Vouchers don’t promote civil rights


To no one’s surprise, state Sen. Dan Patrick is getting carried away with his own rhetoric over the private school voucher issue, which will be the top priority for Patrick and others seeking to weaken the public schools during next year’s legislative session.

“It is the civil rights issue of our time,” he told the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Civil rights? This is coming from Dan Patrick, a champion of the anti-civil rights Voter ID bill, which a federal court struck down yesterday because it would weaken the voting rights of minority and other low-income Texans.

No, thank you, Texas doesn’t need any more “help” with civil rights from Dan Patrick.

Every child in Texas has a right to an adequate and equitable public education, which Patrick and other supports of private school vouchers would erode by siphoning away tax dollars for a handful of students and private school operators. Vouchers, like voter ID, are an “anti-civil rights issue.”

Patrick also declared, “Don’t let the (teacher) unions tell you we’re going to rob it (voucher money) away from public education.”

But that is exactly what the Texas State Teachers Association will continue to tell everyone, because that is exactly what voucher advocates intend to do.

Patrick and other voucher supporters, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, already have shown they are eager to strip needed resources from the public schools. They slashed $5.4 billion from public education last year, over the strong objections of parents and educators. Parents and educators understand what is needed in our schools, and they, along with teacher groups, actually do value public education and work to improve the lives of public school students every day.

Patrick claims that vouchers would help students with disabilities and autism. But if he were so concerned about their welfare, why did he vote last year to cut their public school budgets and billions of dollars more from health care programs, while leaving billions of dollars unspent in the Rainy Day Fund?

No amount of profiteering schemes will change this fact. The overwhelming majority of Texas’ 5 million school children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools. Most will not have a realistic alternative or a choice, even under a voucher program. Instead, a voucher program would undermine their basic educational rights while providing a taxpayer subsidy to private school owners.

In his speech to GOP delegates, Patrick also denounced “non-needy” Texans who, he said, are benefiting from social welfare programs.

“Get off your butt!…Don’t expect us (taxpayers) to pick up the tab for your lifestyle,” he said.

He doesn’t mind, of course, if taxpayers pick up the tab for non-needy private school operators. That is hypocrisy, folks. It is not what a sound public education system and civil rights are all about.

Invest more in all children, not just a handful

The importance of making greater public investments in our children – all our children, not just a handful who would win a voucher lottery – has been highlighted again in a new report, which is discussed in a New York Times column linked below. Unfortunately, the people who really need to read it, including many of our alleged state “leaders,” probably won’t bother.

The report by the Center for American Progress discusses the heavy investments that China and India, our giant global economic competitors, are making to increase educational opportunities from preschool to college. Clearly, our competitors are investing to prepare their children for the jobs they will be taking from many young Americans in the very near future.

The report notes how unfavorably the United States compares in terms of its overall commitment to children, including investments in early childhood education, poverty reduction and health care. More than 22 percent of American children lived in poverty in 2010, and more than one-fourth have chronic health problems that harm their ability to learn.

How are Texas’ “leaders” preparing Texas children for a very competitive future? Let’s see, first they slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets, a short-sighted decision that reduced pre-kindergarten opportunities, reduced dropout prevention programs, reduced elective choices and increased the sizes of most other classes. The leadership also cut billions of dollars from health care programs, ensuring that thousands of children won’t stay healthy enough to attend school regularly.

In short, the governor and the legislative majority took a huge ax to the critical resources that Texas students and teachers need to succeed. And, they are not done yet.

Now, instead of taking advantage of a rapidly improving economy and increased tax collections to restore the funding cuts, they are preparing to siphon off even more public tax dollars to enrich private school owners. Their proposed voucher plan – which they have misnamed a “choice” program – wouldn’t give the vast majority of Texas students and their parents any choice at all. It would benefit only a handful of students while cutting even more tax dollars from the public schools that most children will still attend – and spend that money instead to support private schools.

Michael Williams, Gov. Perry’s new appointee as state education commissioner, is a long-time advocate of vouchers. And, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst endorsed the idea this week, as he announced plans to seek reelection to another term in 2014.

Dewhurst said he wanted to “continue serving to help move this state forward.” Huh? If he really wants to move this state forward, he better do an about face.