National School Choice Week has come to the Lone Star State. Capping off what has actually been closer to a month of activism on the issue, throngs of Texans rallied in Austin Friday morning as part of the Texas Rally for School Choice. Following a marching band, around 2,500 parents and their children rallied on the south steps of the Capitol to demand a change from Texas lawmakers.
School Choice, labeled as “the civil rights issue of the 21st Century” by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, enjoys widespread support across the nation and the state. The idea, which would allow educational resources to follow the child, has been an objective for conservatives in the legislature for years, but efforts to reform the issue been stopped short time and time again. However, this session the movement has friends in high places.
Many grassroots activists and lawmakers attended the rally that was keynoted by State Sen. Donna Campbell. “We need to focus on the school child, not the school building,” she said.
Bolstered by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Campbell has taken up the banner in the Senate by introducing SB 267, the Taxpayer Savings Grant. If signed into law, the state would provide eligible parents with a grant in an amount up to 60 percent of what the state spends per-student on annual maintenance and operation on public schools, $5,100 currently. Parents could then use the funds to place their child in a private, parochial, or other school.
“All children need access to effective education options regardless of zip code, regardless of resources,” said Campbell in support of her legislation.
Another ally of the initiative is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Though not in attendance Friday morning, supporters of the issue applauded Patrick, noting that he has stood with them “every step of the way.”
Patrick has been an advocate for years as the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Last year he made School Choice a priority in his campaign for office, and since his election labeled the issue a “top priority” and referred the bill to a friendly committee chairman.
The movement isn’t without its enemies.
Presumptive House Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock has already bashed the issue, likening it to food stamps and other entitlement programs. A number of teachers unions and other educational groups, including Raise Your Hand Texas, which had Aycock’s daughter on retainer as a lobbyist until she recently stepped down, have maligned School Choice as well. Notably absent are any groups in the interest of taxpaying parents and students.