Behind Closed Doors, the Voucher Fight Gets Ugly

In the past several weeks, a flurry of stories have surfaced with leaked private statements from politicians, voucher proponents, and the odd Texas Education Agency official. In each case, the recorded parties have been caught confirming the worst fears of public education advocates vehemently opposing school privatization. 

The latest such incident features Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has previously and proudly declared he’s “all in” on privatization no matter how many special sessions it might take. On Wednesday, Patrick spoke at the Texas Business Leadership Council’s Spring Meeting & Policy Summit. 

As Texas Signal reports, Patrick’s remarks included a promise to “pass a parental rights bill,” as well as comments on the topic of classroom safety, after which he noted a need to “get the thugs out the classroom.” Patrick did not elaborate on exactly who the “thugs” in question were, but there is no context in which the use of a coded racial slur is appropriate in referring to students or educators. 

If the lieutenant governor would like to have a genuine conversation about student behavioral challenges, we are all for it. In the years since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have heard increasing reports of escalating disruptions and violence in our classrooms, with many Texas AFT members reporting they themselves have been attacked. The solutions to these problems are many (e.g., increased hiring of counselors and mental health professionals, supporting teachers who exercise their rights to remove disruptive students from the learning environment), and all involve greater state funding for our public schools. 

Instead, Patrick is pushing school vouchers, which would further defund public schools and have their own troubling past — with segregationist and racist origins

Patrick’s comments come hot on the heels of leaked audio from a Republican Party of Texas policy committee that apparently features a debate among committee members over just how much freedom Texas parents should have in using taxpayer dollars through a school voucher scheme. 

In the recording, unidentified committee members are heard discussing potential complications with implementing a “no-strings-attached” education savings account (voucher) program. In one particularly colorful exchange, participants argue over the validity of parents using taxpayer funds for purchases not related to their children’s education, including reproductive health services: 

Participant 1: “I talked to a guy from Wisconsin today where they implemented school choice and when they initiated the programs, you could take the card to an atm and pull money out. People were using those funds for abortions.”

Participant 2: “I think that that is called freedom. If we are truly going to give people freedom, if they want to go piss their money away or use it on awful things like that, we can’t control them. Freedom is freedom.”

The audio, originally posted to Twitter, has been removed from social media. But a variety of news outlets have preserved it, including the Texas Take podcast

All of this comes just three weeks after a TEA deputy commissioner was caught privately advocating for vouchers in a phone call with a disgruntled parent.  

In that conversation, Steve Lecholop, deputy commissioner for governance, plainly acknowledged that private school vouchers would have a negative financial impact on public school districts. As a result of this financial impact, he said, districts could be forced to reduce their staff sizes.

His exact words include the phrase, “maybe that’s one less fourth grade teacher.”
Taken together, these incidents illustrate what should disturb every Texas educator, parent, and taxpayer: Whatever state leaders say publicly about “fully funding” public schools or respecting educators, they are singing a different tune behind closed doors. There, they’re perfectly comfortable saying the quiet part out loud: Vouchers will defund already hurting public schools, endanger the jobs of teachers and staff, and hurt Texas’ 5.5 million public school students.