While government-mandated shutdowns in 2020 exposed many problems in Texas education, it also opened the door for more options. As the 87th Texas Legislative Session approaches, the way forward is to increase educational freedom and protect the sacred right of families to raise their children as they see fit.

This year, citizens saw their taxpayer-funded school districts comparing cops to the Ku Klux Klan, sharing radical Marxist documents, electioneering for Democrats with taxpayer-funded resources, and pushing the LGBTQ+ agenda in a “culture plan” in one district and in a book for 4-year-olds in another.

There was also a failed attempt by far-left members of the State Board of Education to inject radical LGBTQ language into sex education curriculum standards.

Parents also had to rally for schools to reopen after a number of districts tried to stay closed, ostensibly out of fear of the Chinese coronavirus.

“Public schools are selling this weird idea to parents right now that you can get the same experience at home—say, in front of a computer—that you can get coming to school,” said Jeremy Newman, director of public policy for Texas Home School Coalition, adding he feels these messages are contradictory.

“They’re figuring out that sitting your child in front of a computer screen for six or seven hours a day is not an effective form of education.”

THSC has heard parents offer other complaints, too.

“The bottom line for them is the academic quality is not enough; and for other people, it’s about logistics,” Newman said. “Either because [parents] feel like they’ve suddenly been exposed to what their student has been learning all along, and they don’t think it’s good enough, or because they feel like the kind of the changes that have come about from coronavirus have decreased the quality.”

Regarding the logistics of virtual learning, Newman defines that as how it works for families.

“They’re looking for a style of education that is flexible and predictable at the same time, and it’s really, really hard to find that in the public school system right now,” he explained. “People are looking for homeschooling, which has been around for decades.”

Many frustrated families reportedly fled to homeschooling this year. Newman says not all will stay there, but neither will they just go back to the way things were.

“For a lot of them, I think that they’re going to realize that what they had before wasn’t the best option, and they’re going to realize that there are actually ways to solve some of the problems that they were dealing with,” he explained. “They’re going to start demanding hybrid forms of education, and it might be that we even see new forms of education created that we’ve never had before.”

But change doesn’t come easy with taxpayer-funded public education.

“The problem with the system is when you run what I would call a bureaucracy as big as the public school system. This is one of the largest employers in the state of Texas, and in some local communities, it’s by far the largest employer. It’s huge and has to be run from the top down for the most part because that’s the only way you can maintain any type of consistency in a system that big,” Newman explained.

“The byproduct of that [is] you have this world where there’s no venue for parents to give input. Because if you allow everyone to give input, the number of changes you have to make is unsustainable.”

“That’s one of the problems that you have in this system that I’m not sure you can ever fully get rid of,” he added. “That’s why people are leaving for other alternative forms of education.”

With the choice between a system and what’s best for students, it boils down to the right of families to raise their children as they see fit, which includes choosing the best educational option for your child—something THSC fights for. “Legally, if you affect your right to raise your children, then there is no right to homeschool,” Newman said.

As the next session of the Texas legislature approaches, two of THSC’s priorities for the session address this.

CPS Reform

It was just last year when citizens rallied in defense of the Pardo family after young Drake was illegally removed from his family by Child Protective Services for undisclosed “medical child abuse.” He was finally sent back home by the Texas Supreme Court, which led to CPS dismissing the case and dropping the charges.

But they left the Pardo family on the child abuse registry.

“Just being on it can prevent you from getting a job, from passing background checks, or being able to do certain types of volunteer work. And you don’t have to be guilty to be on this list,” Newman said. “If the court found that you were innocent, you can still be placed on this list.”

With such a direct threat against a family’s right to raise their child, THSC is proposing action.

“We kind of have an omnibus bill of issues that we’re working on that, generally speaking, are designed to ensure that CPS is actually only getting involved in the family when there’s a real risk to a child,” Newman explained.

Family Unity Act

THSC’s next legislative priority is to protect Texas families from judicial overreach.

“We have about a hundred years of case law from the Texas Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court that explains clearly that parents have a constitutional right to raise their own children, and courts aren’t allowed to just substitute their parenting decisions for the parenting decisions of the actual parent,” Newman explained.

He says the proposed FUA wouldn’t change the law, but it “takes the constitutional legal standards that are outlined in the case law and puts it directly into the family code.” This would make it clearer and easier for local judges to be held accountable and for attorneys to find and use these rules.

UIL Equal Access Bill

University Interscholastic League (UIL) is the organization under which all taxpayer-funded school extracurricular activities operate through, and THSC is seeking to make it accessible to all taxpaying families in Texas.

“The bill would grant homeschoolers in Texas the ability to participate in UIL extracurricular activities through their public schools,” Newman explained.

The principle is simple: If you’re homeschooling and still paying taxes for public schools, then you should be able to participate in the services you’re paying for.

“You have about 35 other states right now that allow homeschoolers to do this, but Texas does not,” Newman said.

He explained that in rural areas, homeschooling families have to drive hours every week for extracurricular activities, and private options in cities are expensive.

“Other states have solved this by basically saying homeschool students get to participate in extracurricular activities through their local public school in more or less the same way the public school student would be allowed to,” Newman said.

Citizens concerned about educational freedom and family rights have an opportunity to help THSC pass their reforms.

“Probably the biggest thing for people to do is to contact their legislators and ask for their support on each of those bills,” Newman advised. “During the legislative session, we’ll have more specific requests at different points to call legislators if there’s a vote coming up.”

Newman also suggested showing up to testify for a hearing.

Every legislative session, public education pushes their solution of more taxpayer funding, arguing that teachers need better pay.

“If we put more money into public education, I think it’s only helpful if we are ensuring that it gets all the way to the local level to directly help teachers and students,” Newman argues. “If the money is only going to fund the bureaucracy, I don’t believe that helps anyone.”

The 87th Legislative Session is scheduled to begin on January 12, 2021. Citizens may contact their elected state representative and state senator.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.