Ironically, the world premiere of Hood, a swashbuckling musical retelling of the Robin Hood myth, opened in Dallas a little more than a week before the Texas Legislature opens its special session.
In case you’ve forgotten your childhood folklore: In medieval England, greedy royals murdered Robin’s father and burned down the family home. Robin sought refuge in Sherwood Forest, where he gathered his “band of merry men”—similarly victimized by ruthless power-brokers. Enacting their own justice in a land of lawlessness, they robbed from the rich to support the poor.
In case you’ve missed your political news lately: In 21st century Texas, our government leaders, most notably Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, are attempting to inflict upon our state a reverse-Robin Hood—take from the poor and give to the rich. Enmeshed in the governor’s legislative agenda is another run at providing private-school vouchers at the expense of public education.
Torqued process, dead bills
During the regular session of the Legislature, the House, led by Speaker Joe Straus, passed a $1.6 billion plan to overhaul the state’s public education finance system. Then the Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Patrick, torqued the process, proposing a voucher plan that would result in transferring public education funds to private, mostly parochial, schools. When the chambers couldn’t reconcile their bills, both plans died.
But now Gov. Abbott has placed the issue on the agenda for the Legislature’s special session, which begins July 18. Pray Straus and his colleagues in the House will prevail against Patrick and his allies in the Senate.
Opponents of school vouchers can recite a litany of reasons why vouchers are a horrible idea. Let’s discuss two that should appeal to responsible people of faith.
Protect the weak & vulnerable
First, vouchers violate the mandates of Jesus—and similar admonitions by the Hebrew prophets and teachings of other world religions—that call upon both individuals and societies to care for and protect the weakest and most vulnerable among them.
Aside from making certain poor people don’t starve, providing quality public education is the primary method by which a state cares for its people. If a generation receives education, it becomes capable of caring for itself, strengthening its society, and passing on an even-better future for its children. Conversely, a failure to educate dooms the rising generation, as well as the generations that follow, to poverty, dependency and hopelessness.
As a state, we should have no higher priority than giving our children a stellar education that prepares them for productivity and leadership across the coming decades. This makes sense morally; a bedrock Golden Rule principle is educating all children at the level we want our own offspring educated. This makes sense economically; even the small proportion of Texas children who might receive the finest education will live in a backwater if their peers are not taught well enough to hold down good jobs and thrive in a 21st century marketplace that will demand increasing levels of technical expertise.
Voucher advocates claim they will enable poor children to attend private schools. Those who can say that with straight faces deserve a reward. An Oscar. Even if voucher funds completely cover private-school tuition, the related costs of attending those schools—such as uniforms, transportation, technology, etc.—are beyond the reach of most poor families.
So, let’s call vouchers what they are: Educational subsidies for middle-class and rich families. They’re also a boon to private schools, which can recruit even more middle-class and rich kids to leave public schools for education in their enclaves.
Second, vouchers will violate reasonable principles of church-state separation or bedrock fundamentals of good, responsible government.
If voucher funds are handled responsibly, then their provision will introduce new levels of government involvement in private/parochial education. If the government provides funds—either directly or, more likely, as a pass-through from government to family to school—then it appropriately monitors and regulates those funds. On the other hand, if the government transfers voucher funds to schools without accountability, then it fails taxpayers and creates unprecedented opportunities for graft and corruption.
Either option should be reprehensible to Texans of both political parties, who historically have championed both religious liberty and responsible government.
So, what’s a God-fearing, compassionate, responsible Texan to do?
Most importantly, contact your state senator and representative—in-person or with a hand-written note, or at least with a phone call—and urge them to oppose vouchers.
If you want more background, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and Pastors for Texas Children, which was launched by the CLC four years ago, can provide chapter and verse on why vouchers violate these two biblical truths of moral justice and responsibility.
Tell your senator and representative you’ll be watching the voucher debate and votes. Tell them you’ll hold them responsible for their actions. Lawmakers who fail to act in the best interests of our state don’t deserve to remain in office.
Follow Marv on Twitter: @marvknox