Texans have spent years arguing the merits of school vouchers and educational savings programs.
With U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos emerging as a proponent of voucher systems, along with the 85th Texas Legislature, once again taking up the issue, voters are debating the merits of the proposed changes
Carole Haynes, a contributing fellow for the National Center for Policy Analysis, spoke to Grassroots America-We The People in a two part series last week, covering a wide range of topics focusing on the state of education in Texas.
“Our philosophy is the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in education,” Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said. “It’s a state, local and parents’ issue.”
Mrs. Fleming said the organization is a proponent of educational freedom. Parents should be able to make decisions best suited to their children, whether that is through public, private or charter schools.
Ms. Haynes said, while she was initially skeptical of DeVos, she believes the best course of action is to ensure DeVos knows what the people want. She said the department’s priorities should be school choice and removing the influence of the Department of Education in local schools.
Mrs. Fleming said Grassroots America-We the People supports local control down to the individual. The group supports education savings accounts because they will allow parents to exercise their right to choose where and how their children are educated.
“We believe free market principles will improve public education,” Fleming said. “Parents have a fundamental right to best choose what suits their child.”
Ms. Haynes said education spending already is a massive portion of the budget and needs to be better utilized.
“Education is 37.8 percent of the budget in Texas, this seems to be rather enough,” she said. “It’s not that they’re not spending enough, it’s what they’re doing with it.”
Tyler ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford said his focus will remain on local issues. If changes to funding are made, Tyler ISD will adjust and continue to provide the best education it can for students, he said.
“We strive to be a system of excellence. As far as what Tyler does, we’ll continue to do the things that have worked well and work on things we need to improve,” he said. “We’ll still be a viable choice for anyone, regardless of whether it’s public or private. We’re not going to get caught up in the narrative.”
Crawford said he is best able to make a difference by focusing on the issues in front of him, but he does believe Tyler ISD and public schools are an invaluable asset to Texas’ economy.
“We boast in Texas about having the ninth best economy in the world, and I’ve got to think that there’s a way to quantify the general diffusion of knowledge and the impact of that on our economic progress and standing,” Crawford said. “Whatever is imposed can’t be done without strategy or purpose. It can’t be one of those things where we’re going to say ‘Let’s rip the Band-Aid off and see how it goes.’”
Ms. Haynes encouraged attendees, about 100 people during the course of two days, to focus on making their voices heard. She told them it is their duty to educate their elected officials on the differences in school choice programs, such as vouchers and education savings accounts.
School vouchers typically allow parents to apply public funding toward tuition at private schools, while education savings accounts set state funding aside and parents can withdraw that money to spend on expenses ranging from private school tuition to online courses or even transportation.
Ms. Haynes said voters should work to convince DeVos to limit federal influence.
“We need her to gradually unwind the DoE, work herself out of a job, make sure schools aren’t punished for resisting Common Core and get out of this federally-funded thinking,” she said. “She has a lot of good things going about her. She’s willing to listen, let’s educate her.”