*The following blog was originally published in April 2023. All pieces of voucher legislation introduced during the 2023 regular session and special sessions have failed to pass as of November 2023.
Gov. Abbott and his followers are obsessed with vouchers, and that obsession is fueled by their ruthless desire to stall progress and control our communities. Still, there is one indisputable result: These lawmakers are stealing from students — stealing the public funds earmarked just for them, stealing their access to free, quality education, and stealing their freedom to learn.
Flagrant attempts to steal public funds from students in our neighborhood schools have been alive and well for almost 60 years in Texas, and they crop back up during almost every legislative session. Predictably, we again find ourselves fending off thieves (also known as our state’s leaders) at our Capitol this year.
Under vouchers, our taxpayer dollars would be taken away from public schools — which are already severely underfunded — to subsidize tuition at unregulated private and religious schools. Even with a small credit from the government, the vast majority of Texas families still won’t be able to afford tuition at most private schools.
Texas Representatives are well aware of this, and thankfully, we do have some elected officials trying to stop this power-hungry misappropriation of public funds.
April 6, was budget day at the Texas Legislature, and while we had a win with the passage of Rep. Abel Herrero’s amendment to the state budget prohibiting the use of public funds for voucher programs, we are still fighting a litany of pro-voucher bills at the Capitol in both the House and Senate.
Following budget day, the Texas State House Committee on Public Education held hearings for a series of bills that all support vouchers in some aspect. HB 619, HB 3781, HB 4340, HB 4807, and HB 4969 were left pending in committee—but the most menacing bill we’ve seen thus far is SB 8.
Senate Bill 8: A Trojan Horse Sent to Destroy Public Education
An omnibus bill that acts as a trojan horse for vouchers, SB 8 has it all: Cruel “don’t say gay” regulations for schools, violations of parental rights, and a blanket free pass to discriminate against Texas children and families. This bill’s broad ability to steal the freedoms of our students and their parents clearly illustrates the true intent behind the religious right’s robbery of our public funds for private and religious schools.
The “party of small government” fears progress so deeply that they’ll reshape our entire education system just so they can inject their extremist beliefs into every facet of our lives. They are so terrified of any diversity of thought that they’ve made it their mission to stop Texas children from becoming analytical, inclusive, and well-educated.
This Has Never Been About Parents or Students
If our students and their parents mattered to right-wing lawmakers, why would they be championing a bill that allows school districts to impose fees and costs on parents who bring administrative complaints? The party constantly screeches parental rights but violates them in the same breath.
What about the rights of parents with transgender children and LGBTQIA+ families?
The bill’s “don’t say gay/transgender” requirement uses alarmingly vague language to ban ‘instruction, guidance, activities, or programming regarding sexual orientation or gender identity’ for every grade level. Cruel policies like SB 8 create an unsafe, hostile learning environment for LGBTQIA+ students, families, and educators while violating the rights of all families and parents who support inclusivity.
We know that when children can bring their full selves to school, they thrive. In 2022, nearly 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth reported suicide attempts, but those who attended schools where they felt affirmed had significantly lower rates of attempts. LGBTQIA+ students deserve to learn in an environment that gives them the best chance at a future, and their parents should be able to send them to a school that uplifts them, instead of erasing them.
What about the rights of parents who have lost their children to gun violence in school?
Parents deserve to drop their children off at school without wondering if they’ll be alive when the last bill rings. What about that right?
Yet, when representatives, like Senator Roland Guitterez, try to address gun violence while discussing the safety of our children, they’re admonished by our state’s leaders. Guitterez represents Uvalde. He and his constituents know all too well the devastating and irreversible trauma of gun violence in communities. What about their right to see their children become adults and achieve their dreams?
Yet again, those in power choose to prioritize dismantling public education instead of ensuring our kids can be safe in their local neighborhood schools.
The Fight Ahead
As of April 10, the Senate has voted out Senate Bill 8, and it will now go through the process on the House side. Our need to fight back against vouchers has only grown more intense.
We will not be silent or slip into inaction while extremists attempt to erase our communities, censor classroom lessons, and defund public education. Vouchers are about totalitarian control. Stealing public money is heinous enough, but bills like SB 8 are downright dangerous.
All students—no matter where they live, how much money their parents make, or the color of their skin—deserve an accurate, honest education that represents everyone in our communities, including LGBTQIA+ Texans. We will never stop fighting to ensure our public schools are fully funded and can teach the truth.
You can join our fight by contacting the House Public Education Chair and committee members and telling them to vote NO on vouchers, following us on social media to stay informed on upcoming actions, signing up for lege watch alerts, and visiting our Lege Action Center—your personal hub for updates on the bills we’re watching, upcoming advocacy trainings, volunteer opportunities, and more.