As Texas lawmakers consider a school voucher bill, protesters call on them to vote it down

Mia Hall stood on a bustling stretch of South Hulen Street Wednesday afternoon, holding an orange sign reading “Honk for public schools!”

As a passing car coming from the nearby Interstate 20 exit ramp blew its horn, Hall and the dozen or so people who were protesting alongside her cheered.

The group was protesting outside the office of state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, calling for an end to efforts in the Texas Legislature to create an education savings account program, a school voucher-like plan that would give families public money to pay for educational expenses like private school tuition or homeschooling costs.

Hall, a school board member in the Crowley Independent School District, said she worried the plan would only serve students from wealthy families. In some other states that have instituted voucher programs, most recipients have been students who are already enrolled in private schools. Hall also noted that private schools don’t have the capacity to take in every public school student if the voucher program prompts a mass exodus from local school districts.

“I don’t think that it’s a well-intentioned idea,” she said.

Goldman didn’t return calls seeking comment.

School voucher protests held in cities across Texas

The demonstration was one of several protests organized in cities across the state by the interfaith education advocacy group Texas Impact. Among other protests, demonstrators also gathered this week outside the office of state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton. Since the beginning of October, the Austin-based organization has gathered letters from about 4,000 Texans calling on lawmakers to vote the voucher proposal down.

Another of the Fort Worth demonstrators, the Rev. Allison Lanza, said she worries a voucher program would put the state’s public education system at risk, jeopardizing educational opportunities for all but the state’s most affluent students. Lanza, a Disciples of Christ minister, said Christians are called to show compassion for their neighbors, even if those neighbors make them uncomfortable. That means advocating for students who might not be able to find a seat in a private school, she said.

“Clearly, private schools won’t accept every kid,” Lanza said. “Kids of every religion, kids with different abilities, kids who love differently, live differently, won’t all get a safe space to be.”

Texas school voucher bill passes key legislative hurdle

In its current form, the voucher bill, which is House Bill 1, would set aside money to give families $10,500 per student, per year to pay for private school or other expenses. The program would give priority to students with disabilities and those from low-income families. The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment approved the bill by a 10-4 vote last week, marking the furthest a voucher bill has advanced in the House this year. The bill now goes to the House Calendars Committee, which is responsible for sending bills to the House floor for a full vote.

While the proposal is a top priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, efforts to create an education savings account program have faced headwinds in the state House of Representatives, where Democrats have banded together with rural Republicans to block such proposals.

Democrats argue the plan would exacerbate educational inequities across the state, and Republicans from rural districts say it wouldn’t help residents in the communities they represent because public schools are generally the only option in those areas. Lawmakers from both sides say a voucher plan would drain resources from public schools at a time when many are already struggling to keep their bills paid.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to reconvene Friday.