Even as families enjoy the first few weeks of the school year, the challenges facing our education system remain more or less the same. Many schools still have teaching vacancies and lack subject-certified teachers for essential courses such as biology, math, and reading. Mental health issues continue to threaten the safety of teachers and students, while school counselors remain difficult to access. Teachers are burned out, administrators are overwhelmed, and parents are frustrated. Our public schools need our attention.
The whispers of school vouchers may sound convincing at first – let public money go to the private sector to try to solve our problems. But while it may help a select few students who are already attending private schools by providing voucher funds as grants, millions more students will not have these options for a quality education. We must protect the path to college and careers for all students in Texas. Texas is big and education is expensive. But the Legislative Assembly, for once, has extra funds to allocate this next session and we can be bold in our demands for change. We don’t want those dollars to mean change for the few; we want to improve the quality of education from Lubbock to Corpus Christi, from Beaumont to El Paso.
When it comes to public education, every reform passed this legislative session must include accountability. Whether it’s student success, school safety, or parental choice, Texans have a right to know how their own money is being spent, if it’s being spent efficiently, and to whom. For 16 years, Children at Risk has used standardized test scores, economic status, academic growth and college readiness to show how well local schools are fulfilling their mandate to educate our children. Our rankings have successfully promoted data analysis at the campus and district level, guided the professional development of teachers and staff, helped school management allocate funds to better serve children, and supported changes in strategic planning.
Children at Risk supported the creation of a parent-friendly AF scale for grading schools, which created meaningful dialogue about the state of education in Texas. If public education funds are reallocated, receiving schools must show student progress, just as traditional public schools do. This is something private schools will never do.
In addition, an accountability system helps assure Texans that our tax dollars are being handled responsibly. Will the state of Texas require tax-subsidized homeschooled parents to take standardized tests and complete the state-mandated curriculum? Will private schools have the same “school hardening” requirements as public schools in the post-Uvalde world? Will religious schools be required to provide the basic mental health and special education supports offered by public schools? If these groups become recipients of federal and state funds, these types of expectations must follow. For every dollar allocated to education programs next year, we must ensure that there is a system to promote transparency in spending and a system to measure the impact of the proposed program.
There are no quick and easy solutions to decades of underinvestment in public education. School vouchers take extra dollars out of our schools with no accountability for student quality and progress, and the price we pay will be far greater than the cost.
Bob Sanborn is President and CEO of Children at Risk, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that focuses on research and advocacy for children. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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