SAN ANGELO – Gov. Greg Abbott and most of the Texas Republican Party are determined to enshrine a school voucher system into law this year. Parents would be empowered to steer allotted taxpayer dollars to an array of private, parochial and for-profit schools that do not adhere to the standard of open enrollment. We are told this masquerade will allow for more school choice. Could this eventually undermine public education? What does that portend?
I suspect the majority of legislators will crack the door open for a voucher system with some token accommodations for rural legislators who are holding back their support. As the thinking goes, something must be done to break the “liberal” monopoly on public education, specifically, in urban and suburban areas.
The ideal purpose of education should be to learn how to learn. Professor Google informs me the purpose of public education is to provide a free education to all children in the country. It is focused on the ideas of core content knowledge, citizenship and skills necessary for young people to be successful once they become adults. Would that it were so simple.
A third to a half of every property tax dollar goes to funding public education in Texas. This only represents a portion of school funding. Each year we all feel the financial pinch of this civic pact. Education has become big business. Having been a politician, I remind everyone to follow the money. Hello, unfortunately, it’s not all about the children.
I’m a product of San Angelo public schools, less a two year enrollment at Trinity Lutheran Elementary School and a half year of homeschooling. Dozens of teachers in San Angelo made a profound impact on my life. After a year of study at Angelo State University, I chose to attend and graduated from one of the few parochial colleges in the nation that forgoes any federal aid to students because government money comes with strings attached.
If Texas allows public funds to be diverted to parochial schools, are parochial schools aware that public dollars will inevitably come with strings attached that often conflict with their core beliefs? I believe in religious accommodations but draw a fine line with few exceptions when public dollars are involved. What business does an institution of faith have with an unholy alliance with secular strings attached?
As for elite private schools and for-profit schools being eligible for public funds, is the public good the ultimate beneficiary? We will see.
Having graduated from a public high school, a parochial college and a for-profit law school, I know that each type of school offers various opportunities to students. However, there remains something fundamentally important about a robust public education system for K-12. It is quintessential America. Public funds shouldn’t be used to cheat public education.
A thriving community relies on the existence of vibrant public schools. These schools serve as the foundation upon which a community is constructed. Their purpose extends beyond imparting knowledge and preparing young people to become productive members of society. Any efforts to reform public education should enhance this civic purpose.
Civil society weighs in the balance.
Joseph W Lown
Former Mayor of San Angelo, Texas