Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Hundreds Rally for School Choice

04/06/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer

AUSTIN — More than 500 parents, many from San Antonio, traveled Tuesday to the Capitol to rally in support of school choice and to testify before lawmakers who are considering three bills that could make Texas a model for taxpayer-funded private education.

"We need options," said Debra Cortines, who lives in the Edgewood School district. "Parents want a choice when it comes to their children's education."

Two of the bills being debated in the House Education Committee target San Antonio school districts specifically, including San Antonio, South San Antonio, Edgewood and Northside. The third bill would make every public school student in the state eligible for a voucher that could be used for private-school tuition.

Voucher supporters gathered at noon on the steps of the Capitol, waving Texas and American flags and shouting school choice slogans in English and Spanish.

"You're here today to make sure your voices are heard. And I'm telling you there are people listening to you at the highest level of state government," Gov. Rick Perry told the crowd. "When you give parents a choice, you give children a chance." Perry discounted the argument by critics that vouchers pull money from public schools and do nothing to help children left behind, pointing to Edgewood as an example.

Students there have been eligible for privately funded vouchers since 1998.

Just before the rally, representatives from civil rights organizations including the NAACP and LULAC held a news conference to urge lawmakers to end their "assault" on public schools.

The civil rights groups contend that while urban public schools are chronically under- funded, organizations like the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, funded partially with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, are attempting to persuade minority communities that diverting money from schools in the name of choice will benefit them.

"They are portraying this as an opportunity for middle-income and poor kids to have a stipend that will allow them to attend rich kids' schools, but it isn't that," said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. "It is true that parents, whatever their socioeconomic level, want their children to have the best education possible, but these proposals are fool's gold." House Public Education Committee members heard five hours of testimony from voucher supporters, while scores of opponents waited in frustration for their turn.

"We were told to expect to be here until midnight," said Dinah Miller, a parent from Dallas who had to leave at 6:30 p.m. after traveling to Austin to voice her opposition of vouchers. "The deck was stacked against us." Miller said she wanted to tell lawmakers that vouchers would drain much-needed resources from public schools.

"I wish they would focus on excellence in public education," Miller said. "Schools need more money, and we thought that's what they were getting this session.

"The kids that public schools are serving are just getting more and more needy, and they need more resources."

House Bill 12, sponsored by Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, would allow economically disadvantaged students from the state's six largest school districts, including Northside, to use a taxpayer-funded voucher to go to a private school.

"Where you live should not make you captive in a failing environment," Corte said.

He said vouchers would force competition between public and private schools, and that competition will benefit students in both settings.

"I support school choice, because I'm a huge believer in the free market system," he said.

House Bill 1263 would allow students with special needs or circumstances from districts in the state's five largest counties to apply for a voucher. The districts, which include San Antonio, South San Antonio and Edgewood, must serve a majority of economically disadvantaged students.

Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, said the voucher bills would drain between $600 million and $1.1 billion from public schools.

"If you support public education in Texas, you can not support vouchers," Miller said.

Express-News staff writer Guillermo X. Garcia contributed to this report.


  1. Listening to the short portion of the committee hearings that I was able to attend, I was disheartened by the way that the bills were framed in front of the committee and the way that the bill was sold to the parents. The parents were not given all of the facts of the bills--as one young man from LULAC noted there is no stipulation within bill 1263, which in my opinion is the most plausible bill, that forces private schools to take students who need bilingual education services, special services, or have behavioral issues. While the bill states that students may not be discriminated against by reason of ethnicity, race, gender, or physical disability, there is no mention of extra services. Another issue is the small number of students that will be able to obtain the voucher. What about the at least 80% who do not recieve a voucher?

    Another thing that struck me while I was listening to the hearing was the unquestioning belief in the free market system. One, can we assume that competition will make all schools exemplary? Two, in a free market system, isn't there always a distribution of wealth that is skewed to those who can afford better? Three, how can a belief in a free market system be rectified with the idea of a state-run educational system? How is this not a more toward privatization of education in every form?

  2. When I went to observe and watch the House Education Committee hearing on vouchers, I had no idea what to expect. What I found shocked me and left me dumbfounded. It seems democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Those in power have all the clout. There may be an education committee, but it’s all Kent Grusendorf. The rest of the committee may as well be for show, because committee chair Grusendorf is going to manage the hearings in his best interest, which is the passage of the voucher bills.

    I know I’ve been living in a naïve, optimistic world because I believed our system of politics somehow worked. From day one, our public schools teach us about all of the idealism of democracy, how every vote counts, how we all have a voice in the running of our great nation. It turns out that it’s not quite the case. The dominant hegemony has the power; the wealthy have the power; men have the power. It’s been like that since the inception of our country. It’s going to take dedicated, committed individuals coming together collectively and collaboratively to initiate changes that will result in the equal representation and participation by all.

    I couldn’t believe the tactics used to silence the opposition at the hearings. Leaving the anti-voucher testimony until the end of the night, in hopes of thinning out the opposition. Mispronouncing names, sometimes to the point that what was being said was another name, another completely different person who did not exist, or at least was not present at the hearings. Time limitations, bored looks, frequent breaks, all done to alienate those opposed to school vouchers.
    I was amazed at the outpouring of testimonies from both sides of the issue. One of the major bright spots of the entire evening was the great influx of testimony from parents, particularly from Edgewood ISD in San Antonio, TX. Whether they were supportive or opposed to vouchers, I was impressed at the passion of both sides, the time and commitment they made to be present and have their voices heard. This participation leaves me with great hope for the future, with an excitement for the great potential of community organization and advocacy.

    While I am against a voucher system, the committee hearings were more of an experience in the observation of the political system of Texas, rather than the promotion of my beliefs. I do believe, however, that any system that contains the hidden agenda of privatizing public education is nothing but a moneymaking scheme to make the rich richer and keep the poor poor. A scheme to keep the poor, the uneducated, on the same low rungs of society in order for greedy capitalists to continue capitalizing at the expense of others. An effort to maintain the dominant hegemony, the ruling class; an effort to continue denying children the opportunity for excellence in education.