Texas Schools in Dire Straits, Perry and Conservatives Have Other Ideas
“Far too few of [Texas] high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college . . . I feel very, very badly for the children there.” Those were the recent sentiments expressed by President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the state of public education in Texas. A sentiment that sadly for too many parents across Texas rings true.
Texas ranks 44th nationally in local expenditures per pupil in public schools. That was before the Texas Legislature cut $5.5 billion from public education this past session. Now facing historic budget cuts, already underfunded school districts across Texas are scrambling to find alternative sources of revenue to cover the shortfall passed on by the Texas Legislature.
Keller ISD recently passed a measure that will charge $100 per semester to students who qualify for reduced-price or free lunches, and $185 for students to ride school buses, with additional children costing $135. A prime example of exactly what progressives groups argued for months – recent budget cuts simply passed the bill to local communities and families.
Parents in other school districts across the state can also expect to see fees levied on programs and activities that had always been free in the past. Keller ISD superintendent Dr. James Veitenheimer believes " other school districts are going to have to make similar decisions about bus services and programs in the coming months. He says that will lead to legal battles between the schools and the state." (Source: Texas Tribune)
Buy why does Governor Perry and the conservative leadership continually underfund public education, leaving Texas communicates and families standing with the bill? The simple truth is that conservative elected officials in Texas want public education to fail. A failed public education system allows conservatives to push school vouchers. According to Steven Schaeferman of the Texas Observer:
Many in the current crop of Republicans in Texas are radicals, not conservatives, and they have several reasons to defund public education. Perhaps the most popular is that under-funding will cause school districts to lay off teachers who have in the past financially supported and voted mostly for Democratic candidates, thus damaging the Democratic Party in Texas. A second is to damage the quality of public schools so more citizens will support private schools, the vast majority of which are religious. However, the least known but by far most important reason is that in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision for the first time allowed a private voucher program for private religious schools, but only when the local public school system is failing.
Texas conservatives have tried to push through school vouchers in the past, but were defeated by a narrow margin. Opponents altered the bill substantially enough through amendments and forced supporters to retract it. But that has not stopped the conservative attack on public education. By continuing to underfund the system, they are setting it up to fail and creating a pathway for a voucher program.