We are doing a peaceful protest and demonstration for Governor Abbott and all the private schools and other community people that are here to listen to him — for them to know that public school education is extremely powerful.
McALLEN — A group of a few dozen protesters with signs and the red and black United Farm Workers flags marched up and down the sidewalk just beyond the fenced perimeter of Covenant Christian Academy Wednesday evening.
Roughly ten minutes before 6 p.m., a caravan of black vehicles pulled into a parking lot behind the school, and Gov. Greg Abbott, surrounded by security, was ushered into the school.
As he made his way, the protesters — some armed with megaphones — broke into chants.
“Empower public schools!”
“The teachers united will never be divided!”
“No school vouchers!”
One of those protesters was Sylvia Tangoma, President of the McAllen Federation of Teachers. She carried a sign that read, “YES! To Public Schools, NO! To Vouchers”.
“We are doing a peaceful protest and demonstration for Governor Abbott and all the private schools and other community people that are here to listen to him — for them to know that public school education is extremely powerful,” Tangoma said.
Tangoma, an instructional coach in McAllen, said that she is worried about the effect school vouchers could have on funding for public schools.
McAllen ISD School Board Trustee Place 5 candidate Rojelio Aleman was also in attendance with the protesters. He said that he is also worried about school funding.
“It’s very important because our schools need the money,” Aleman said. “They need the money to fix our infrastructure, to make our schools safe, because with the recent school shooting in Nashville — our children, our teachers need to feel safe. Also, our teachers need better pay. Our retired teachers need a cost of living adjustment.”
Abbott has spent the last few months hosting “parent empowerment” events across the state advocating for the school vouchers, which would give parents the opportunity to send their children to nonpublic schools with state funds.
Wednesday’s Parent Empowerment Night was one such event.
While protesters marched and chanted in opposition to Abbott’s proposal, he was met with rousing applause from the large crowd inside Cheri Sarver Gymnasium.
As he addressed the crowd, Abbott emphasized the need for parental choice when it comes to their children’s education.
“We must get kids back to the basics of work, and we must empower parents,” Abbott said. “Parents deserve access to their child’s curriculum. They deserve access to their child’s library and their library books. And they deserve to know exactly what their children are being taught in those classes. And we will achieve all of that with my parental Bill of Rights.”
Adding to that, he said that parents deserve the freedom to choose where they send their children to school.
“It is the ultimate form of parental involvement, and that’s what we’re working on advocating to ensure that every parent will have the ability to choose the education that’s best for their child,” Abbott said. “Oh, sure, I get it. I know that change sometimes frightens somebody. But also know that if you understand the real facts, there’s no reason to be concerned.”
He addressed the concerns about how his proposal could affect public school funding.
“What we’re gonna pass this session will make sure all public schools will be fully funded for every student,” he said. “Success in other states shows that school choice does not destroy public schools, actually, it improves public schools.”
One of the speakers who joined Abbott onstage during the event was La Feria ISD School Board Member Gloria Casas, who voiced her support for Abbott’s proposed Education Savings Account program.
“I believe parents should have a choice of where they send their kids to school,” she said after the event. “Right now we already have it to a degree. They can send them to any school district they want. You know, the only difference now is that they’re going to include the private schools, but parents have had that right.”
Casas described herself as neither Republican or Democrat. She said that in the end, she hopes to encourage more parental involvement in schools and with legislative issues.
“I don’t like to just sit here in the Valley and wait to see what rules and laws they’re gonna send me,” she said. “I like to go tell them. You know, these are the needs of the Rio Grande Valley.”
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.
To see more, view Monitor photojournalist Joel Martinez’s full photo gallery here: