By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT With the ongoing discussions of how to best “fix” the public school system in Texas by Texas lawmakers, one area which has received more than its fair share of attention is the voucher system.

Several area superintendents have voiced their opinions on the matter and seem to be in agreement – school vouchers are not the answer. CISD Superintendent Terry Myers has been an outspoken critic of the proposed legislation and recently received a letter from the district’s legal counsel, Blake Powell – an attorney with the law firm of Powell and Leon – which supports the superintendent’s position.

“Claims that vouchers will benefit the neediest students in Texas ring hollow. Vouchers, with few restrictions, will soon be available if Senator Larry Taylor, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has his way,” the letter states.

“Senator Taylor and his colleagues on this committee have no children in the Texas public schools.  Under Taylor’s Senate Bill 3, any family could receive voucher money deposited in their personal account if their child has attended public school for one year,” the correspondence continued. “That is it!  That will be the threshold to receive and spend public tax money on home or private school. How is this not an entitlement?  Welfare for the wealthy?  Isn’t this the very welfare program Texas Tea Party Republicans claim they oppose?”

One of the other issues discussed in the letter mentions that vouchers would only cover a portion of private school tuition while leaving the remainder to be covered by the voucher recipients.

Powell’s letter claims private schools are generally located near wealthy neighborhoods and “… do not provide transportation. Thus, it seems more than a little disingenuous to suggest that a needy child will independently find a benefactor to: (1) pay the remainder of the private school tuition; and (2) provide a ride to the private school. Who really benefits?”

“Private and for profit charter schools will not have the same accountability standards as public schools.  Private schools will still decide who may be enrolled, who may be expelled, how much tuition students will be charged and what religion will be taught,” the attorney’s letter further stated. “SB 3 offers no separation between religious (not necessarily Christian) schools and state tax dollars. If you are not concerned, you should be.”

Powell also addressed the lobbying efforts of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick “…to push this so-called ‘school choice’ legislation in the Texas Senate. He decried “school choice” is a civil rights issue.”

The attorney countered it was not a civil rights issue and stated “…referring to vouchers as a civil rights issue is an outright fabrication.”

Powell addressed the origins of the Civil Rights Movement and how it was an attempt to help end segregation and to allow equal access / opportunity to African-Americans “… for the basic privileges and rights of U.S. citizenship. These rights included public education. It was about diversifying our public schools and allowing every child to attend public schools and receive an equal opportunity for a public education.”

“When we talk about vouchers – public tax money following a child to a private school of that family’s choice,” he added, “what we are really talking about subsidizing is an often privileged child’s tuition to attend a separate and unequal (elite) private school.”

He stressed in only a short amount of time, the state of Texas would lose its diversification in the public school system and see “… a re-segregation movement along income levels as well as racial lines, paid for with our tax dollars.”

Essentially, the attorney argued the voucher system would create a type of Stepford culture where people “… look alike, believe alike and basically see the world one way, instead of a robust diverse free public school system for all.”

“As a society, we need to think long and hard before we allow a few men (and fewer women) at the Texas State Capitol who have no educational background (no stake in public education) and who are beholden to no one but large donors to privatize public education in Texas,” Powell’s letter concluded.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.