As a member of the State Board of Education (SBOE), Audrey Young represents some 1.7 million Texans in District 8, which includes Brazos, Grimes, parts of Harris, Houston, Montgomery, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity, and Walker counties. In June she was among the board members that voted to veto several charter school applications.
A Republican, Young was elected to the SBOE in November 2020 and works as the director of student support services for the Nacogdoches Independent School District (NISD) in Nacogdoches, Texas. Her term ends on January 1, 2023.
Young was among 15 members of the SBOE who voted in June to reject four of seven charter school applications recommended by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
“Every application comes to the SBOE as approved,” Young told Dallas Express. “They were vetoed by the majority for various reasons including, but not limited to, ties to Common Core Curriculum.”
Common Core state standards, which were launched when Barack Obama was President of the United States in 2009, were rejected by the Lone Star state along with the states of Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska, according to media reports.
Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Carolina subsequently withdrew from the curriculum as well.
“My vote to veto was based on either a lack of specifically unique programming or the connection to a poorly managed out-of-state conglomerate,” Young said in an interview.
One of the three applications that were not vetoed by the SBOE was Thrive, a single-purpose autism school.
“This is a very unique program that proposes to meet the very specific educational and functional needs of students with an educational diagnosis of autism,” Young said.
Some 5.3 million students attended public school in Texas during the 2020-21 school year, according to TEA data, compared to 336,900 students who attend charter schools, which account for 6.1% of the total public-school population in Texas.
“Charter schools are public schools,” Young said. “Charter schools exist in the state of Texas to provide parents an educational choice.”
But regardless of the number of parents and students who favor charter schools, Young asserts that legislation limits their number statewide.
“Their impact is on the resources in the community and their ability to produce what they promise,” she said.
Another option for parents and students who are unhappy with their designated public school is homeschooling. In fact, Texas leads the nation in the number of families who opt for homeschooling.
More than 150,000 families statewide are homeschooling some 350,000 children, according to the Texas Homeschool Coalition.
“Quality is relative to the community, the input from stakeholders, and the value placed on its success,” Young added. “The same holds true to both traditional school and charter schools.”
“What happens is the charter schools ultimately diminish the neighborhood public school,” she said. “Lower income families are where you see less opportunity, and it’s not a racial line. It’s an economic line where Mom and Dad both have to work in order to make ends meet, especially now with what has happened to the housing market. People can’t move someplace else if they wanted to, because they bought their house at a much lower price than anything they could buy someplace else.”
Instead of approving more charter schools, Lowe would rather see the state implement a tax break for families that want to opt out of the public school system.
“I think we should give parents tax exemptions if they are homeowners,” she said in an interview. “If they have tax exemptions, they can take that money and put their kids in a school that is going to meet their child’s needs. There are some good schools in East Dallas, and Dallas ISD magnet schools are great schools. They’re not failing but parents need the opportunity to do that. There are also private schools.”
However, Lowe disfavors implementing a school voucher system, which diverts education tax dollars from public schools in some states and allows the funds to be used to pay for private or religious schools.
“Anytime the government is controlling where you can send your child to school, that’s not a choice and if the money goes through the government and then it’s given back in the form of a voucher to a family, the school is still controlled by the government,” she said.
Some 1,872 private schools currently operate statewide that serve some 310,758 students annually, according to Private School Review, and 115 are in Dallas.
“Free enterprise for the schools is the best thing that can happen to improve the quality of education,” Lowe told The Dallas Express. “I happen to be a strong proponent of homeschooling. There are many pod schools popping up and these learning pod schools may have five to seven children that are all in the second grade. Their parents hire a private teacher.”
School Choice Week reported that pod school or micro-schooling, which is a way of privatizing education, has become increasingly popular since the start of the pandemic last year.
“The children of parents who pool their resources and hire a private teacher are thriving,” Lowe said. “There’s no bullying going on. There is a small enough number of students that the teacher is able to manage the relationships and foster positive relationships with each child. There’s not a lot of wasted time.”
Nationwide, a June 2021 poll found that 37% of parents are currently participating in a learning pod or looking to form or join some type of pod, according to media reports.
“I’ll fight for anything right now because what we have isn’t working,” Lowe added. “It’s not working for anybody. There are people in Fort Worth who say our black students are getting what our black students need but they can’t read. They may be encouraged that black lives matter but what good is it going to do them when they are 25 years old and can’t read but know their lives matter?”