Glenn W. Smith, an experienced journalist in Texas, gives his analysis of the politics of school funding and the renewed drive for vouchers.
Is it just a coincidence that private school funding schemes are gaining steam as a far more diverse bunch of kids are sitting in our public classrooms? Less than 29 percent of our public school children are white, down more than a third from the year 2000. Hispanics now make up 52 percent of the Texas school population. African-Americans are 13 percent and Asians 4 percent of students.
The advocates, led by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, claim they want vouchers so “poor kids can escape failing schools,” but these people have never shown any interest in saving kids or their families.
These same policymakers refused to accept billions in federal Medicaid reform dollars, leaving millions of the less fortunate without adequate health care. Now we discover that the maternal death rate in Texas has skyrocketed, especially among poor African-American women. In addition, as the Houston Chronicle reported last week, the state abandoned hundreds of thousands of special needs children by arbitrary cuts to special education.
Also, we shouldn’t forget the refusal of Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders to entertain statewide increases in the minimum wage. Low-wage workers should be happy to eat the stale cake their superiors deign to give them.
The policymakers responsible for these atrocities are the same ones telling us their school privatization plans are intended to help the very people they are punishing in every other major policy area — from health care to political representation to economic opportunity.
Smith predicts that Patrick’s voucher plans will fail, mainly because of resistance by rural Republicans:
In 2017 Patrick might push some of his schemes through the state Senate that he controls. But this is one issue in which rural lawmakers, many of them conservative Republicans, are allied with moderate or liberal urban representatives.
Public schools remain critical centers of life in many rural communities. Folks there lived through the “Wal-Marting” of their towns as the giant retailer drove the mom and pop stores out of business. They aren’t about to let that happen to their schools. They aren’t going to sit by as the Little Red Schoolhouse is turned into the Great Big Red State Profit Center.
Patrick’s plans appear to call for the creation of two K-12 school systems, one public, and one private. This is also giving many conservatives pause. Texas can’t afford that. Various estimates put the tab in the billions.
Let’s hope that Smith is right, and that the good sense of rural Republicans and urban Democrats will save public education in Texas.