Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Battleground in the Fight over Voucher Expansion Opens in Texas

While Betsy DeVos has almost no current power as Secretary of Education to push vouchers, her public stance in favor of them may be emboldening state legislatures to take action on their own.  Texas has moved quickly and the battle lines are being drawn.  Even Senator Cruz is getting involved.

"I usually stay out of fights in Austin. We've got plenty of fights in Washington," Cruz said Saturday night at the Dallas County Republican Party Reagan Day Dinner. "This is the best opportunity we've had in the history of the state of Texas to pass meaningful school choice legislation in the Texas Legislature."

As Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick listened, Cruz told Texas legislators in the room to take a "bold and courageous stand."

"School choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century," Cruz said. "Do the right thing for the kids, and the history of Texas will vindicate your courage and principles."

Teachers and religious leaders are coming out just as strong in opposition.  The Dallas Morning News reports:

Teachers and pastors on Monday rallied against the Senate's school vouchers proposal, even as its author announced the bill will be heard Thursday.

"It is a sin before God," Charles Foster Johnson led hundreds in chanting, "to make commodities out of our children and to make markets out of our classrooms."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and GOP Senate leaders would harm public schools and impermissibly lend government support to religion if their self-styled "school choice" bill becomes law, Johnson warned at a Capitol rally organized by the state affiliate of the American Federal of Teachers union.

"Generally, the House of Representatives is holding firm," he said to teachers and school district employees who used the first day of spring break to travel to Austin for a lobby day. In the House, Democrats and rural Republicans traditionally have blocked voucher-like proposals.

"But brothers and sisters, our Senate members need a lot of help from you," said Johnson, a Fort Worth-based Baptist pastor who heads Pastors for Texas Children. It is a group of about 1,000 pastors, rabbis and imams who work to support public schools.

The polemics of this debate are troubling.  As a historical matter, major education policy tends to garner bipartisan support.  That was true of the Improving America's Schools Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Bipartisanship, of course, does not guarantee wise legislation, but it does promote earnest discussion and compromise. Betsy DeVos's polemic positions, lack of knowledge with which to have an earnest debate, and embittered nomination may have shifted the landscape, at least in the short term.  She survived by the narrowest margins and those who side with her may see this is an opportunity to pursue an agenda consistent with her while they can.  Of course, that provokes a similarly aggressive response.  It is probably wishful thinking that the battle will be limited to Texas.

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