AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As state lawmakers commit to adjusting the public school finance system in Texas, a push for ‘school choice’ — using public education money to pay for other forms of education services — is fading.
Advocates for school choice rallied at the Texas State Capitol Wednesday, drawing hundreds, but the crowd was noticeably smaller than the 2017 version, which featured Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This year’s event featured Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the state’s Land Commissioner George P. Bush and the country’s Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, Frank Brogan, representing the Department of Education.
“Every child learns differently and if we can put them in the right educational fit they are going to become lovers of learning and they are going to thrive in school and that’s really what we want for our kids,” Alicia Girodano, a former teacher, said at the rally.
Giordano, who is a mother of three, has one child in public school, one in private school, and one in charter school. “I never really thought that I would ever send my kids to anything else besides public school,” said Giordano, who moved to Houston from New York ten years ago.
“My oldest son had dyslexia… and the local public school just wasn’t working for him and I realized that I needed to find something else and we actually found a private school with kids for dyslexia, (and) that was a much better fit for him.”
Giordano added: “You can’t expect every school to be able to meet every child needs and for me finding a school for kids with language-based learning disabilities that use research based instructions for kids with dyslexia was very important.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lamented on Tuesday that the Senate passed legislation focusing on ‘school choice’ but that it died in the House. “A parent with a child with a disability, who can’t afford a private option, shouldn’t be locked into a school that can’t help them,” he told reporters. “It’s not the school’s fault, not every teacher is equipped to do that.”
In 2017, Abbott added ‘school choice’ for students with special needs on his special session call. The plan would have used tax dollars to help families in need send their kids to private school. Patrick backed that idea, arguing that school choice reform was necessary for school finance reform, but the legislation did not pass in the lower chamber.
Under new House leadership, using public dollars to fund private schools lacks support. New Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, said there was not support for that in the House. “I’m not going to force my position on the House but it is very clear there is nowhere near the votes for vouchers,” Bonnen said at a Texas Tribune event.
The bill that most closely resembles ‘school choice’ legislation would primarily adjust language in the education code that would grease the wheels for more online courses offered by public and charter schools. House Bill 429 would also require the Texas Education Agency to conduct a study on digital learning.
Plano Republican lawmaker Matt Shaheen, who authored the bill, was unavailable to comment on his proposal Wednesday.
Lawmakers in both parties are not prioritizing ‘school choice’ this session, favoring overall reform to school finance and property taxes.
“At the end of the day we have to look at how those kids are educated and make sure that we as stewards of the taxpayers are doing that in a manner that’s responsible and getting the most bang for the buck,” State Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, said Wednesday.
“The school voucher or the savings plan or whatever you want to call that, I am not for that,” Frullo said. “I am not for sending money to organizations that are on accountable in the way that schools are.”
State Rep. Shawn Thierry, a Houston Democrat, said charter school growth could hamper neighborhood public schools. “One of the things people would be surprised to know is charter schools receive a larger amount of state funding per pupil than our neighborhood public schools, so not only are they able to cherrypick what students they want to educate, they’re actually pulling some of our best and brightest educators and teachers as well,” Thierry said Wednesday.
Giordano hopes by participating in Wednesday’s rally and visiting the offices of her legislators, state leaders hear her message. “Parents need to decide what is best for their kids and some kids will learn better at home, maybe online… it really goes back to the individual child: what is best to meet their learning needs.”
When asked about the idea of passing a ‘school choice’ bill this year, Patrick said, “we’ll see. It’s a long session.”