Lt. Gov. Patrick Backpedals on Vouchers, Attacks Teachers and Urban Public Schools

In an appearance on a Lubbock-based conservative radio show this Monday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick continued to push his unpopular private school voucher scheme and took swipes at urban public schools and teacher unions. 

Private School Vouchers

Patrick reiterated his support for private school vouchers but added a major caveat: rural school districts, he said, would be “bracketed out.” Patrick, who is currently facing a tough reelection campaign against Mike Collier, Texas AFT COPE’s endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor, announced this major backtrack the week before Election Day. 

Private school vouchers are particularly unpopular in rural areas, where public schools are already underfunded, but polls have shown that they are generally unpopular across the state. A recent poll by The Texas Parent PAC found that 82% of Texas voters were concerned that vouchers would take away money from public schools. As recently as last year, both Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House voted overwhelmingly (115-29) to ban public school dollars from being sent to private schools. 

It is unclear how Patrick would “bracket out” rural school districts. The Texas public school finance system is entirely interconnected, so it is impossible to carve out rural public schools from the effects of private school vouchers. State funding for public schools comes from a variety of sources, primarily the Permanent School Fund, but the overall budget is as simple as a family budget. If some money is sent to private schools, it will negatively affect the state’s ability to fund public schools across the state. 

In the past, Patrick has wholeheartedly supported vouchers, with no mention of “brackets” or caveats. In May of this year, Patrick stated he was “in full support” of so-called “school choice” schemes.

In response to Patrick’s statements on vouchers, his opponent, Collier, said, “As Lt. Governor, I will join Republicans and Democrats in the Texas House who have repeatedly and overwhelmingly banned the use of taxpayer funds for private school vouchers. Dan Patrick’s latest backtracking is just another last-minute, hollow campaign promise designed to save himself. Texas parents, students, and educators deserve better.”

If elected, Collier has promised to push for a state constitutional amendment to ban the use of taxpayer dollars for private school vouchers.

Patrick Calls Urban Schools “Dropout Factories”

In his comments pushing private school vouchers, Patrick called urban school districts “dropout factories,” specifically citing Dallas ISD. 

While Dallas ISD does now have a slightly above average dropout rate, the rate has increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. Dallas ISD’s dropout rate can be attributed to a lack of funding, due in part to rapid charter school expansion in Dallas. Last year, Dallas ISD lost 24.4% of its enrollment to charter schools, the highest percentage of any single school district in the state. Education funding is distributed based on student attendance. Whenfewer students are enrolled or leave for a charter school, public schools lose funding. Last year alone, Dallas ISD lost an estimated $341,139,937 in revenue to charter schools.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately and undemocratically run, have significantly lower four-year graduation rates and higher dropout rates compared to traditional public schools. According to the Texas Education Agency, “students in the class of 2021 who were enrolled in state-authorized charter schools had a graduation rate of 67%, 23 percentage points below the state average, and a dropout rate of 18.7%, 12.9 percentage points greater than the state average.”

Rena Honea, president of Alliance/AFT, which represents Dallas ISD educators, responded to Patrick’s comment. 

“It is obvious the current lieutenant governor has never served in a classroom to see what effect his dreamed-up schemes have on our public school students and employees,” Honea said. “He along with the current governor continue advocating to fund a dual educational system. Our students, employees, parents, and taxpayers deserve stronger accountability than charter schools offer. Dallas ISD is making academic gains during these unprecedented times in spite of current state leaderships’ efforts to privatize our schools.”

Patrick Attacks AFT Members

In his comments on public education, Patrick did not miss the opportunity to attack teachers’ organizations. He specifically mentioned the American Federation of Teachers as an organization that was attacking him for having a poor record on public education. 

Patrick made the wholly unsubstantiated claim that AFT president Randi Weingarten thinks “kids aren’t important.” AFT has always supported students and has put them at the forefront of our union’s advocacy. AFT’s advocacy is guided by the core principle that teachers’ and school employees’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.