In January 2007, when the Texas Legislature opens its next regular session, the state will have a publicly funded school choice program … if a new grassroots organization gets its way.
Since mid-August, Texans for School Choice (TSC)–a group founded earlier that month by philanthropist and political donor Dr. James Leininger–has been waging a radio and billboard campaign encouraging people in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio to “Give parents a choice, give kids a chance.”
The advertisements mention a toll-free information hotline and a Web site that encourages parents to recruit their friends and to contact elected officials with the message that “parents cannot wait for failing schools to improve.”
Leininger, who has founded several privately funded school choice programs in San Antonio since 1993, said in an August 20 news release the school choice debate has two sides.
“On one side are those who believe politicians and government are best suited to make decisions for our children,” Leininger wrote. “On the other are people who believe parents are best suited to choose what is best for their children.”
Leininger said parental choice would not adversely affect public schools. Any legislation TSC advocates “would give parents in large urban school districts the option of changing schools if they prefer and if seats are available,” he wrote.
Leininger assured school choice critics, “if parents do not want to change [schools] or there are no seats available at other public or private schools, everything simply stays as it is today.”
TSC’s campaign is the largest school choice effort waged in Texas to date. The limited success of previous attempts to pass school choice legislation has not discouraged Peggy Venable from advocating it. Venable is Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots organization supporting taxpayer rights.
Venable welcomed TSC’s effort to organize parents for school choice. Previous attempts failed because “the Texas legislature listened more to the taxpayer-funded lobby than to their own constituents,” she said.
Current Texas law, Venable said, is friendlier to lobbyists than to parents.
“Parents are working to earn a living, raise their children, and pay their taxes,” Venable explained. “The same tax dollars are then going to fund organizations which lobby against parents’ rights to decide the educational environment where their children have the greatest opportunity to learn.”
Parental involvement is paramount to a child’s success in learning, according to the TSC Web site.
Spokesperson Ken Hoagland said he’s confident the group will recruit “thousands of desperate parents who will talk earnestly with state legislators about the importance of enacting a school choice program in the coming session of the legislature.”
Hoagland concluded that for children to succeed, “we must enable and empower parents to be fully engaged in the education of their children. Such empowerment can only be achieved by giving parents access to all available options.”
Connie Sadowski ([email protected]) directs the Education Options Resource Center at the Austin CEO Foundation.
For more information …
Texans for School Choice, http://www.TexansforSchoolChoice.com
“Money Talks,” by Evan Smith, Texas Monthly, June 2006, http://www.texansforschoolchoice.com/news/v1