Last week, our new State Board of Education (SBOE) met for their first session. Dangerous weather conditions truncated 4 days of meetings into a 2-day jumble of agenda items, leading to Governor Abbott formally swearing in the board on Friday after they conducted nearly 11 hours of business on Thursday.

The agenda item that garnered the attention of statewide media involved reversing course on one of the SBOE’s 88th Texas Legislative Session priorities. The new SBOE voted 8-5 to remove its suggestion to the Texas Legislature “to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers… or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.”

This reversal to opposing school vouchers has been deemed a “neutral” position by voucher advocates such as Ms. Mary Castle, Director of Government Relations at Texas Values. During her public testimony, Ms. Castle claimed the SBOE should “hold back an opinion on this issue, to be in lockstep with the State Legislature.”

In my view, the SBOE has taken a stance on this issue. Revoking their previous opposition to vouchers is not neutrality or holding back an opinion.

It is political cowardice. These 8 members do not have the courage to hold a public vote either supporting or rejecting vouchers — even after the previous board voted overwhelmingly to reject vouchers in November.

Our new SBOE wasted precious hours demonstrating that our statewide education board will kowtow to the political whims of the Governor, who has advocated publicly for a school voucher program. 

My questions to these 8 members: Why should the SBOE refuse to take a stance on this important issue that would dramatically impact our public schools? Is the SBOE not an independently elected body unbeholden to the Governor and the State Legislature?

Among the members who voted to revoke the board’s opposition to vouchers is newly elected Mr. LJ Francis of District 2, which encompasses Hidalgo County, Cameron County, and Willacy County.

If Mr. Francis is in favor of “school choice” and giving parents “a seat at the table,” I would expect him to advocate loudly against vouchers to our State Legislature. When taxpayer dollars are diverted away from public schools to subsidize private school costs, we are reducing the quality of our choices and disempowering a majority of parents.

What’s at stake is the future of public education in our state. Will Texas go the way of Arizona, where a universal voucher program has siphoned tens of millions of dollars away from the state budget, disproportionately benefitting parents whose children already attend private schools?

We need a bold SBOE. We need a SBOE that agrees our taxpayer dollars belong to the public good, not in the hands of a select few.

Moreover, this vote signals a troubling pattern of passivity from this board. This vote comes months after the SBOE agreed to delay updating the statewide social studies curriculum until 2025. After the SBOE and its workgroups dedicated nearly a year to this endeavor, pushback from conservative special interest groups prevailed.

This Legislative Session, we will learn whether our state lawmakers will form a school voucher program. If they do, the “neutral” SBOE will be partially responsible. Make no mistake about it.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Thomas Ray Garcia, a writer, educator, and entrepreneur. A former candidate for the Texas State Board of Education, District 2 (2022), Garcia is the founder and executive director of the College Scholarship Leadership Access Program (CSLAP), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that teaches college access lessons and connects near-peer mentors to high school students in the Rio Grande Valley. The above guest column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Garcia can be reached by email via: [email protected] His website address is:

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