Express-News Staff Writer
AUSTIN — About 40 parents from the Edgewood School District rallied on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday to ask lawmakers to stop attempts to create a taxpayer-funded voucher program in Texas.
Lawmakers are considering three voucher bills currently pending in the House Public Education Committee. Two would create pilot programs which would affect several San Antonio school districts. The third would establish a statewide voucher program, affecting every school in Texas.
The only voucher program in the state now is a privately funded one in San Antonio's Edgewood School District.
Parents who oppose vouchers say they don't provide true school choice because private schools have the final say on who can attend. And, whether funded by private corporations or taxpayer money, vouchers siphon resources from public schools, opponents say.
"These vouchers exert an enormous financial drain on our school district, a tear in the fabric of our goals to educate our children," said Mike Espinoza, an Edgewood parent of an autistic son.
Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, a group that advocates for public schools, said a voucher plan would drain between $600 million and $1.1 billion from public schools. Public school supporters cannot support vouchers, she said.
"The parents and teachers here today know firsthand the problems caused by voucher programs," she said.
"They have seen their schools lose precious dollars even while private schools cherry-pick certain students and reject others who have applied. At a time when legislators are struggling to fully fund our public schools, the last thing they should be doing is passing a voucher scheme that drains money from neighborhood schools to subsidize tuition at private schools."
Three weeks ago, nearly 500 voucher supporters rallied on the Capitol steps. They were greeted warmly by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
One of the pending bills, House Bill 12, is sponsored by Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio. It would allow economically disadvantaged students from the state's six largest school districts, including Northside, to use a taxpayer-funded voucher to go to private school.
Corte argues that vouchers would force competition between public and private schools, and that competition will benefit students in both settings.
But Miller said the Edgewood parents in Austin on Thursday have a different story to tell.
"Their stories show that despite all the promises made by pro-voucher lobbyists, vouchers leave kids behind, fail families and hurt communities," Miller said.