1,000 Texans Expected to March for School Choice in Austin

school choice week
AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Will Dickey

An estimated 1,000 Texans will march in the Texas Rally for School Choice that will be held on the south steps of the State Capitol building in Austin on Friday, January 30 at 10 a.m.  This is one of the many events being held during the fifth annual National School Choice Week that kicked off on Sunday, January 25, and will run through Saturday, January 31.

Brendan Steinhauser, National School Choice Week Outreach Adviser, told Breitbart Texas that events have been planned in 15 state capitols plus the District of Columbia and 11,000 local events across the country. Event organizers are particularly excited about the Austin rally. They believe it will be the largest ever with 1,000 parents, students, administrators, teachers and other supporters in attendance.

One of the Texas rally partners is Houston-based Families Empowered, a pro-school choice non-profit organization. They are coordinating buses throughout the state so that families can attend.

Rachael Dempsey, Manager of Communications, told Breitbart Texas that they anticipate families coming in from Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.  One of their goals is to let families know they have a “voice” in the “choice,” although Dempsey pointed out that Families Empowered does not advocate for any particular type of school choice, whether it be to transfer from failing neighborhood school to a high-performing campus, a charter, private or home school.

They do not focus on the educational mandates driving that educational option or school of choice, either. Instead,  Families Empowered seeks to ensure that parents have access to what is best for their child. She commented that a lot of families are “wait-listed” for charter schools. “Parents are leaving the public schools in droves,” Dempsey added.

According to a press release issued by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), 110,000 students are waiting to transfer to a charter school in Texas.

A strong supporter of school choice on the State Board of Education (SBOE) is Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) who represents District 6.

Breitbart Texas spoke to Bahorich by email. She said, “Texas has made great strides in public education since the start of reforms in the 1970s. We have further to go. We still have too many neighborhoods where the least advantaged children have no choice but to be educated in schools unable to provide the quality instruction needed for them to become productive and contributing members of society.

She added, “All children need access to effective education options regardless of zip code, regardless of resources.”

Texas Private Schools Association is another rally partner. Executive Director Laura Colangelo told Breitbart Texas that they “celebrate the freedom and autonomy” that private schools have in Texas. It is their hope Campbell’s school choice legislation, Senate Bill 276, will become law during the 84th Legislative session and “expand access” to private schools.

Colangelo said, “We firmly believe that it is a parent’s right to choose the best education for his or her child.”

In early January, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunsfels) filed SB 276, dubbed the Taxpayers Savings Grant Program. The state would save $3,500 per transferred child. The bill has strong support from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the Texas Association of Business, according to the Ft. Worth Star Telegram.

School choice has become a lightening rod for parents across America who are disenchanted with failing public schools. Some are weary of a broken system fraught with over testing. Others are exhausted by the federal tentacles of College and Career Readiness, Common Core, and/or student data-collection. There are also parents who just want a better fit or greater opportunities for their children than the neighborhood school may offer.

In December, Breitbart Texas reported on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) findings in which failing public schools had jumped to a staggering 1,199. Twelve of the 23 high-performance districts that are part of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) consortium had campuses on the list.

School choice has its Lone Star critics, too — like the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA), the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT), a branch of the second largest teachers’ union in the nation, the American Federation of Teachers; and the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA), an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA).

Raise Your Hand – Texas and Texas Kids Can’t Wait do not support school choice. The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), the lobbyist group to which publicly elected school board members belong, does not support anything outside of existing public school options.

National reformer Diane Ravitch opposes tax credits partially out of a claim that those public funds may go to a private parochial school that teaches creationism. Some parents oppose school choice because they disagree with educational oversight and regulation, including charter school governance where school boards are appointed. Critics also worry that new school choice mirrors bad reformer offerings already available.

Rally outreach director Steinhauser pointed out, “I think critics of school choice need to understand that it would especially benefit lower income, minority children who are forced to attend failing schools.”

One of the biggest complaints Steinhauser said he hears doesn’t come from the anti-school choice groups but from parents nationwide and in Texas expressing their frustration with “one size fits all government run” school. Above all else, “School choice is about giving parents the freedom to choose the best school for their child,” Steinhauser added.

Breitbart Texas spoke to TEA Communications Director Debbie Ratcliffe. TEA implements education-related laws approved by the Texas legislature. She emphasized that some school choice options are also part of the public schools.

“Magnets are created locally. Charters are authorized in legislation. We’re statutorily prohibited from advocating for or against legislation, as are all state agencies, so we won’t have a position on vouchers,” Ratcliffe said.

The TEA has no authority over another type of school choice, home schooling.  “The courts have told us to stay out of it. We have no control or say over home schooling,” she added.

Breitbart Texas reported on how Texans fought hard for their protected homeschooling freedoms over the years.

National School Choice Texas partners also include Americans for Prosperity — Texas, Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Institute for Justice, the Libre Initiative, Texas Business Leadership Council, Texas Charter Schools Association, The Justice Foundation, Texas Institute for Education Reform, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Travis County Republican Party, Parent Revolution, Paz en el Barrio — El Concilio de East Austin, America’s Future Foundation — Austin, and the Heartland Institute.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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