Friday, April 01, 2005

Results of Hispanic Poll Stir Voucher Debate

Note from Carolyn Boyle, Chair, Coalition for Public Schools Organizations & Friends

You're invited to attend and show your support for public schools at a press conference to be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, April 4 on the NORTH steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin. The Coalition for Public Schools will release information showing that proposed private school voucher legislation could drain more than $1 billion from Texas public schools. Speakers also will provide personal accounts of the true cost of vouchers for neighborhood public schools. -Angela

by Jenny LaCoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer

More than 70 percent of Bexar County Hispanic voters surveyed in a recent poll favor a pilot school choice program that would allow students to transfer to private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers.

Voucher supporters say the poll results are a battle cry from frustrated parents to legislators that they want more options when it comes to their children's education.

Voucher opponents say the survey, conducted by a pro-voucher group partially funded by the U.S. Education Department, contained vague and misleading questions and doesn't reflect the true opinions of Bexar County parents.

The poll targeted about 1,000 Hispanics in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties and asked about everything from teacher quality and segregation in schools to educators' expectations of Latino children.

It found that more than 70 percent statewide either strongly or somewhat favored a statewide school choice program and nearly 76 percent favored a limited pilot school choice program. Less than 29 percent of respondents described the overall quality of education that low-income, inner-city Latino children receive as excellent or good.

"In my opinion, it is a call for action," said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, the group that sponsored the poll.

But Kathy Miller, president of the Austin-based advocacy group Texas Freedom Network, said the survey questions didn't explain that the vouchers are taxpayer funded and take money out of public schools.

"It shouldn't surprise anyone that a pro-voucher group, backed by pro-voucher money would create a push poll that gave them the results that they want during a legislative session," she said. "They (respondents) were told the program wouldn't cost any additional money, but not told that it actually pulls money from the public school."

The poll was conducted by Montgomery and Associates, an Austin public opinion and market research firm that primarily works for Democrats, according to firm President Jeff Montgomery.

Huffman said the voucher movement has been cast as a "Republican, right-wing agenda to privatize public schools" but that even among Hispanic Democrats, 66.5 percent strongly or somewhat favored statewide choice in the poll.

"This is an issue that has been highly politicized," she said.

Texas lawmakers are considering three bills that would establish pilot voucher programs, with the potential for thousands of San Antonio students to be eligible. The House Public Education Committee will hear public testimony Tuesday.

Shelley Potter, co-president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, said every other recent poll on school vouchers shows a majority of Texans do not support them. A recent Scripps Howard Texas Poll showed that 55 percent of respondents do not support vouchers, 39 percent do support them and 6 percent didn't respond.

"This is contrary to what every other poll that I know of recently is showing. In fact, the trend is the other way," Potter said.

Rosie Ybarra, whose children attend Christian Academy of San Antonio under a privately-funded voucher program for students in Edgewood School District, is tired of the politically-charged debate over school vouchers.

"We are looking for school choice. We want options for our children," she said. "It's not about politics. It's about our children."


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