The Granbury ISD Board of Trustees took on the controversial subject of school vouchers during its regular meeting Oct. 16. Following much discussion, the board approved a resolution distributed by the Texas Association of School Boards by a vote of 5-2, with Trustees Melanie Graft and Karen Lowery voting in opposition.
The resolution has already been approved by 178 school districts according to Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn. School boards across the state were given the option of making their own changes to the resolution; GISD considered the original resolution and made no changes before approving it.
If it passes, Senate Bill 1, authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, will create education savings accounts, a voucher-like program that will allow families access to $8,000 of taxpayer money to pay for private schools and other education-related expenses, according to The Texas Tribune.
This bill was approved in the Texas Senate on Oct. 12.
Senate Bill 2 is also in the works and, if passed, will provide $5.2 billion across Texas school districts to help with teacher raises and rising costs of educational expenses, according to the Texas Tribune.
The bill also would give a one-time pay bonus for teachers. Those in districts with fewer than 5,000 students would receive a $10,000 payment while those in districts with more than 5,000 students would receive a $3,000 payment.
Gov. Greg Abbott has been adamant in supporting a voucher program and school choice.
The bill will now be in the hands of the Texas House.
At Lowery’s request, Glenn read the resolution created by TASB aloud to those who attended the meeting.
“WHEREAS, Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution requires that the Texas Legislature “establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools;”
WHEREAS, Texas public school districts, including Granbury ISD, accept every student;
WHEREAS, education savings accounts and other voucher schemes give private schools, not parents, the right to choose;
WHEREAS, our community has high expectations about how their children are served in our schools, how their tax dollars are used, and of the level of transparency we provide in all matters; WHEREAS, Granbury ISD schools and all Texas public schools adhere to state-mandated academic and financial accountability standards;
WHEREAS, private schools are not required to meet the same academic standards as public schools, and they do not report test results, graduation rates, and other performance measures to the public;
WHEREAS, education savings accounts and similar voucher schemes eliminate public accountability of schools and tax dollars;
WHEREAS, school choice already exists in Texas via public school districts, charter schools, transfers, home schools, virtual schools, and private schools;
WHEREAS, during 2023 multiple sessions, including the 88th regular legislative session, Texas lawmakers did not deliver on promised and expected increases in funding for teacher and staff compensation and safety to Texas public schools, even with a $33 billion surplus available to them at the state level;
WHEREAS, using tax dollars to pay for tuition at private and religious schools would grow into a costly entitlement program at a time when the State is not allocating enough funding to public schools, including those in Granbury ISD, to address required, increased and non-discretionary expenditures caused by market forces and inflation;
WHEREAS, a taxpayer-funded voucher program would reduce the amount of state funds available for all schools, harming communities like ours that are founded upon strong public schools;
WHEREAS, Texas parents who accept a voucher would lose out on a long list of important parental rights outlined in the Texas Education Code and in federal law, especially protections for students receiving special education services; and WHEREAS, the Texas Legislature may meet again in 2023 to discuss public schools if Governor Greg Abbott calls another special session;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Granbury ISD Board of Trustees calls on the Texas Legislature to reject any diversion of public dollars to private entities in the form of education savings accounts and similar voucher schemes,” the resolution read.
After Glenn read the voucher Trustee Courtey Gore said it was important for all trustees to look at the resolution and see if there was anything they’d like to change.
“I think there (are) some invalid points made in here regarding public education funding and services that students and particularly parents won’t really have the right to choose. It really gives private schools the right to choose who they accept. We serve a majority of the students in our community so any funding they take away from our local public schools just hurts kids and ultimately that’s why we’re here. We’re here to do what’s best for kids,” Gore said. “This isn’t a republican or democratic issue; this is about doing what’s best for kids. I think our legislature deserves to hear from us and where we stand on this issue. Whether that means we’re going to see legislation or not this session, (Gov.) Abbott has made it clear he is going to keep calling special sessions until something is passed. I think it’s important to point out some of the fallacies we see in vouchers, so our legislators know what to look for with any type of voucher program brought or presented to them, so perhaps they can put provisions or protections in place for public schools to make sure some of the issues outlined in this resolution are addressed.”
“Also, I hope it puts in their mind what they need to think of from a parent’s standpoint — that the parent needs to understand there will not be the same academic standard or the same fiscal accountability and availability of public information we have in public schools. From my standpoint, I am a trustee of public schools; that is why I think this is important,” Trustee Barbara Townsend shared during the meeting.
Gore noted that one or two children leaving a public school has a “huge effect” on that public school when it comes to expenses and pay.
“It’s strange to me they would offer an $8,000 program for people who choose to go somewhere else where they may not even be able to go yet they’re not even looking at basic allotment increases. We have a huge discrepancy in the funding they are going to give to different programs,” Gore added.
“The financial fallacy of it all is what really gets me,” President Barbara Herrington said.
Herrington added that many private school tuitions cost well over $25,000 a year, not counting trips, activities, and other special events.
Both Gore and Herrington stressed that many students in Granbury ISD are economically disadvantaged and wouldn’t be able to take the private school route even if they wanted to.
“Where they need help is at their public school... private schools aren’t going to provide the resources they need that they may not have,” Gore said.
Graft asked who put the item on the agenda; Herrington answered it was her.
“I’m really looking at this and seeing that it is a taxpayer-funded lobby which uses school resources to lobby the legislature. It’s illegal use of school resources. TASB is a statewide funded lobbying group. Dues are paid with tax dollars,” Graft said.
Gore told Graft elected representatives from local counties can visit TASB and speak on issues happening within their own school district. Gore reiterated the trustees can change anything in the resolution if they don’t agree with it or want something changed.
Trustee Billy Wimberly noted there were a lot of good points in the resolution.
“I believe public schools statewide are under attack and I think approving this gives us good ammunition to go and try and lobby for ourselves if we have to for some of these points,” Wimberly said.
Trustee Mike Moore said if private schools followed the same rules as public schools, he would be for vouchers. He pointed out private schools don’t have to accept everyone and added that a public school will take care of everyone.
Lowery agreed with Graft, stating her position that this is taxpayer-funded lobbying and she would prefer as an individual to call and share how she feels with legislators.
After this discussion, the resolution was approved by a 5-2 vote.