Gov. Greg Abbott is confused. Maybe it’s because he has been listening to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick too much. In any event, he was parroting Patrick this week – there ought to be a law against that — and calling expansion of charter schools a “civil rights issue.” In truth, most of the interest in adding more charter schools comes from business interests eager to cash in on the public’s education tax dollars.
Yes, technically, charter schools are public schools, and, in reality, they are when they are organized and operated by a school district or a truly non-profit organization. But the charter school movement in Texas is attracting a great deal of interest from corporations and entrepreneurs with buildings to lease, computers to sell and for-profit management companies to take over school operations, all funded with your tax dollars. And those tax dollars are coming from your already under-funded traditional neighborhood schools.
Some charter schools are quite good, but others are very bad, little more than conduits for state tax dollars to flow into private bank accounts. On average, studies have shown, charters are no better or worse than traditional public schools. And evidence indicates that some corporate charter chains try to cherry pick the best students, despite denials by many charter advocates.
The Texas Education Agency is responsible for regulating charters and has closed down some chronically bad ones. But considering the governor’s and the legislative majority’s history of under-funding public education, it is not clear that TEA has enough resources to do its job effectively.
Nevertheless, in an address in Austin to the Texas Charter School Conference, as reported by WOAI Radio, Abbott said: “This is a civil rights issue.”
The governor is wrong. Parents don’t have a “civil right” to use tax dollars to send their children to a charter school or a private school. Even using that term is an insult to minority Texans who remember the days when privatization was a route used by many white families to avoid sending their children to public schools that were being integrated during the real civil rights era.
Parents do have a right under the Texas Constitution to send their children to a free public school, and they have a right to expect their neighborhood public schools to be adequately and fairly funded.
Abbott and the legislative majority have ignored that constitutional right. During the 2015 legislative session, they gave a higher priority to tax cuts than school funding, even though many districts still hadn’t recovered from $5.4 billion in school budgets cuts imposed four years earlier. Texas spends, on average, $2,700 less a year to educate a child than the national average, and many of the children being short-changed are low-income, minority kids.
All Texas school children have a right to adequately funded public schools, not hollow, meaningless promises about “civil rights” to attend a charter school.