I know as a board we’re 100% against it. It does not spell well for public schools, and I’m certainly concerned about PSJA.
The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school board approved last week a resolution calling on the Texas Legislature to reject any diversion of public dollars to private entities in the form of education savings accounts and vouchers, and is calling on other districts to join them in the push.
The resolution — inspired by a letter from the Texas Association of School Boards — was met by applause at the board’s March 27 meeting.
“School choice” is a top priority of Gov. Greg Abbott this year, a goal he’s pursuing by supporting a voucher-like education savings accounts push, which would allow parents to use state funds to school their children outside of a public school.
Proponents largely describe the education savings accounts, or ESAs, as a way to empower parents.
Detractors — often traditional public school systems, Democrats and Republicans from rural areas with no access to private schools — worry that a voucher program would gut public education in the state with a loss of accountability.
It’s a hot button issue and one primed to be a fight in the legislature.
Last week, PSJA ISD trustees decidedly added their voices to the chorus of ESA critics.
“I know as a board we’re 100% against it. It does not spell well for public schools, and I’m certainly concerned about PSJA,” Trustee Jesus “Jesse” Vela said.
Vela worried about a lack of accountability regarding vouchers, saying he was concerned over ambiguity of what would happen if a voucher-like piece of legislation passes.
“The other thing, really, that frightens me, is they don’t even know how they would implement it,” he said.
Along with others on the board, Vela worried that locals may not fully understand vouchers, and criticized voucher supporters for painting too pretty of a picture.
Board President Cynthia Gutierrez agreed.
“Are public schools struggling? Yes. Are a lot of us — school boards — looking into how to improve scores? Yes. But I believe, personally, giving vouchers is not the solution to improve education,” she told The Monitor Tuesday. “I don’t believe so.”
Public schools have struggled recently. The pandemic hurt grades basically everywhere. It also had long-term enrollment implications.
In the Rio Grande Valley, districts have been plagued by the problem of getting numbers of students back to where they were pre-pandemic, losing out on funding associated with those students.
“The enrollment affects us a lot. The average daily attendance affects us a lot. Vouchers can be one of those that can break public education. Because I foresee in our area it could be an incentive to pull kids out of not only public schools, but charter schools as well,” she said.
Vouchers, Gutierrez argued, would not only be bad for students as well as public schools. She expressed concern over parents being lured by the prospect of ESAs into pulling their children from school with no firm plans on how to school them privately.
Are public schools struggling? Yes. Are a lot of us — school boards — looking into how to improve scores? Yes. But I believe, personally, giving vouchers is not the solution to improve education.
Gutierrez said money and attention would be better spent on fixing public schools — specifically regarding testing.
PSJA trustees, Gutierrez said, want other districts to join the push.
Banding together for influence hasn’t been uncommon for Rio Grande Valley districts in recent years.
During the pandemic, several Hidalgo County districts sued Abbott over masks. In 2020, most of the district’s in South Texas petitioned the state’s education commissioner, Mike Morath, in an effort to get more latitude regarding online learning.
Gutierrez said she wouldn’t be surprised if other local districts approve similar anti-voucher resolutions in the coming weeks.
“I’m counting on it, and I think the whole state of Texas is counting on them to understand what this would do,” she said. “We’re only stronger together.”
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.