Thousands of School Choice Advocates Rally at Texas Capitol

Texas State Senator Donna Campbell speaks at the National School Choice Week rally at the Texas Capitol
Will Franklin

Supporters of school choice gathered at the Texas Capitol on Friday to send a message to Legislators: they want education reform, and they want it now. A bustling, diverse crowd of students, parents, teachers, elected officials and other reform advocates — and even a marching band — enjoyed a festive atmosphere as they listened to speeches, sang and danced, and then lined up to enter the Capitol to take their message directly to their elected representatives. Breitbart Texas was at the scene, and spoke to a number of the enthusiastic attendees of the rally.

Turnout was even better than the event organizers had hoped. Expecting approximately 1,000 attendees based on RSVPs, they counted a crowd of 2,500 — almost all of whom were wearing bright yellow National School Choice Week scarves — streaming onto the Capitol Grounds. Randan Steinhauser with the Texas School Choice Coalition, who oversaw the event, was thrilled, calling the turnout “unbelievable…showing the enthusiasm from every sector” of school choice advocates. Steinhauser’s husband Brendan added, “The buses just kept coming.”

Laura Colangelo, Executive Director of the Texas Private Schools Association (TPSA), echoed the Steinhausers’ joy at the large crowd. “The amazing turnout proves there is incredible support for school choice in Texas,” said Colangelo, “and it’s time to take advantage of that.” Colangelo told Breitbart Texas that the TPSA was glad to see Representative Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) had just filed HB 1043, a tax credit scholarship bill, this week.

Families Empowered Communications Director Rachel Dempsey told Breitbart Texas her group had organized two buses, one from Houston, and one from San Antonio. “We’re helping bring the families to the table for this discussion,” said Dempsey, explaining they advocate for a broad range of school choice options, whether it may be private school vouchers, transfers to different public schools, charter schools, home schooling, and so on.

Americans for Prosperity – Texas Policy Director Peggy Venable said that the great turnout was “just a fraction of the parents who are demanding the right to choose their children’s schools.” Venable told Breitbart Texas that the demand for educational options was so high, the wait list for Texas’ charter schools was over 100,000.

Jonathan Saenz, the President of Texas Values, said that the rally proved that the time was right to act on school choice. “With such an overwhelming crowd and such diverse backgrounds, so many parents and children here, there’s a very strong message being sent,” said Saenz. “Families want to be in charge of their children’s education — that’s what today’s about.”

Steinhauser kicked off the official program, telling the crowd that the rally was about supporting all types of education options. “You name it, we support it,” she said, discussing how every child learns differently, and “every child in Texas deserves the very best education,” whether that was from a public, private, charter, virtual, or home school. “It is time for school choice in Texas!”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a vocal support of school choice, could not attend the rally, but had sent his best wishes. Patrick “has been fighting for us every step of the way,” said Steinhauser as the crowd cheered. 

State Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), known for being a school choice champion in the Legislature, then took the podium.

The duty to “adequately and effectively educate every child” was not just a constitutional obligation, but also a moral one, said Campbell. “We cannot allow the status quo to dictate who attends the best schools in this state,” she continued. “The time for the change is now…your enthusiasm here is proof [and] the opportunity is out there.”

Campbell also pointed out the broad support that school choice has across the state, citing a recent poll that said that 87 percent of Texans agree that school choice will improve economic opportunities. She closed her remarks by sharing two short quotes: “With school choice, every child gets a voice” and “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with Campbell after the rally, and she said that she had felt that it was important to be there and to speak because on the issue of school choice, “because it’s an issue that can truly make a difference for the children’s future in Texas.” Campbell added, “I’m elected by the people, I work for the people, and it’s my job to do what’s going to be best for the future of Texas and our children.” Campbell filed a bill this week, SB 276, establishing a taxpayer savings grant program, and is expected to support several other school choice bills filed by other lawmakers.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush followed Campbell. Bush said that he was there because “as Land Commissioner, as a former teacher, and most importantly, as a parent,” he knew that school choice meant a chance at a better life for Texas children. He vowed to use the powers of his office to do what he could to improve the state’s education system, and “school choice must be a part of that equation.”

School choice was “too important for partisan politics, too important for labels,” continued Bush, who emphasized that the school choice movement was “not anti-teacher.” He concluded his speech by pledging his support, in both English and Spanish, which brought cheers. “Please know that you have a friend in the Texas Land Commissioner’s Office.”

After his remarks, Breitbart Texas briefly interviewed Bush to ask for more information about how his office could help school choice efforts. One key way, said Bush, was through the Permanent School Fund (PSF), which he manages. The PSF can serve as a bond guaranty program, both for public school districts and for charters, he said. Bush referred to the PSF as a “liquidity backstop,” and explained how school districts with less-than-stellar credit ratings could use the backing of the PSF.

Other speeches included several teachers from a variety of different schools, parents whose children had benefited from education options, a young actress who was able to attend a virtual public school from film sets, and a number of other advocates for school choice. Closing out the program, Steinhauser said that the message of the day was clear: “now” was the time for school choice. “With your voices we are going to have school choice in Texas.” State Senator Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) told Breitbart Texas that she was energized by what she observed at the rally. “This was a great showing of people from all across Texas who want school choice,” said Burton, adding that she was “happy to be there as a support of school choice for all Texans.”

Margaret Ruff, a preschool teacher at St. George Episcopal in Austin, said that she attended the rally because she believes that “every child deserves the best education possible,” whether that is public, private, charter, etc. Ruff went to both public and private schools herself, and said the freedom for parents to choose their child’s school was “the most important opportunity.”

School choice advocates at the rally said over and over again that it is about the students, and one student from a public charter school in San Antonio summed up well what advantages he has gained from having options for his education. Nicodimus Martinez, a senior at the Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering, told Breitbart Texas that his parents had sent him to a Catholic elementary school, but there was no such option in his neighborhood for middle or high school. In San Antonio, the “residential differences are stark,” said Martinez, and the school where he was districted did not offer the advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes that he wanted to study.

“Brooks Academy broke that barrier” between his neighborhood and his educational goals, said Martinez. “This is the potential that school choice has.”

More videos from the National School Choice Week Rally can be viewed here, courtesy of Adam Cahn.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.


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