The Texas State Board of Education voted 10-5 on Friday to urge the Legislature to reject proposals that would result in public funds being allocated for private educational institutions.
The resolution, authored by Board of Education member Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, asks the Legislature to “reject all vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.” It mirrored an amendment the House recently passed to the state budget by a wide margin banning the use of public dollars for private schools.
Among other proposals implicated by the resolution is a tax credit scholarship plan has been a cornerstone of the education reforms of state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. The plan, which would give businesses a tax credit if they donate money to a fund that would enable economically disadvantaged students to attend private schools, has proven highly contentious. Patrick, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, recently passed the measure out of his panel.
Cortez, introducing the resolution, told the board he was moved to act because of strong popular support for public education among his constituents.
“The message from people in my district has been very clear to me that I should support this effort,” he said.
Though the resolution eventually passed, it initially endured stiff opposition from a number of board members, including some who said the issue was outside of the board’s purview.
Member Tom Maynard, R-Georgetown, while stressing that he was a “huge supporter” of public schools, said that the board should leave the issue to the Legislature.
“I get the voucher question all the time. And my position is, this isn’t a matter for the SBOE,” he said. “This resolution puts us in a position of commenting on things that are not within our constitutional authority.”
Maynard moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely, which provoked a debate about the role of the board in evaluating education policy. Member Marisa B. Perez, D-San Antonio, argued that the issue was central to the board’s responsibilities.
“Saying that it doesn't fall under our guise is not an acceptable answer to the teachers who are asking for our support,” she said. “Siphoning money from our public schools and turning them over to our private schools is definitely something we should address.”
Member Mavis B. Knight, D-Dallas, agreed.
“We won’t be able to carry out any of our duties if there is no public school system,” she said.
Opposition to vouchers on the board seemed widespread, even among those who ultimately voted against the resolution. Member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, spoke in favor of tax credits, but called the resolution’s language on more conventional vouchers a “no-brainer.”
Member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, while expressing unease with the board involving itself in the Legislature’s business, said he based his support for the resolution on his conservative principles.
“I am a limited-government conservative,” he said, “and because of that it concerns me when I see taxpayer dollars going to the private sector.”
Only one of the board members explicitly endorsed the proposals condemned in the resolution: Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, R-Dallas.
“I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want,” she said. In addition to Miller and Mercer, other board members that voted against the resolution were chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Donna Bahorich, R-Houston; and David Bradley, R-Beaumont.
The resolution is nonbinding, but several board members expressed hope that it would send a clear message to the Legislature.
“The message we’re sending to teachers and children is, we’ve got your back,” said Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “And we do not support diversion of money from public schools from private schools.”
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