Glad I received the last minute notice of the “Rally for Tuition Affordability” held at the Robert Beren Academy in Southwest Houston this afternoon. There were several things that I learned about the issue and it helped me to understand better the forces behind the push for “vouchers” in Texas. The Beren Academy is a Jewish day school and it was pretty neat that they allowed the students to sit in and listen to several short speeches in favor of the issue.
The first speaker was Nathan Diament, Executive Director of Public Policy for the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. Mr. Diament started his talk with a reminder that Israel was under attack at that very moment. He then spoke about his organization and how it was working in several states to achieve practical policies, with real benefits, regarding school choice. He used the example in Genesis of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau, saying that just as Isaac heard the voice of Jacob, so too do we need to be the “voice” of the children. I have to say that I thought it an odd choice, given that the story is one of deception. Perhaps it has more meaning in Jewish lore?
Next up was the Executive Director of the school, Rabbi Perry Tirschwell. He used terms that Debra Medina would like: We Americans, We Texans. He said that We Texans like choices – and gave a few examples of consumerism in America, then added that “democracy” is like that in that we have the freedom to make choices. He reminded us that government has decided to subsidize only one choice in public education in Texas, making it free, and that is why most parents choose to send their children to public schools.
He then shocked me with the cost of Jewish day schools, saying that the range per year, per child in Houston is $10 – 20,000. Wow, I had no idea. He then gave an example of a family with three children, noting that the cost would be roughly $50,000 per year of pre-tax income. The good news (I’m guessing parents needed good news at this point) is that the schools are able to raise a tremendous amount of money to help offset the steep tuition, enough that more than half of the children in Jewish day schools pay less than full tuition.
Rabbi Tirschwell’s last point was that government should not pay for religious teaching – he firmly believes in separation of church/state. Nor should government pay for the smaller class sizes of private schools. They should only pay for the teaching of math, science, english, etc. That presents a problem for those of us that insist that Planned Parenthood should be denied all funding because any funding simply subsidizes the overhead required to perform abortions. I’ll have to think about that one. Dang, this isn’t an easy subject!
The third speaker was Sister Kevina Keating, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. She talked about the need for the Texas Legislature to find a better way for working families to have school choice. She then put forth an alternative of allowing tax credits for businesses when they give contributions to educational facilities. Her thought was that businesses could give money to non-profit scholarship agencies and families could then apply to these agencies for scholarships to the school of their choice. She also stated that the United States of America is unique in that it funds only one education system while other countries around the world fund all types of schools. Interesting, I didn’t know that.
Next up was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, although he couldn’t make it in person. Seems he was busy in Austin with the Legislative Budget Board setting the new spending cap of $77.9 Billion, a 10.7% increase, about a percent higher than population growth plus inflation. Gov. Dewhurst did take the time to record a message for the rally – lest you think he isn’t behind this movement, watch and learn:
And then keynote speaker Sen. Dan Patrick took the stage and BAM! Well, not that but he is awesome when he is passionate about a subject. And for all you naysayers that whined when Gov. Dewhurst named him Chair of Public Education, you really need to talk to him about education before you dismiss him. Obviously, I go back and forth on Dan but that is only, as I’ve said many times before, because I like him and know what he is capable of. I doubt anyone in Texas has worked harder than he has to learn the ins and outs of the Texas public education system. And because of that he is very prepared to tackle this job and I’m proud to support him.
I think his best line was “it is immoral to force kids to go to a failing school”. Or maybe it was his discussion about our misplaced priorities, rewarding kids that can bounce a basketball or throw a football while ignoring those that could be good teachers or scientists. Or perhaps when he said that we need leaders, not politicians that are worried about the next election. But I don’t think it was when he said that if it weren’t for oil and gas, we’d be as backwoods as Alabama and Mississippi.
Dan is all in and that is awesome. He talked about the aggregate dropout rate of Blacks and Latinos being 40%. He put the issue in perspective, noting that 1 out of every 10 kids that attend school in the US are in Texas and that the number is growing by 80,000 per year. Of the five million children in Texas’ 8,500 schools, only 235,000 of them are in private schools. The idea that school choice will destroy the public schools is ridiculous. He also talked about funding using tax credits but didn’t commit to any single plan.
He also told us that business interests would fight against vouchers and that we would have to go toe-to-toe with them but that we can win IF we get engaged in the fight. And after attending this rally today, I’m ready and willing to help. How about you? Sidelines or frontlines? We need to fix our schools now. I hope that Speaker Straus is onboard because I’m betting that with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s help, school choice passes the Texas Senate.