While they differ on a variety of issues facing Fort Worth ISD, most school candidates agree that school vouchers are not a good idea.
Officially known as education savings accounts, which would provide money to families to use on private school tuition, the school choice plan remains a top priority for Gov. Greg Abbott this Legislative session.
The three candidates in District 3 are troubled by different aspects of the school voucher plan.
Valeria Nevárez, a political newcomer running in District 3, is sure she doesn’t like vouchers and thinks they would hurt public education. However, she’s also sure the public education system needs to be improved.
“If we get public education where it’s supposed to be then we won’t need vouchers,” Nevárez said. “Only a small percentage of students actually go to charter schools, private schools and homeschools, so we need to prioritize the majority — the public education students.”
Incumbent Quinton Phillips worries vouchers would be a detriment to young people and communities in Fort Worth. He is concerned that taking more money away from public schools will exacerbate inequity.
“Stuff like that can act as a death knell because we also understand that we already see inequities, we already see Black and brown communities, we already see by ZIP code, who’s doing the worst, who has the least,” he said. “You know who is going to get rained on the worst when those days come into play, you begin to take money away.”
Aside from the funding issues, candidate Mar’Tayshia James is concerned about transportation and stipulations in private schools. Vouchers don’t fund transportation, so many families wouldn’t be able to use them because they would not be able to get their kids to the private schools.
Some schools also have enrollment caps or testing requirements to get in, which James said is another factor to consider.
“Instead of encouraging the kids, it discourages them,” she said.
District 5: A difference of opinions
School board members cannot worry about legislative issues because it is not in their control, District 5 candidate Kevin Lynch said.
“From a business standpoint, competition helps everyone because you’re forced to compete,” he said. “But again, all we can do is focus on us. We have to focus on putting the best product out there for the kids within our district.”
But incumbent CJ Evans acknowledges the district’s legislative priorities and stands behind them, which do not include vouchers. The priorities outline better funding and accountability measures for public schools. Evans knows parents are the first teacher of their children and should remain involved in their education.
“However, I think taking public school dollars, as proposed now, there’s no accountability for those public school dollars,” Evans said. “We’ve seen some students exit. They’ll go to a new charter school and that’s exciting. But then they come back to us a few years later not on reading level and there has been no accountability and no oversight. My concern is that I don’t see that accountability piece.”
Vouchers remain an unknown quantity, District 5 candidate Josh Yoder said, and he has reservations about taxpayer dollars going to private schools.
“Voucher programs is school choice for some, but not others,” Yoder said. “People who have the ability to drive an hour to the charter school, they have choice. People who are below the poverty level where our schools are already suffering, they don’t. When you talk about school choice, the school choice is for some. Let’s be realistic.”
District 2: More questions than answers
District 2 candidate Pat Carlson is opposed to government funds going to private entities, because strings go with that, she said.
“Personally, if we could give parents their tax dollars and let them shop any public schools that they want to, I would be OK with that,” she said. “I know strings come attached with government money even when legislators think they covered every base, there’s always going to be strings attached.”
A traditional public education is an inalienable right, District 2 incumbent and current board president Tobi Jackson said. Now, with vouchers, the state wants to privatize public education, she said.
She has a lot of questions, she said. Where does the money go if a student leaves a school they paid for with vouchers? Do people know it won’t entirely cover tuition at many private schools?
“I’m very concerned about vouchers because I don’t believe they’re in the best interest of our youth and their future,” Jackson said.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.