Gov. Abbott calls for school choice; teacher’s association say it’s already there

A Lubbock-based representative for the Texas State Teachers Association says parents can already choose what kind of school to send their children to without having to subsidize private schools or alternative education.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:24 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:56 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - During a tour of Odessa College focused on workforce development Thursday, Gov. Abbott reiterated his support for education savings accounts (ESAs), a form of state subsidy that would help cover the costs of private schooling for any family in Texas.

“We need to understand a reality of life,” Gov. Abbott said, sitting between two community college students who took advantage of non-traditional education. “When it comes to education, like everything else, one size does not fit all.”

Critics of these “school choice” programs warn that they will take money from a school finance system that is already struggling to properly teach and protect its students. Advocates say it ensures parents have a say in their child’s education when it comes to lessons about history, race, gender, and spirituality.

The Texas State Teachers Association stands “adamantly” against any form of school choice that would take money away from public schools. Lubbock member Clinton Gill, a former 4th and 5th-grade math and science teacher himself, said the state must fully fund the schools it is constitutionally obligated to provide for before it begins to subsidize private schools.

“The reality is there’s already a choice,” Gill told KCBD Thursday night. “Lubbock ISD is a perfect example of where kids can choose the type of school they want to go to, whether they want to focus on STEM or some other opportunity that may be available to them.”

Lubbock ISD’s intradistrict transfer policies permit students to request a transfer to any campus inside the district during specific times of the year. That includes the McCool STEAM Academy and the Talkington School for Young Women Leaders, both considered magnet campuses; individual campuses also offer specialty programs, like “Project Lead the Way” at Evans Middle School or the Early College High School program at Estacado High School.

One education savings account proposal in front of the Legislature this session would provide families with the average amount of money it costs Texas public schools to educate a child, which is currently about $10,000 a year. That money, both from taxpayers and private donors, could go toward private schools, online correspondence education, or private tutoring. On Thursday in Odessa, Gov. Abbott suggested the money should also go toward apprenticeships or career and technical education.

Gill warned these kinds of subsidies will adversely affect families in the long run, especially if they are fully dependent on these ESAs.

“Private schools are not going to take all the kids the public schools take,” Gill warned, “nor will parents be able to afford private schools.”

Gill said private schools can eject children based on behavior or performance, whereas public schools cannot.

“If the state’s going to start sending them money and they’re going to send them these kids they’re not used to having in their classrooms,” he explained, “you’re going to see the tuition at the private schools continue to increase until it’s not feasible for those students to still go there.”

The teachers’ association is pushing for changes to how the state funds public education, advocating for a larger and more consistent form of finance; Gill said that must be the state’s first priority until private schools meet the same level of accountability standards and admission requirements.

“Texas is one of the few states that does not have that right now,” Gill said, “and we’re adamantly opposed to them passing it during this legislative session. We’ll do everything in our power to keep them from doing it.”