HOUSTON CHRONICLE – February 15, 2017 by Rev. Charles Foster Johnson
“School choice” is only the latest euphemism for programs that divert public tax dollars to subsidize private and home school education.
They go by many names: education savings accounts and tuition tax credits are the two pseudonyms of Senate Bill 3 sponsored by Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor and prioritized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
But, Texans know how to call something by its real name: private school vouchers.
Voucher policies have come before the Legislature numerous times in the past. Each time, the proposals have been defeated. Why? Because conservative Texans can smell a government entitlement and expansion program a country mile away.
Full funding for our public schools is a public trust of God’s common good. As Pastors for Texas Children, we believe education is a gift from God for all children. Not just children who can afford it, or children from stable families, or children whose parents are engaged in the schools, but all children.
The founders of our great state encoded this moral principle in Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
There is not one single constitutional syllable about private schools. The Legislature has absolutely no authority over them. Such private voluntary assemblies are commonly religious in purpose and curriculum. For the state to insinuate itself into these spaces is egregious government overreach and violation of the religious liberty we cherish in this state.
Why is the Texas Senate once again pushing a policy that the people of Texas have repudiated so many times before? If it had the general support of Texans, why would it be masquerading under the deceptive moniker of “school choice?”
The answer is this: Texans love their neighborhood and community public schools, honor the dedicated public schoolteachers who sacrificially serve our children, endorse public education as a cornerstone of our American democracy, and oppose privatizing it for the financial gain of a few.
Common sense says that no government voucher will begin to pay for a private education – or at least one that even approximates the quality of most public schools. So, who will benefit from the voucher? Not poor families, but rather those financially stable enough to afford the private educational subsidy that the voucher will provide.
Importantly, where is the necessary public oversight for an education savings account paid for by tax dollars? Would a monthly car payment be a justified educational expense if children were transported to a private school? How much expanded and additional government bureaucracy would be required to handle tuition tax credits? Will the state require the rigorous testing and assessment that private school families seek to avoid in the first place?
These are common-sense questions that “school choice” vouchers cannot answer.
“School choice” vouchers are not a real “choice” at all for the overwhelming majority of our children. It is unfair policy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
Let us reaffirm our moral and constitutional obligation to support the public education of our children. Let us cease manipulating our children’s education as a political issue. Let us come together as a unified Texas community to “make suitable provision” for God’s gift of education to all Texas children.
Rev. Johnson, of Fort Worth, is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Pastors for Texas Children.