Is the Pandemic Paving a Pathway for Vouchers in Texas?
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Is the Pandemic Paving a Pathway for Vouchers in Texas? In the ever-evolving conversation of COVID-19 and schools re-opening there is much debate on a number of issues including, the health and safety of children and teachers, virtual learning versus inperson learning, PPE for schools, teachers and so much more. Let’s be honest, who can remember anything beyond the school debate that started in July. But, on Friday, July 17th something interesting happened that most likely few people saw, or even acknowledged. There was a press release issued by the Texas Attorney General providing guidance on school re-openings which caught my attention.
The Attorney General issued guidance on religious private schools opening in the fall. The press release was simple and to the point; religious, private schools can re-open in the fall and local government and local public health orders should not restrict their re-opening as this would violate the U.S. Constitution and Texas Constitution.
As a policy consultant in Texas for over ten years, this guidance caught my attention and I wondered what did this really mean? Some on twitter commented on this guidance and took the obvious approach mocking that COVID-19 does not exist in private schools but I believe this press release is much more striking. In fact, I believe it may just be the first shot in a very long battle, one that allows vouchers to move forward in the State of Texas.
I am not here to discuss vouchers; whether they are good or bad but rather a very long battle may be at our doorstep beyond COVID-19, something that could change education in this state forever. Regardless of which side you are on, you may want to pay attention.
As the COVID-19 school debate rages on whether to open schools, delay the school start date, continue with virtual learning, etc. others may be working on a comprehensive plan to overhaul those dollars that flow to public education. The division of what to do with our public schools this fall runs deep and wide among all people; parents, teachers, neighbors, elected officials, everyone has an opinion as to what should be done with schools re-opening. But what if this division created a perfect storm to allow vouchers to move forward in the State of Texas. It would not be hard to do, you just need to keep your eye on the ball.
For a long time, vouchers have been a key piece of legislation of interest to Republicans and leadership within the state. I have personally witnessed this divisive debate when working with the House Public Education Committee, but never did it have the momentum to move into mainstream as it does now. Has COVID-19 and the division among parents allowed vouchers to become a mainstream issue in solving the problem of how to educate children? I believe it absolutely has and will be something you will want to watch during the spring of 2021.
It appears COVID-19 may have created the perfect storm to move vouchers forward in this state.
First, parents are angry about schools this fall. They are angry the schools will not open, they are angry the schools will open, they are frustrated with virtual learning, they want life to go back to normal. It is not public education’s fault there is a pandemic and the classrooms do not fit within the dynamics of Page 2 of 2 this pandemic, but the anger is real. There is plenty to argue about in the sentence above, now layer on property taxes; those property taxes come due at the end of December / first of January. So, now we have angry parents, frustrated parents dealing with public education, property taxes which are now due, and your child is still at home or in an awkward school environment due to COVID-19 and you want a solution; any solution.
What if that solution is to offer you vouchers; where you get to use your public dollars (i.e. your tax dollars) and apply them to a school of your child’s choice. The dollars follow the student. Sounds interesting and many frustrated parents might just jump at that opportunity, both for the wealthy and those living in economically distressed communities because plain and simple, the money follows the student.
Now let’s throw in a legislative session, set to begin the second Tuesday in January of 2021. The senate leadership is in favor of vouchers and the Governor has been a proponent of vouchers as well. That leaves only one body between vouchers becoming a reality or not, the Texas House of Representatives.
Now let us add one more layer to this equation, the Texas House will vote on a new Speaker in January but before that can be decided there is an election in November which will determine which party is in control of the House. This will be an extraordinary election year, not because the President is at the top of the ticket, but because it is unknown which party will have a majority in the Texas House of Representatives and a new speaker will be elected by that body in January. The Texas House of Representatives may just control a great deal of what impacts the future of Texas. I have been saying this for over two years, the election in the fall of 2020 will be one of the most crucial elections that we have seen in many years. I did not know we would be faced with a pandemic in 2020, but I stand by my prediction that this election will be one of the most important for all of us and for the State of Texas.
The perfect storm is brewing, and the fate of public education is one of many things that has the potential to unequivocally be changed forever. The question is, will a new path be forged this fall and into the spring with the legislative session? And if so, what direction is that path leading us down? The one thing I know for sure is that vouchers are being considered and discussed. As to the fate of vouchers, that may fall on you and me at the ballot box in November.
Remember to keep your eye on the ball. Parents are looking for solutions and they want options during this pandemic, parents long for things to go back to normal but we are in a unique situation of a pandemic and nothing is normal anymore. In fact, some days I feel like we are peering through the looking glass of Alice in Wonderland and our world is completely upside down. The question is, where do we land?
Kara Mayer Mayfield Principal, Texas Star Alliance President, Mayercorp, Inc.
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