Area superintendents and school board members gathered Wednesday in solidarity before parents and community members in front of the Tyler ISD Career & Technology Center to share their thoughts on the school voucher plan being discussed at the state capitol.
“East Texas, particularly in Smith County, has always enjoyed a special and cordial relationship among the different school options that have existed successfully over the past 50+ years,” Tyler ISD Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford said. “Educational independence and relationships already exist as a foundation for daily life. And yet, instead of building upon those partnerships, we see attacks at that collaboration when competitive teacher salaries in alignment with other professions should be the focus of any statewide political campaign tour.”
Tyler ISD School Board President Wade Washmon spoke on behalf of the Board, sharing his thoughts.
“The state government is offering to use public dollars to outright fund Christian schools through vouchers,” Washmon said. “How does that work? Sounds like a conflict of interest. If that’s an option, why not just allow Tyler ISD to have a Christian choice school that is measured by the same educational standards as all other public schools? Instead of sending taxpayer dollars to places they’ve never been and having no control over how outcomes are measured or how education is executed. We’re all for choice, we’re all for innovative ways to teach and learn, and to serve our communities in the manner they wish to be served, but if tax dollars to public education are going to be measured, then we need to measure EVERY tax dollar spent on education in the state of Texas so adequate comparisons can be made, and we’re on a level playing field.”
Washmon went on to say that public schools are held accountable for their students’ performance through the STAAR test and other measures. The state also gives public school districts financial ratings to evaluate their management of taxpayer resources, and school districts’ finances are open to the public. Most importantly, public school districts are governed by publicly elected trustees. Private schools do not have these accountability measures in place, and many private schools have voiced strong opposition to state assessments at their schools.
“One has to wonder why Austin, TX is so aggressively injecting itself into this region, county, and city while not addressing the most impactful influencer on student outcomes and ultimately our economy: a well-qualified, well-paid, high-performing educator in front of every K-12 student,” Dr. Crawford said.
According to the National Coalition for Public Education, states such as Arizona, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin have found that more than 75 percent of students receiving vouchers have never attended public schools. Vouchers often subsidize tuition for students who already attend private schools. In Texas, more than 300,000 students currently attend private school. These are students that Texas is not paying to educate now. Providing those students vouchers to attend private schools could cost Texas taxpayers billions of dollars annually.
Here is what other area superintendents had to say about the topic:
"Public schools are held to a high standard of accountability by the State of Texas. We, as public educators, accept that responsibility. Public schools use public funds to meet those standards. Our question for our state government is, will private schools be held to the same standards, and should they be able to benefit from vouchers? The answer to that question would affect our students, teachers, and entire public school communities." - Arp ISD Superintendent Mr. Shannon Arrington
"The Governor is absolutely right - our lives are defined by how we respond to challenges. However, taking funds from public schools to support vouchers and education savings accounts will do nothing more than create challenges for public education. These public school funds work to educate all students, and providing them to private schools that can choose the students they accept for enrollment is not best for kids. 'Choice' is the word that is being used, but the reality is that vouchers and education savings accounts are only a choice for the wealthy to send their children to private schools at taxpayers' expense. The constitutional and beautiful role of public schools is to accept all students for the young people they are, and we have outstanding teachers who teach them the skills they need to be successful in life. If you want things to be about 'choice,' let's choose to appropriately fund public schools so that teachers are paid what they deserve, and all students can flourish." - Bullard ISD Superintendent Dr. Jack Lee
“Public education is a cornerstone of our democracy and a fundamental right for all children, regardless of their background or circumstances. We believe every child deserves access to high-quality education, and that can be achieved with a strong investment into the Texas Public School System." – Chapel Hill ISD Superintendent Lamond Dean
“Vouchers have been a bad idea and policy for decades. Vouchers were first introduced during desegregation in the 1960s. Vouchers are certainly not a conservative principle. To give taxpayer funds without any accountability is a horrible idea and will be damaging to many children across Texas. This idea of vouchers has been passed in other states, usually about 70-80 percent of vouchers went to students and families that were already in private schools. So, this is what I consider to be "welfare for the rich," and Texans should not be paying for wealthy families to attend private schools. Vouchers are simply a bad idea for Texas.” - Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt
“The future of Texas depends on our ability to appropriately educate and support all students in the Texas Public School System. Vouchers of any kind under any name are bad for the future of our great state. We will win or lose by the way we choose. Let us unite and choose to address the needs we have in our public schools by providing the right support and resources for the children who need us most. Let us not be pressured to provide a financial subsidy for those controlling our politicians through big money.” - Whitehouse ISD Superintendent Dr. Christopher Moran