If you try hard enough, you can design a poll to get just about whatever response you want. But even then, there usually is more than one way to read the results.
Texas Families First, a group that wants to siphon tax dollars for private school vouchers, apparently believes that a new survey it commissioned will help promote its pro-voucher cause with legislators. Its questions were written with that goal in mind. Sure enough, the survey cites some support for vouchers, a finding that the group touted in a press release. The group also happily announced that 80 percent of Texas voters favor local control, a typical response for almost any question about local control, a mythical concept easily adapted to fit just about any agenda, depending on who’s in “control.”
However, in the same poll, a 74 percent to 23 percent margin of respondents said they wanted to increase funding for public schools. Texas Families First didn’t include that fact in its press release because it didn’t fit with the group’s privatization scheme. But better funding is the bottom line for improving public schools, folks, and most Texans realize that.
What the poll really reflects is a growing unhappiness among all Texans over the lousy job that the governor and the legislative majority are doing with the public education system. In the public’s view, almost anybody else could do better.
Last year’s budget cuts saw thousands of students crammed into crowded classrooms. Electives were cut back, some neighborhood schools were closed and some parents even had to pay for their children to ride school buses. And, ignoring the concerns of parents and educators, the legislative majority raised the stakes on standardized testing while refusing to give students and teachers the resources they needed to adequately prepare for them.
Meanwhile, more and more Texans are watching their local property taxes being shipped off to distant school districts because the legislative majority refuses to overhaul an inadequate and inequitable system of school funding.
You bet people want to take responsibility for the public schools away from the crowd now running the statehouse. And, the unhappiness with the legislative majority feeds easily into the “local control” tradition that has been fostered in Texas for years by the existence of 1,000-plus local school districts.
The best way that Texans can restore the confidence in their local schools is to regain control of the Legislature, and that will not happen overnight. But people can start by contacting their state representatives and state senators now and demanding that education spending be restored, high stakes testing be slowed down and school vouchers and other privatization schemes be rejected.
Through its poll, Texas Families First is promoting private school vouchers as a “last resort” for low-income children trapped in failing schools. For every child that received a voucher, however, several hundred more poor children would continue to go to traditional public schools. That is where our tax dollars and focus need to stay trained.