Wednesday, Texas House Democrats hit back by saying they would fight the state’s Republican leaders over programs similar to school vouchers.
But they didn’t say how they would stop efforts that top GOP officials have been pushing for months to give people more choices about where to go to school.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, is the chair of the House Democratic Caucus. He said that any move in the Legislature to introduce vouchers, which take money away from the state’s public schools and help pay for private school tuition, would mess up the education system in Texas.
“It’s a nonstarter for this caucus,” Martinez Fischer said. “We will lead with our values, and we will talk about our priorities.”
Martinez Fischer also said that these efforts, backed by several Republicans, would create a small business that cares more about making money than helping people.
Even though voucher-like ideas have been tried and failed in the past, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are making a new push for school choice. They say it will give parents more control over their children’s education.
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Last week, the Texas State Board of Education changed its mind about voucher-like programs. This happened after several newly-elected members were sworn in, which made the board even more conservative.
Last week, the 15-person board voted to remove from its list of legislative priorities the part that said it was against voucher-like programs.
Abbott has said that he supports universal education savings accounts, which would give state money directly to families, sometimes on a preloaded debit card. On the other hand, traditional vouchers usually send money now to the private school or another school where the student is enrolled.
Marisa Perez-Diaz and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, two Democrats on the state board, came to the House meeting on Wednesday.
Perez-Diaz, who represents San Antonio, said, “I don’t think that education has been more polarized than what we’re living in today,” “Private parochial schools, they don’t have the capacity to even educate all of the students that could potentially want to take advantage of these vouchers.”
She said that if vouchers didn’t cover all of the cost of tuition, not many families would be able to use the program.
Bell-Metereau, who lives in San Marcos, said vouchers would cause problems all over the state and even take money away from high school football, a Texas tradition for a long time.
“I think people have to realize that if we end up defunding our public schools, they can say goodbye to Friday Night Lights,” she said.
There have already been several “school choice” bills introduced this session: Sen. Mayes Middleton, a Republican from Wallisville, filed a bill that would create the “Texas Parental Empowerment Program,” which would be an education savings account program run by the state comptroller.
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