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Dear Governor Abbott,
I have been a proud Texan since 1995, more than half my life. I am proud of our economy, proud of our values, proud to be among some of the nicest, strongest, most sincere people I have ever known.
For the past 10 years, I have been a school board trustee for the San Angelo Independent School District. With that said, this letter is not on behalf of the board, I am writing to you as a parent and an individual board member. I have said repeatedly that serving in our community in this way has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I have four kids, two of them grown, one a senior in high school, one in middle school. Because I wanted the best possible education for them and the more than 13,000 students in SAISD, I began the journey of advocacy for our schools soon after I joined the board.
Early on, while speaking to legislators and with other board members from across the state, it occurred to me that I was not just advocating for students in San Angelo and the Concho Valley, I was advocating for the 5.5 million public school students in Texas. Knowing that I was working to make public schools better for all Texas children made the work even more important.
To me, ensuring an effective education system for our children is the most important job of the Texas government. Without a strong education system, how can we guarantee that the future of Texas will be strong?
Over the past decade of advocacy work, I have seen a trend that is concerning me and many other advocates – The growing desire of many in our state government to privatize public education.
The many names for this privatization – Education Savings Accounts, Vouchers, School Choice – all lead to the same ultimate concern for all: the degradation of public schools.
You and I agree on many things regarding education. We agree that parents have a right to decide how to best educate their children. We want what is best for schoolchildren in Texas. We want our students to have strong values. We want children and teachers to feel safe in school (Thank you for all the safety measures you have put in place after Uvalde). We want students to graduate from Texas high schools, ready to be successful in the college or career of their choosing.
Where we differ is the way we believe that needs to happen. The Texas Constitution states, "it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."
The forefathers of our great state made it very clear that they wanted a strong public school system. From these words, I can only assume that, like me, they believed that an efficient system of public schools would create a strong future for our state.
However, over the past ten years of my tenure on the school board, I have seen an increased desire to give public dollars to private schools. This is concerning to me. Not only are private schools not required to teach the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that the legislature requires of public schools, private schools do not have to teach all children. They can accept students at will, remove students at will, and are not required to have the same resources to provide for students of all learning needs, all of which are required of public schools.
Other states have education vouchers, and we have not seen great education advances come from them. Research done by Arizona’s Grand Canyon Institute found that 80% of universal ESA (Education Savings Account) applicants in Arizona are not in public school, rather, they are existing private school students now getting public dollars to pay for their private education. Arizona is not alone in this statistic.
The Texas Senate bill proposed specifically says that private schools would not be required to follow the same provisions as public schools. No required TEKS. No STAAR testing. No (or considerably fewer) mandates than required by public schools, yet, private schools would receive the same public dollars dedicated to education. While the accountability requirements of public schools might not be perfect, I would argue that without accountability standards in place, the value of our education system, and the stewardship of our tax dollars, is greatly decreased.
I have to be honest, Governor, the impetus for my writing this letter to you was your recent tweet, where you said, “We will not use Texas taxpayer dollars to teach our children to hate our country. This session, we will remove woke agendas from the classroom and get kids back to the basics of learning.”
I strongly disagree with you there - My kids and most of their friends have all attended Texas public schools. All of them are proud Americans. No teacher I know teaches a “woke agenda” in their classroom – They are too busy teaching the required TEKS and working to keep students engaged. I believe there may be a marginal number of “woke” lessons present in classrooms, but it is certainly not prevalent in our schools. Without oversight of private schools, how could you be assured that there is not a “woke agenda” in those schools?
I have many other concerns on which I wish you and the legislature would put more emphasis. What about our teacher shortage? The mental health of our teachers and students? The ongoing effects of Covid learning loss?
There are some amazing things happening in our classrooms, even in schools that are struggling with a majority of low socio-economic students. Rather, I should say, great things are happening “especially” in those struggling schools. The advances those kids make daily are truly awe-inspiring, and our hard-working teachers should be honored, not told they are working in a “failing” school. (I would love to see a statewide test that tests in the beginning, middle and end of the year, so you can see the improvement of each student throughout the course of the year, but that is a conversation for another time.)
All of this to say, I would love for you to come visit our schools in San Angelo. I would proudly show you our JROTC programs, classrooms, our successful UIL academic teams, our amazing performing arts programs, and even our schools who are struggling – All of whom are being taught history, government and learning to love our country while attending our schools.
Please let me know when you would like to visit; I would be honored to set up tours of San Angelo and surrounding area schools. There are wonderful things happening in those smaller districts, too. I would be proud to show you all the wonderful things happening in our – YOUR - public schools.
San Angelo ISD School Board Trustee