On April 5, the Texas State Capitol in Austin served as a school choice forum for several hundred Hispanic parents, gathered there in a show of strength for the movement and to testify on behalf of three bills being debated in the state House of Representatives.
“When you give parents a choice, you give children a chance,” Gov. Rick Perry (R) told the crowd, reminding them their legislators were listening and that they had his support. The rally was organized by the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (Hispanic CREO), a parental choice advocacy group created to give Hispanic families a national voice on school choice options.
At an opposing press conference held by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), school choice opponent Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), dismissed the rally’s importance. School choice supporters were “trying to create an appearance that there’s more support in the minority community than actually exists,” he told News 8 Austin, a local television network.
On the same day, the state House Education Committee heard testimony on three school voucher bills: H.B. 12, H.B. 1263, and H.B. 3042.
Bills Being Considered
H.B. 12, sponsored by Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio), would provide vouchers to low-income students in the state’s six largest school districts. Under the legislation, private schools would be required to test students who are using vouchers, and the state education commissioner would publish the results and provide parents with information on school test scores.
“Despite all the opposition from those that want to keep the status quo, vouchers will not dismantle public education,” Corte said. “In fact, if anything, it will improve it for everyone–those who take advantage or not of vouchers, [because the movement for] school vouchers is about empowering parents with the ability to get the best education for their young person.”
H.B. 3042, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Houston), proposes vouchers worth $5,500 annually for children statewide to attend the public school or private school of their choice. For accountability purposes, parents receiving vouchers would be required to have their children annually tested using a nationally recognized, norm-referenced test such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
H.B. 1263, sponsored by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Dallas), would establish a pilot voucher program for students in select counties. Students who are from low-income families, have a disability, have limited English proficiency, have dropped out of school, or who have been victims of school violence, would be eligible to receive a voucher to attend a private school or another public school.
“The money that will fund school choice legislation belongs to the students who will take part in the program. This money does not belong to the institutions or to the professional educators,” Hispanic CREO President Rebeca Nieves Huffman said at the rally. “[H.B. 1263] allows a narrow category of students to seek the most beneficial educational opportunities available.”
A few weeks later, on April 28, approximately 40 parents held another rally to oppose the school choice legislation. One of them, Mike Espinoza, told the San Antonio Express-News he believed vouchers represent “a tear in the fabric of our goals to educate our children.”
Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is an independent education writer based in Denver who is a former senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.