School finance is dead. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick administered the poison.

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims in his latest news release that he is “appalled that the Texas House” would reject the Senate’s version of House Bill 21, a major piece of school finance legislation. What’s really appalling is how the Senate mutilated the school finance bill as soon as it had the chance.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, authored HB 21 in order to address the school funding system, which the Texas Supreme Court called “byzantine” and an “ossified regime ill-suited for 21st century Texas.” HB 21 may not have been perfect, but it did provide significant additional funding to help schools through the next two years — until the system could, hopefully, be “upended” by the Legislature as suggested by the court.

But in the hands of the Senate and Patrick, HB 21 became nothing more than a vehicle for passing school vouchers, a major political item on Patrick’s “to do” list this session. He claims to be appalled at the final result, but is he really surprised that the House is rejecting his version of HB 21? Didn’t he know, like the rest of us, that when two-thirds of the House voted to ban vouchers in the state budget, they would reject vouchers in any form? If he knew this, then who is truly responsible for killing funding for public schools?

The lieutenant governor bombastically blamed the House for the death of HB 21, but it is he who administered the poison. He poisoned the process from the beginning, when he said he would not pass school finance without vouchers. I personally heard him say before the legislative session started that there would be no more money for public schools. Wasn’t this his plan all along? How can he now act as if he bears none of the responsibility?

Let’s set the record straight. Patrick claims:

• The reason the House is rejecting the Senate version “is simply because it included a program that might allow some disabled child somewhere in Texas to attend a private school that his parents believe would be better for him or her.”

The fact is, a voucher will likely provide a child with a disability an education in a segregated, disability-only school since the majority of regular private schools will not accept them. Vouchers for students with disabilities allow the Legislature to continue to shirk its constitutional responsibility of ensuring adequate educations for all Texas children, especially those who have been denied adequate educations for so long. A better focus this session would have been on fixing the broken system.

• The “House members who voted against HB 21 ignored the needs of disabled children.”

The fact is, the House stood up for my disabled child as well as others, and I thank them. I have worked too long and too hard for her education with her typical peers for us to slide backwards into another form of state-funded schools for the disabled.

• Vouchers are “supported by a strong majority of Texans in every demographic group and both political parties.”

The fact is, according to a February 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 44 percent oppose vouchers and only 35 percent support them.

• Instead of supporting Texans who want vouchers, “those House members buckled under the demands of education bureaucrats.”

The fact is, supporting public education — where 95 percent of Texas children are educated — does not make us bureaucrats nor does it make us wrong.

We are Texans, too, Mr. Patrick. You may not agree with us, you may not even like us, but we are your constituents and we have a voice like anyone else. It is disheartening to hear a leader in Texas continue to speak so derogatorily about those of us who work for Texas’ 5.2 million children every day.

• “Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session.” The “pot and kettle” analogy comes to mind here.

The fact is, in the disability world, we usually view people who continue to try to segregate our kids as “closed-minded.”

• “I simply did not believe they would vote against... disabled children.” This may be the most disappointing part of the lieutenant governor’s news release. Please, sir, do not use my child as a political pawn to push your agenda.

My message to the House is, thank you for standing up for what’s right and best for all kids instead of for what’s politically expedient.

It appears that the lieutenant governor was unwilling to listen to the many ideas shared by voices from throughout our state, but instead plowed forward with his own political agenda. We went to Austin, as I said we would, and offered solutions that would help all kids.

Lt. Gov. Patrick refused to listen, and now that HB 21 is dead, he has no one to blame but himself.

Kristin Tassin

President, Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees

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School finance is dead. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick administered the poison. Show All