School voucher critics protest for second day outside Rep. Lynn Stucky’s office
Incoming vehicles honked loudly at protesters Tuesday afternoon at the corner of Oak Street and Carroll Boulevard — but the honking was welcome.
The small group held signs reading, “Honk for no vouchers.”
Another sign read: “Don’t make us tell you again: Public dollars belong in public schools.”
The protesters were set up on the corner outside state Rep. Lynn Stucky’s district office for the second day in a row.
The Texas House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment approved House Bill 1 with a 10-4 vote Friday. The bill includes a voucher-like program known as education savings accounts that would put taxpayer money in the hands of families who either want to enroll their children in private school or start home-schooling them.
Cynthia Rives, with the United Women in Faith of First United Methodist Church Denton, said Stucky and state leaders need to support public schools, students and teachers instead of voting yes to vouchers.
“We are asking Rep. Lynn Stucky to vote against any bill that would bring in vouchers to the state of Texas,” Rives said during Tuesday’s protest. “So that’s why we’re here to say no to vouchers.”
The protest was held in conjunction with Austin-based Texas Impact, an interfaith organization working on community issues in the state.
Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, said in an email that there were several protests across the state to oppose the vouchers.
Texas Impact has collected about 4,000 letters signed by churches around the state asking legislators to oppose school vouchers, and First United Methodist Church Denton is among the signees.
“We haven’t got any response about how he’s [Stucky] going to vote,” Rives said about sending letters asking Stucky to oppose school vouchers.
Rives said they did speak with staff in Stucky’s district office Monday and were informed that he hasn’t cast his vote yet.
One complaint held by opponents of school voucher programs is that private schools are not required to provide special education services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that eligible children with disabilities have access to free, appropriate public education throughout the U.S., along with special education and related services.
According to the Texas Private Schools Association, private schools in Texas are not covered under the federal law.
During Tuesday’s demonstration, Brianna Moran, a school psychology intern at Denton ISD, held a sign that read, “Vouchers don’t protect students with disabilities.”
Moran said about 11.6% of students in Texas have disabilities and noted that the Texas Association of School Psychologists also opposes school vouchers.
“School psychologists work with students with disabilities and help provide them services,” Moran said. “We follow federal and state laws to ensure that students with disabilities get the proper education. … So, if we use vouchers and fund private institutions, they don’t have to follow the federal protections [in] IDEA, which is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
Melainee Stoddard, a Denton ISD substitute teacher, also attended Tuesday’s protest, holding a sign that read, “Protect the 626,740 children with special needs. Vote no.”
“What we’re hoping for by protesting the vouchers is a different solution,” they said. “Because right now, our public schools are held more accountable. So, I believe the solution is accountability. And I’m here for the 626,000-plus students with disabilities.”
Stoddard said if school vouchers pass, students with disabilities will have fewer opportunities in private schools.
“I don’t want our schools to become more segregated,” Stoddard said. “They don’t have as many opportunities in private school — they have opportunities here, even though the public school system isn’t perfect. We have systems to keep it accountable, and we’re constantly working on it, whereas there’s not the same standard for private schools.”
Rives said wealthy families would be the ones who would benefit from school vouchers because it is difficult for lower-income families to attend private school.
Education savings accounts will take money away from public schools, Rives said. She also said the state needs to do more to support public education, such as raise teachers’ pay.
If the Legislature doesn’t pass a voucher program in this fourth special session, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he’ll continue to call lawmakers back into session until one passes.
Rives said school voucher opponents have gotten a lot of support from teachers and retired teachers.
“We don’t want vouchers,” she said. “We feel that the governor is pushing this agenda, the lieutenant governor is pushing this agenda. It’s something that the state of Texas does not want. And I think we can prove it by the people going by and saying we don’t want vouchers.”