AUSTIN – An assembly of Texas lawmakers debated and weighed the benefits and risks of school choice policies at an event as the regular session of the Texas legislature got underway.
Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston), Rep. Carrie Isaac (R-Wimberly), and Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) gathered on Tuesday at the 88th Session Kickoff event presented by The Texan.
The day previous, Creighton had been appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to chair the Committee on Education and the Subcommittee on Higher Education.
“We are always trying to uplift public schools and also look at ways to allow parents to drive the way their education dollars are spent,” Creighton said, explaining his philosophical approach to education legislation. “We have always been searching for better ways to improve the way we fund public education.”
In discussing the issue of teacher retention, Creighton stressed, “We need to keep the best and brightest teachers in the profession.”
Referring to the possibility of removing books with inappropriate content from school libraries, Creighton stated, “It’s just common sense, it’s what parents expect, and what kids deserve … We have to get the inappropriate content out of schools.”
Dutton, who had previously chaired the Committee on Education, claimed that while there are issues in public education, funding is not necessarily one of them.
“I don’t think that the argument that we’re not funding education enough … I don’t really think that’s the problem,” he said.
Dutton has filed several education-related bills in the House so far this session, including one that would prevent school districts from removing books from any school’s libraries without establishing procedures for doing so after “consultation with … parents, teachers, and administrators.”
“I heard from a lot of parents, and what jumped out at me was that there were some parents who thought the books were objectionable and other parents who did not,” he explained.
Dutton noted that his plan would allow objectionable books to be placed in a separate library section requiring parental permission for students to access them.
He cautioned against removing books that some considered objectionable, claiming that doing so could negatively affect learning outcomes.
“One of the things we need to do is teach students to think,” the veteran legislator said.
Dutton’s home independent school district, Houston ISD, was recently ruled against by the Texas Supreme Court, as reported by The Dallas Express.
The court’s decision clears the way for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to replace the entire HISD Board of Trustees for failing to meet statewide educational outcome standards, a looming threat to other dysfunctional school boards in Texas with dismal student outcomes, like Dallas ISD.
Dutton referred to the issue, noting that he had been the one to propose the legislation that allows for TEA to take over HISD.
Adding to the breadth of discussion, the other two members of the panel championed the idea of school choice.
“I’m a huge proponent of empowering parents with school choice. It’s a liberty issue, it’s a freedom issue,” Harrison said, claiming that he had won his seat in a rural district on the issue of school choice.
Speaking about education more broadly, Harrison argued it was “the single most important domestic issue in the nation … I don’t think there’s any other issue that’s going to have as much of a transformational impact.”
Harrison further explained that part of what persuaded him to support school choice initiatives was the way public schools spend taxpayer dollars, claiming “only about one-third of the per pupil spending goes to teachers.”
Isaac, a first-time member of the House, echoed Harrison’s support of school choice plans.
“I’m an athlete, I know competition helps everything,” Isaac said. “I believe education freedom would fix all the issues we are talking about.”
She went on to stress the importance of “funding students, not systems,” pointing to the possibility of an education saving account as a funding mechanism.
Isaac has so far filed one piece of legislation that would ensure that some of the excess tax collections from the previous biennium would “be appropriated only to the Texas Education Agency for the use in providing property tax relief through reduction of the state compression percentage.”