be filed for the 2023 Legislature, especially as Republicans vie to cut property taxes as well. Texas pays for public schools on a per-pupil basis, so every student lost represents a loss of revenue. School-voucher proponents say that state money should follow students to whatever public or private schools their parents choose. But superintendents argue that when a student leaves a public school for a private one, the district’s costs—for everything from classroom teachers to bus drivers—don’t decline proportionately.

Superintendents and elected representatives from rural areas—many of whom are Republicans—fear that the state would fund vouchers by reducing funding for public schools in places where such schools serve as community hubs, providing meeting spaces, sports competitions, and social services like school nutrition programs and health screenings. Places like Palestine, Texas.

Parents in Athens County, Ohio, are concerned that a planned new charter school will drain funding away from their local public schools. The proposed classical academy is relying on conservative Christian Hillsdale College to deliver its curriculum and set it up but insists it is not a Hillsdale charter, despite appearances.

A planned charter school with ties to evangelical Christian and politically conservative organizations could, if successful, divert approximately $2 million a year from area school districts starting in 2024.

Southeast Ohio Classical Academy, to be based in Athens County, has stirred controversy among local parents and educators who are concerned in part about the school’s:

  • Association with a private Christian college known for its political activism.
  • Ties to a “planted” evangelical church in Athens.
  • Curriculum based on “our Western civilization inheritance.”
  • Potential to siphon state funding away from public schools.

Those concerns have been aired on social media, including a spirited discussion in the Women of Athens Facebook group last month and the creation of an Athens Parents against SOCA Twitter page. Local law enforcement investigated one Facebook comment for “indirect threats” to SOCA board members, although the case was closed without charges.

The school’s founders say that SOCA has no religious affiliation, that its curriculum offers a “well-rounded education,” and that “school choice is a part of freedom.”

Public charter school, private Christian backing

Board member Kim Vandlen said she has long hoped to open a classical school, inspired by her own education at Hillsdale Academy in Michigan. The private, Christian K-12 school is operated by Hillsdale College, a private Christian college with longstanding ties to libertarian and conservative politics.

In the Texas governor’s race between the vile Gregg Abbott and challenged Beto O’Rourke, the candidates are fighting for rural votes on the issue of vouchers. Rural Republicans have a strong allegiance to their public schools, which are often the heart of the community and its biggest employer. Many rural communities do not have any other schools.

Yet Governor Abbott has supinely sought the approval of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children.

The Texas Tribune summed up the conflict:

A battle over school vouchers is mounting in the race to be Texas governor, set into motion after Republican incumbent Greg Abbott offered his clearest support yet for the idea in May.

His Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, is hammering Abbott over the issue on the campaign trail, especially seeking an advantage in rural Texas, where Democrats badly know they need to do better and where vouchers split Republicans. O’Rourke’s campaign is also running newspaper ads in at least 17 markets, mostly rural, that urge voters to “reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund” public schools.

Abbott, meanwhile, is not shying away from the controversy he ignited when he said in May that he supports giving parents “the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student.” He met privately last week with Corey DeAngelis, an aggressive national school choice activist who had previously criticized Abbott as insufficiently supportive of the cause.

“School choice” tends to refer to the broad concept of giving parents the option to send their kids to schools beyond their local public school, while vouchers would allow parents to use state tax dollars to subsidize tuition for those other options, including private schools. Opponents of vouchers say they harm public school systems by draining their funding. In the Legislature, vouchers have long encountered resistance from Democrats and rural Republicans whose public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.

O’Rourke is leaning into the bipartisan salience of the issue.

“For our rural communities, where there’s only one school district and only one option of public school, he wants to defund that through vouchers, take your tax dollars out of your classroom and send it to a private school in Dallas or Austin or somewhere else at your expense,” O’Rourke told a rural audience recently.

As usual, the voucher vultures are pushing the lie that money taken away from your public school will allow children to attend elite private schools.

It can’t be said often enough: voucher funds are never enough to pay for elite public funds. It is a lie. Voucher funding ranges from $4,000 to $8,000. The tuition at elite private schools ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.

Elite private schools don’t have vacancies. When they do, they don’t seek to enroll poor kids.

After 25 years of vouchers, the research is clear: kids who leave community public schools for voucher schools lose academic ground. Large numbers return to their public schools.

Meanwhile public schools are grievously harmed by the withdrawal of funding. They must lay off teachers and cut programs.

If the Devil designed a program to hurt the public schools, he would call it vouchers. And it would be funded by the American Federatuon for Chiildren.