October 9, 2023: First and foremost, as a state representative, my job is to represent my constituents, and I take that responsibility seriously. To prepare for the special session starting today on private school vouchers, I spent the last few weeks meeting with numerous education groups, school district leaders, and parents to hear their experiences on the front lines of the public education system and their suggestions for how the Legislature can better support our students and teachers. I wish Governor Abbott was willing to do the same. If he had joined me and listened to his constituents, this is what he would have learned:
Members of the United Educators Association spoke of their love for their students and for the profession of teaching, but also the often insurmountable difficulties they face in classrooms today. These teachers face class sizes of over 30 students, inadequate pay and insufficient insurance coverage, changing expectations from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and a lack of support from their administrations. They cautioned that students who attend private school often return to public schools with even greater needs and expressed grave concern that private schools would cherry-pick the students they want, leaving students with greater educational needs.
Mansfield PTA members described teacher shortages so severe that some parents have stepped up to work as substitutes. They expressed concerns about TEA arbitrarily changing their A-F rating system, likening it to the rules being changed in the middle of a game. And as public schools have gotten increasingly politicized, and even vilified, these hard-working volunteers feel as though they are under attack from outside groups, even though their goal is only to support their schools and their children.
Arlington ISD & Mansfield ISD leaders explained the growing need for an increase in the basic allotment to ensure their schools have the personnel and supplies necessary to serve their students at a high level. They also echoed concerns regarding the opaque and unwarranted changes to the TEA’s accountability rating system. The boards of trustees of both AISD and MISD have passed resolutions strongly denouncing private school vouchers.
Members of the Black Mansfield Moms expressed a need for teachers and school board members who are representative of their districts. This group spoke of the importance of increasing the basic allotment, and vocalized serious worries that special education students and students with limited English proficiency would get left behind, since private schools are not required to accept them.
Region 11 Superintendents were overwhelmingly opposed to any voucher scams. They expressed concern over the lack of adequate funding for public education across the board: underfunded transportation, underfunded security and especially the underfunding of special education. It is amazing the work they have been able to accomplish for our students given how every little support they receive from the state. Our superintendents hope students, teachers, parents and Texans will stand with them as they stand up for public education. They are asking us to hold the line and oppose the defunding of our public education system.
These stakeholders want schools to be fully funded and teachers to be paid what they deserve. They want ballooning class sizes to be scaled back and adequate resources to provide services to students who have special needs. They want accountability measures to be straightforward and fair. They do not want funding stripped from their schools to fund unregulated private schools that have no legal responsibility to educate their children.
As the Legislature reconvenes, we must listen to the parents and teachers who are the true experts. I listened closely, which is why I am more energized than ever to fight against Abbott’s voucher scam for as long as it takes.